Barack Obama's presidential campaign is predicated on a new model of political physics, one where organization channels and directs enthusiasm . It's a bright new theory of nomination politics, one invented to account for the curious mix of insurgent messaging with fundraising muscle.
Obama's campaign reminds me of the physicists at CERN. For years they've positied that that tiny vibrations of energetic strings give rise to everything in the known universe. The missing link is the Higgs Boson -- a fabled particle that gives all the other particles their mass. If the Large Hadron Collider -- the newest CERN mega-particle collider -- finds the Higgs Boson, the Standard Model will have to be drastically revised.
The Standard Model of the Democratic Primary provides no comfort for non-establishment candidates. In 2004, Howard Dean's insurgent model failed for reasons still debated by us amateur scientists.
There are reasons to believe, however, Obama is much more suited to find the fabled Higgs Boson -- to figure out this new model in a way Dean could not.
Where Howard Dean discovered the war on the campaign trail and originally intended to run as a technocratic health care candidate, Obama was in many ways pulled into the race by a strong force at the nucleus of the Democratic Party, just like Ronald Reagan was pulled into the center of the Republican Party by the conservative movement.
In private, Obama likens himself to Reagan, according to some of his friends. He believes that the very act of Americans choosing to elect him would amount to the biggest foreign policy advance of the past 20 years, would immediately change the way, say, a young boy in Lahore views this country, would crush the propaganda gains of radical Islam since the end of the first Gulf War, would heal the scar that serves as a reminder of America's original sin (slavery), would directly engage the mass Muslim world in a way that no one who voted for oil or empire could, and ... you get the idea.
Other differences between Dean and Obama: the Dean campaign's Netroots orientation drove its organization; Obama's campaign's use of the technology is more focused and instramental. The technology itself was new in 2003; it has matured significantly since then. Dean trained his young Iowa volunteers in caucus math late in the game; Already, Obama has held dozens of trainings for his.
Aftrer the jump, read a memo by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe that does not rely upon an extend physics metaphor to make this argument.
To: Interested Parties
From: David Plouffe, Campaign Manager
RE: Enthusiasm and Organization: A Path to the Nomination
Date: September 22, 2007
It has been about a month since our last memo updating you on the progress of the campaign. In that time, the campaign has entered the critical post-Labor Day phase where the pace will pick up and the public will become more engaged in the campaign.
Framing the Race
Barack kicked off this new phase of the campaign with an important speech at a Labor Day rally where he framed the critical choice that voters face in this election. This speech had two key elements: First, he took the issue of experience head on, making the point that he “may not have the experience that Washington likes, but he has the experience that America needs” to bring change. Second, Barack talked about how it is not going to be enough to change parties; we have to change our politics. Our problems and our failures on big issues like health care, energy, and education pre-date the Bush Administration and real change requires a President who is capable of truly transforming our politics.
As someone who has spent 20 years in public service, standing up to the special interests and bringing people together to enact change, Barack is the only candidate with the right kind of experience in this race. Barack and the campaign will take this case to voters in the four early states and the February 5th states in the coming weeks and months.
Earlier this week, the campaign launched two new powerful ads in Iowa that further this case. You can see the ads by clicking here: “Believe ” and “Mother ”.
A Clear Path to the Nomination
It is important to take a moment every once in a while to reflect on all the progress we have made together in this campaign.
When we got into this race as a largely unknown candidate new to the national political stage, we never expected that nine months later at this stage of the race, we would be in a tight three way race in Iowa; leading in the money race; have the largest grassroots organization in modern political history; and have an organizational advantage in the early states and February 5 over a quasi-incumbent from the most powerful political machine in modern political history.
While the press remains focused on the simplistic and erroneous view of national polls as predictors, the Obama campaign has several structural advantages:
* Barack is the candidate with the message and biography that is most in synch with the electorate – according to a Gallup poll in September Democratic voters prefer change to experience by a margin of 73 percent to 26 percent;
* The largest organizations with the most experienced staff and enthusiastic volunteers in the 4 early states;
* An unexpected financial advantage that allows the campaign to compete in multiple contests at the same time;
* The most donors by far in the race, who as the election draws nearer will get even more active on our behalf, giving us financial sustainability;
* A significant organizational advantage in February 5th states.
Well-Positioned in Iowa
Iowa is fundamentally a close three-way race with Obama, Clinton and Edwards all within the same range in most public polling. In the last month, public polls have shown each of the three candidates leading. But the truth is, caucuses are very difficult to poll, particularly in a year where turnout will likely explode with many new attendees. So instead of focusing on the polls, we are much more focused on the growth of our hard count (number of committed supporters) statewide and we remain ahead of schedule in that regard. And there are other positive trends that have emerged that are worth noting.
Because we will likely enter the caucus with thousands of potential first-time caucus attendees committed to Obama, organization is paramount. Last weekend’s Harkin Steak Fry – Senator Tom Harkin’s annual event, where six of the Presidential candidates attended – showcased the strength of the Obama Iowa operation in the first head-to-head battle of organization. It is estimated that 5-6,000 people attended who were committed to candidates. Of that number, approximately 3,000 Obama Iowa supporters attended. It was described by many press accounts as akin to an Obama rally. That shows not just our organizational strength, but a real commitment from our county and precinct leaders, as well as our committed supporters. Our dominating presence at the Steak Fry is an example of the enthusiasm gap that we enjoy over our fellow candidates. Our supporters will drive for hours and walk for miles to help elect Barack to the White House. “Organization plus Enthusiasm” is a time-tested formula for success in the caucuses and that is the path we are on.
