Project Orca was the Mitt Romney campaign's secret weapon.
It was a highly-touted, technologically-sophisticated operation that was to give the GOP Presidential nominee a substantial edge on Election Day. Through the use of what the Romney campaign called a "killer" web app, a taskforce of 34,000 volunteers stationed in key precincts throughout swing states would be connected to 800 volunteers in a war room in Boston. It would allow the campaign to stay up-to-date on real-time polling numbers, giving them the insight to strategically deploy Romney campaign workers to round up vital votes throughout the day.
Project Orca was going to nudge standard exit polling towards obsolescence. "At 5 o'clock, when the exit polls come out, we won't pay attention to that," Romney for President Communications Director Gail Gitcho boasted to PBS the day before the election. "We will have had much more scientific information just based on the political operation we have set up. [...] The Obama campaign likes to brag about their ground operation, but it's nothing compared to this."
The floor of the TD Garden arena in Boston was the location of Project Orca's war room on Election Night -- an expected location for such a massive undertaking, but a curious one, given the timing.
You see, Election Day in the U.S. was Nov. 6. Also scheduled for that date, for most of the calendar year: The Boston Bruins' home game against the Minnesota Wild that evening.
In fact, if the owners' Oct. 16 offer to end the NHL lockout and salvage an 82-game season had gone through, the game versus the Wild would have become the Bruins' home opener.
Of course, the lockout wasn't settled. The game was cancelled on Oct. 26, when the League officially pulled the plug on its November schedule.
None of these scenarios mattered to Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs. Because he already had alternate plans for the building on Election Night.
The Romney campaign told staff and volunteers they would be working from TD Garden on Election Day as early as Oct. 22, when the space was mentioned on a training call. According to a volunteer who was on the Oct. 22 call, Romney's Deputy Political Director Dan Centinello pointed to the TD Garden as the war room location.
This is four days after the NHL rejected the NHLPA's trio of counter-offers, but also four days before the NHL closed the books on playing games on this date.
Even with an offer still on the table -- one that purported to be a sincere, last-ditch attempt to save the 82-game season -- Jeremy Jacobs was quite confident that the Bruins wouldn't be staging their home opener on Election Night.
According to a campaign official, the TD Garden owners waited until they were sure the lockout would continue through November before officially reserving the space. In the meantime, the campaign kept a reservation in the nearby Hynes Convention Center as a backup location.
"A little less than a month out we inquired with the Boston Garden," a Romney campaign official told Yahoo! News. "They indicated that if the space was available, they would be happy to look at renting it, but they would be unsure given the lockout."
It is unclear exactly when TD Garden owners confirmed the booking officially, but the Romney campaign was telling volunteers to prepare to work from the arena before its availability was confirmed.
If this frustrates you a little as a hockey fan, rest assured that the hockey gods took it upon themselves to exact cruel, cruel vengeance.
Project Orca was named as a response to the Obama administration's Project Narwhal -- the orca being the narwhal's natural predator -- but you'd have thought it was named for the Vancouver Canucks' logo: Like the 2011 Stanley Cup Final runners-up, it collapsed the moment it entered the TD Garden.
Romney's political director Rich Beeson told Politico that Project Orca was never tested in the TD Garden. When so much data started flowing into the facility, it was perceived to be a hack and rejected.
The TD Garden Wi-Fi, which had recently been updated, crashed under the major influx of traffic. Then the app's server, which was also located at the Garden, crashed as well.
(Bruins haters in Philadelphia will be pleased to know that, at one point, the war room even lost their connection to the campaign's data center because Comcast shut the server down, thinking the spike in traffic was caused by a denial of service attack.)
The whole operation went to crap. Tim Thomas could have warned them that the TD Garden wasn't the ideal place to push a right-wing agenda.
This article from Business Insider explains just how bewildering and discouraging Project Orca turned out to be for Romney supporters out in the field, many of whom spent up to six hours trying to contact someone:
By 2PM, I had completely given up. I finally got ahold of someone at around 1PM and I never heard back. From what I understand, the entire system crashed at around 4PM. I'm not sure if that's true, but it wouldn't surprise me. I decided to wait for my wife to get home from work to vote, which meant going very late (around 6:15PM). Here's the kicker, I never got a call to go out and vote. So, who the hell knows if that end of it was working either.
So, the end result was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. Like driving people to the polls, phone-banking, walking door-to-door, etc. We lost by fairly small margins in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. If this had worked could it have closed the gap? I sure hope not for my sanity's sake.
Ars Technica describes some of the other technical problems Project Orca had as a result, but here's all you need to know: In the end, the operation was described by one Orca user as a "huge cluster[Gretzky]".
Project Orca wound up being a massive waste of time, resources and top volunteers, stranding Romney supporters in all the major swing states. And, while the project was full of errors (including a big typo in the ORCA packet, as detailed in the article above), the decision to base it out of the TD Garden played a major role in the operation's failure.
Some have even suggested that the program helped cost Romney the election.
(Then again, Jacobs might have been okay with that. He's donated $52,785 to the Democratic Party over the last two years, although he also gave $5000 to the Romney campaign.)
But regardless of your political affiliations: If you're a hockey fan, it should delight you to know that none of this would have happened for a major political party if the TD Garden had held a hockey game that night. Like it should have.
Chris Moody of Yahoo! News also contributed to this report.
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