Dems Gamble on Obama Voters

A good point from Reid Wilson's column at The Hotline: for the 2010 elections, Organizing for America remains focused on turning out first-time voters from 2008, the bloc of politically marginalized citizens that Obama brought into the fold. And this could be a gamble.

Wilson writes:

The White House strategy is focused on an unprecedented effort to turn out the voters who cast their first ballots for Obama in 2008. The Democratic National Committee has pledged $30 million in voter turnout efforts this year, largely geared toward those first-time voters through Organizing for America, the outgrowth of Obama's political operation. ...

But this strategy relies on the assumption that Obama's 2008 campaign transformed the electorate that will decide the 2010 midterms.

Old school Democrats, mostly affiliated with the labor movement and congressional campaigns, aren't buying it. They don't believe the DNC understands what the midterm electorate will really look like.

"The notion that first-time presidential voters will come out in an off year is limited," said one veteran Democratic strategist closely aligned with labor unions. In 2006, massive efforts to turn out the Democratic base, coupled with a political wave, swept Democrats into power. "If only the party and operatives were focused on getting that turnout in hand before going for extra icing," this strategist said, "they'd have a far tastier cake."

UPDATE: The Democratic National Committee, unsurprisingly, does not think this is a good point, and they've noted that they're spending more on traditional Democratic-base turnout than they did in 2006. There's a lot of overlap between Obama "surge voters" and traditional Democrats, demographically, so the concept of finite resources being diverted, they say, doesn't hold up. It's all part of the strategy. (What, you want them to ignore the "surge voters"? Wilson does point out that strategists may be covering themselves...)

Here's a statement/guest post from DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan. It also makes a good point or two:

"While there were nearly a half dozen blind quotes criticizing our strategy, we have elected to respond on the record to provide a semblance of balance to this story. This story and the concerns expressed by these strategists are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the effort OFA and the DNC are engaged in.  First, our strategy is based on turning out base and reliable as we would traditionally do, AND turning out those who would otherwise be "fall off" voters from 2008.   Turning out so called "surge" voters is not exclusive of turning out our base.  In fact, and second, our base and the surge voter population have high level of overlap.  Of the 15 million first time voters in 2008, 30% were under 30 years old;  a majority were minority voters.   Third, in order to run an expanded turnout operation we have raised and committed more resources both in terms of money and manpower to do so.  The DNC has raised a record $165 million this cycle so far, and has committed a total of $50 million to 2010 efforts.  $20 million in transfers to state parties and campaign committees (this is not including 50-state strategy dollars or other transfers) and $30 million in additional services.  By way of comparison our total commitment in 2006 was $17 million.  So, even the direct transfer amount alone, that would ostensibly be used in a way the state party and committees traditionally use those funds,  is greater than our TOTAL commitment in 2006.   That said, all $50 million of our resources are directed to turning out base, reliable, sporadic and surge voters.  For example, we recently announced a $3 million advertising effort to reach African American voters, which is more than ten times what was invested in 2006. It should also be noted that the idea that we are committing nearly 3 times as much total as the last midterm cycle to this year's midterms clearly demonstrates that our focus is singularly on getting as many Democrats elected this year as we can.  Fourth, with OFA Democrats now have the largest field effort in the history of the party for a non-presidential year with offices in all 50 states, organizers and volunteers in all 435 congressional districts,  and with trained, experienced field staff that has been working in the communities they are going to turn out the vote in for the last 21 months.

"By turning out base and reliable voters as we would ordinarily do in addition to expanding the pool to turn out surge voters, and dedicating more resources by multiple folds to do so, we haven't taken on any additional risk.  The risk would be incurred by not optimizing and leveraging our resources."