Below is a picture of the Obama supporters entering the Steak Fry:
Obama’s Entrance to The Harkin Steak Fry
As Ben Smith of the Politico put it: “Iowa field operatives make a big deal of "visibility' -- making sure their campaigns have high profiles at high-profile events. On that note, you could mistake Tom Harkin's steak fry for an Obama rally. It was in fact preceded by an Obama rally, and the train of Obama supporters behind a marching band stretched for at least a hundred yards. His campaign said he'd given out 2,000 T-shirts, a number that seemed plausible.” LINK
On a related point, polls consistently under-represent in Iowa, and elsewhere, the strength of Barack’s support among younger voters for at least three reasons. In more than one survey, Barack’s support among Iowa young voters exceeded the support of all the other candidates combined. First, young voters are dramatically less likely to have caucused or voted regularly in primaries in the past, so pollsters heavily under-represent them. Second, young voters are more mobile and are much less likely to be at home in the early evening and thus less likely to be interviewed in any survey. Third, young voters are much less likely to have a landline phone and much more likely to rely exclusively upon cell phones, which are automatically excluded from phone surveys. So all of these state and national surveys have and will continue to under-represent Barack’s core support – in effect, his hidden vote in each of these pivotal early states. Of course, there are organizational challenges associated with maximizing this support, but we are heavily focused on that task.
Prepared to Capture Momentum in New Hampshire
It is also clear that the importance of Iowa has only grown over the course of this year. The Democratic story coming out of Iowa is likely to be a much bigger story than the GOP contest, ensuring maximum velocity for a strong showing. Clinton will pay a severe price for not winning Iowa - national front runners always do. The average New Hampshire bounce on the Democratic side has historically been just under 20 points. Our internal data and most of the public polls show Obama with a solid foundation, despite having done no TV advertising or even direct mail. Those activities will begin in the near future. The demographics of the state would suggest that we will be able to build on our foundation as we begin to devote significant resources there, turning New Hampshire into a tight race over the coming months and almost ensuring that a positive Iowa result will result in a New Hampshire primary win.
Organization and Enthusiasm in Nevada and South Carolina
Nevada is less formed than the other early states, but since it is a caucus, our focus has been on building precinct organizations. We already have 2,000 volunteers in the Nevada, which is far and away the deepest volunteer organization in the state.
There was one recent poll in South Carolina that showed Clinton with a sizable lead, but we believe that was an outlier. It had her with a healthy lead in the African-American vote, which is not what we believe to be the case. In fact, a public poll of just African-American voters was released last week that showed Obama with an eight point lead, which would result in a much closer contest in the entire primary electorate.
We believe South Carolina is now a very competitive two-way race, with Edwards, who won this contest in 2004, in a very distant third. Momentum will likely be king in South Carolina, but we are building an unprecedented grassroots organization to maximize our vote and to help provide the margin in a close contest.
We have begun to deploy staff and build organizations in some of the February 5th states. We currently have staff in California, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota and will have staff in over a dozen other states by the end of October. While momentum will likely be the dominant factor in deciding votes on February 5th, we plan to marry that momentum with the strongest organization and most financial resources in these February 5th states to emerge from that day with the most delegates and states won.
Below are some recent news articles about the Obama Campaign’s activities:
The State (Aaron Gould Sheinin) “Obama taking grass-roots approach in S.C.”: Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is using cyberspace, the U.S. Mail and the equivalent of political Tupperware parties to build a more extensive grass-roots campaign than S.C. Democrats ever have seen before, observers say… “The Obama campaign is doing a more extensive grass-roots effort than has ever been done in South Carolina before,” said Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Khare Fowler, who is not supporting any candidate in the Jan. 29 primary. LINK
Denver Post (Karen Crummy) “Obama beefs up Colorado support”: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the only candidate with ground troops in Colorado, is organizing a significant grassroots campaign in the state, according to his campaign manager. "This will be a delegate by delegate battle," said David Plouffe in Denver on Thursday. "Because we have had success financially and enthusiastic grassroots supporters we can starting getting things in place for February 5th states." LINK
Santa Barbara Independent (Chris Meagher) “Barack Obama Rocks Santa Barbara”: Presidential candidate Barack Obama rolled into Santa Barbara on Saturday with the message that’s become the backbone of his campaign: Hope. More than 3,000 people were in attendance at Santa Barbara City College to hear the popular Democrat share his plans for the future, touching on such issues as health care, education, and the war in Iraq. LINK
New York Times (Michael M. Grynbaum) “Obama Urges Wall Street to Protect the Middle Class”: Senator Barack Obama chastised Wall Street executives yesterday as failing to protect middle-class interests and called for increased federal oversight of credit rating agencies, including a government investigation. In an appearance at Nasdaq offices in Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate, praised America’s free-market impulse but lamented what he characterized as its recent toll on the middle class. LINK
Portsmouth Herald (Michael McCord) “Obama unveils tax cuts for middle class”: Presidential hopeful Barack Obama became the first Democratic candidate to unveil a detailed middle class tax-cut proposal, one that he believes will restore "fiscal responsibility and a sense of fairness." In a speech titled "Tax Fairness for the Middle Class," delivered Tuesday in Washington, Obama said his five-part $85 billion plan would cut taxes for more than 150 million Americans (including as many as 800,000 in New Hampshire), cut all taxes for seniors making less than $50,000, institute a mortgage tax credit, simplify the tax code and crack down on tax havens, and close corporate loopholes. LINK
The Atlantic (Marc Ambinder) ”At SEIU, Obama: Rocked The House": …SEIU's members are temperamentally suited to Obama; he is a longtime friend of Chicago's SEIU Local 880 and worked closely with the union as an organizer and later as a state legislator. Obama entered the ballroom to cheers, but he left to a sustained chorus of chants: “Obama!, Obama!” The SEIU president, Andy Stern, had to calm his members: ““Everybody take your seats, please. We have other candidates.”
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