The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee entered Election Day boasting about the millions of voter contacts -- door knocks and phone calls -- they had made in all the key states.
Volunteers were making the calls using an automated VOIP-system, allowing them to dial registered voters at a rapid clip and punch in basic data about them on each phone's keypad, feeding basic information into the campaign's voter file.
But volunteer callers were met with angry hang-ups and answering machines just as much as actual voters on the other end of the line. It was a voter contact system that favored quantity over quality.
At the same time, the campaign's door-to-door canvassing effort was heavily reliant on fired-up but untrained volunteers.
Obama organizers, meanwhile, had been deeply embedded in small towns and big cities for years, focusing their persuasion efforts on person-to-person contact.
The more nuanced data they collected, often with handwritten notes attached, were synced nightly with their prized voter database in Chicago.
After the dust had cleared, the GOP field operation, which had derided the Obama operation and gambled on organic Republican enthusiasm to push them over the top, seemed built on a house of cards.
"Their deal was much more real than I expected," one top Republican with close ties to the Romney campaign said of the Obama field team.
Sources involved in the GOP turnout effort admitted they were badly outmatched in the field by an Obama get-out-the-vote operation that lived up to their immense hype -- except, perhaps, in North Carolina, where Romney was able to pull out a win and Republicans swept to power across the state.
Multiple Romney advisers were left agog at the turnout ninjutsu performed by the Obama campaign, both in early voting and on Election Day.
Not only did Obama field marshals get their targeted supporters to the polls, they found new voters and even outperformed their watershed 2008 showings in some decisive counties, a remarkable feat in a race that was supposed to see dampened Democratic turnout.
In Florida's Hillsborough County, home to Tampa, the Obama campaign outpaced their final 2008 tally by almost 6,000 votes. In Nevada's vote-rich Clark County, Obama forces scrounged up almost 9,000 more votes than they did four years ago.
Tuesday's outcome laid bare this truth: The two campaigns placed very different bets on the nature of the 2012 electorate, and the Obama campaign won decisively.
Romney officials had modeled an electorate that looked something like a mix of 2004 and 2008, only this time, Democratic turnout would be depressed, and the most motivated voters would be whites, seniors, Republicans and independents.
Heading into Election Day, the Romney campaign's final set of internal poll numbers showed their candidate with a 6-point lead in New Hampshire, a 3-point lead in Colorado, a 2-point lead in Iowa, a 3-point lead in Florida and near ties in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Ohio was their biggest problem. According to the campaign's internal polls obtained by CNN, Romney was trailing in the must-win state by a full 5 points on the Sunday before the election, the last day of tracking.
Officials in Boston dispatched Romney for a pair of 11th-hour campaign stops in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, a show of Election Day vitality and confidence that was, in reality, a last-ditch attempt to move the needle with just hours until the polls closed.
The Obama campaign was of a different mindset.
Late last month, a few days before Halloween, four members of Obama's senior campaign staff -- deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, pollster Joel Benenson, battleground state director Mitch Stewart and press secretary Ben LaBolt -- flew from Chicago to Washington to brief reporters on the state of the race.
With the president's campaign on the ropes in the wake of his awful debate performance in Denver, the quartet had a straightforward, math-driven sales pitch.
The share of the national white vote would decline as it has steadily in every election since 1992. There would be modest upticks in Hispanic and African-American voter registration, shifts that would overwhelmingly favor the president. And Obama's get-out-the-vote operation was vastly more sophisticated than the one being run by Romney and the Republican National Committee.
On Monday, the night before the election, the Obama campaign was optimistic their vision would pan out. A relaxed group of about 60 campaign staffers including campaign manager Jim Messina decamped to Houlihan's, just up the street from their Chicago headquarters on Michigan Avenue, to drink beers and take in Obama's final speech in Des Moines on C-SPAN.
The following morning, bagels were delivered to headquarters for breakfast. Pizza was on the menu for dinner. Some staffers in the in the campaign's press wing turned on the Oxygen channel to watch a marathon of "America's Next Top Model" -- a "mindless escape," in the words of one campaign operative. When the results started flowing in, each chapter appeared to unfold as planned.
The office burst into loud cheers when Pennsylvania and Wisconsin turned blue early in the evening, two very large pieces of mortar in a growing electoral roadblock for Romney.
And when Ohio was called for the president, the year-long avalanche of G-chats, e-mails and text messages between reporters and campaign sources fell silent as Obama-world closed ranks to celebrate their hard-won -- and meticulously planned -- victory.