Editor’s Note: Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She has worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

While the latest head-to-head polls show President Donald Trump trailing Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, translating those polls into votes for the Democratic nominee next fall won’t be easy.

Sarah Isgur

Earlier this month, Elizabeth Warren announced that she would not hold big-dollar fundraisers, even if she becomes the Democratic nominee. Within hours, though, her aides added a caveat: This pledge did not apply to fundraisers she would do on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.

This important addendum should come as no surprise to those who have been following the problems at the DNC for the last several years. With just one year left before election day, the DNC doesn’t have the money, the data or the team to adequately support the eventual nominee. Filings from late September reveal an anemic DNC mired in debt while the RNC has senior staff set up already in a whopping 19 states.

Elizabeth Warren, and every other candidate who appeared on the debate stage last week, knows that it will be nearly impossible to win the White House without a competent national party apparatus — especially if there is a protracted fight for the nomination that stretches into the spring.

Voter turnout is what will ultimately decide who wins the 2020 election. This election will not be about winning over undecided voters with television ads. There are few undecided voters, now that nearly every American has an opinion about President Trump (only 5% have “no opinion” about his job performance). But it doesn’t matter whether more than half of voters want him out of the White House if they don’t show up to vote when it counts.

That’s why money — and enough time to spend it — matters.

Turning out voters takes enormous resources on the ground in every state. It takes money far enough in advance that a campaign can build out a ground game with enough time to identify middle- to low-propensity voters, target them with digital ads that are laser-focused on their interests and bombard them with information to get them to the polls at the right place and on the right day.

It takes field staff knocking on the right doors at the right time so that a candidate banks as many votes as possible when early voting starts. That makes it easier come Election Day, when field staff can focus on targeting the remaining stragglers. It’s a game of millimeters.

(This is why Hillary Clinton and her team sound silly when they crow about winning the popular vote in 2016. All that means is they wasted time and money targeting the wrong voters. I assure you that the Trump team didn’t waste a moment’s thought on getting extra votes in Texas. They spent their resources in, you guessed it, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.)

Let’s step back a moment. Last week, The New York Times published an in-depth story about voters in a swing county in Pennsylvania. The interview that opens the piece is with Mark Graham, an Obama voter who switched to supporting Trump in 2016. He hasn’t been impressed by the President’s performance (he called Trump’s behavior “a joke”), but after watching the Democratic primary debates in September, he told the Times he couldn’t back any of the Democrats either.

Then came the political chaos of the past few weeks. Now Graham says, “I’d vote for the Democratic nominee no matter who it is at this point.” Upon reading that, the DNC may be gaining confidence – that’s one more vote in Pennsylvania, right?

But do you see the problem? Graham doesn’t actually like any of the Democratic candidates on that stage; he just happens to like Trump less. He’s what you’d have in your database as a high-propensity voter (he votes every four years) with a low attachment score for the eventual nominee (he’s not particularly motivated to vote for the Democrat).

Graham is not undecided – but once the general election is here and he’s bombarded with negative ads about the Democratic nominee on social media, specifically targeted to his interests, Graham may well throw up his hands and decide not to vote at all.

This means the DNC needs someone to visit Mr. Graham and remind him of all the things he’s feeling right now about President Trump and make sure he doesn’t decide to stay home in November of 2020. He doesn’t need to hear more about Medicare for All canceling his private insurance; he needs to hear about President Trump’s latest mess.

But who’s going to knock on that door? And, unless The New York Times writes a profile on every voter in Erie, how will the DNC know who else to talk to and what to say?

While the Democratic primary candidates are raising gobs of money, they are also spending it largely in ways designed to help them defeat their fellow Democrats in the primaries, not to defeat Donald Trump in the general election.

On the one hand, Democratic contenders are building miniature ground games in early primary states, which would be good, except that Pennsylvania and Ohio are not early primary states. You don’t need a ground game in South Carolina to beat Donald Trump come next fall.

Building those early ground games, of course, is exactly why the party committees exist. But the DNC isn’t exactly inspiring confidence that the organization will be ready for the fight come 2020.

New FEC reports were filed last night and the gulf continues to widen. The DNC raised under $7 million, with $8.6 million on hand and more than $7 million in debt. The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, raised more than $27 million and has over $59 million on hand with no debt. This means the Trump campaign and the RNC combined in the third quarter to raise over $125 million.

Add that to the multiple staff shakeups at various Democratic party committees and, well, yikes.

Voters have strong feelings about the President and about the direction of the Democratic Party. But feelings don’t equal turnout. A recent experiment, for example, showed that Democratic voters who were exposed to news coverage about some of the left-leaning policy positions taken by Democratic candidates at the debate became slightly more enthusiastic about voting for the eventual nominee of their party.

But the survey also showed two big red flags. First, independents who read about the party’s leftward turn were 6% less likely to vote Democratic.

Second, the experiment also found that the results “did not indicate [Democratic voters] were more motivated to vote and campaign for the eventual nominee than those who hadn’t read about them.”

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    This is why campaigns and parties spend hundreds of millions of dollars on targeted digital ads, and on building a robust ground game. And while the President may be turning off non-white voters in Florida, Democrats aren’t going to win that state or any other swing state unless their voters actually show up to—you guessed it—vote.

    But the eventual Democratic nominee won’t have a field army to greet them at the Panhandle gates.

    We may spend a lot of time talking about the polls in the media, but the candidates who appeared on last week’s debate stage would be wise to remember: Polls don’t vote.