Dispatch from the WA state caucuses: it wasn't about the ground game

A reader who lives in Washington state and strongly supports Obama sends this report about the caucus activity two days ago, which of course led to a landslide Obama win.

As Clinton loses caucus states, she keeps saying they favor Obama, and so does the press. The press in particular says that the caucuses reward greater organization. Whether or not that is so, and whether or not Obama is better organized than Clinton, the fact is that NEITHER candidate was that well organized for the WA caucuses (see my note below), and I suspect Obama was not for Maine.

The dispatch goes on to say that the point is not at all to belittle Obama's organizers. Rather, it's this: that at least in Washington, the contest appeared to have moved beyond the strict get-out-the-vote, nuts-and-bolts marshaling of resources, attrition-style warfare and onto some different level. (I have removed a few personally identifying details from the note):

I, too, imagined after Super Tuesday that (1) no one would change his or her mind about Obama or Clinton at this point, so (2) it would become a matter of brute force, seeing who could get his/her supporters to the caucuses and polling places. So I was discouraged. I knew Obama had folks in the State (I'm on the [xx] committee) but "organization" was way beyond an accurate description of what they'd achieved. The party organization here, to the extent it exists, is actually pretty loyal to and supportive of Clinton, too.

But I guarantee that if you had been in WA (and sounds like, in Maine) you would have had a sense of awe, as the Obama "organizers" did themselves, that these huge streams and gouts of voters were arriving in droves, way beyond anyone's expectation or ability to "organize" it. Every caucus location, despite planning for record turnout, was far, far too tiny to contain the crowds. Fire marshals ended up having a bigger impact that campaign organizers. It's something spontaneous, and it is not people changing their minds and deciding to vote for Barack instead of Hillary. It is people coming out and who normally would not. It's a phenomenon, not the result of organization.

Why did Obama's campaign suddenly appear to gel? I have no idea. I suspect Edwards getting out the race must have helped in several ways, but one was to give hope to Obama sympathizers who didn't have enough hope before to become active. Now they do.

My note re organization: At 11 AM I got a call asking if I could be the Obama "lead" at our caucus location, which had 12 precincts caucusing. Someone delivered to me a few hundred campaign pins, a few posters, and lots of stickers. When I showed up, a few minutes after noon, the place was plastered with Hillary posters. Obama early-arrivers volunteered to take all the materials off my hands. The materials were all snapped up before 20% of the ultimate attendees arrived. There were 2,000 people there. They voted at least 5 or 6 to 1 for Obama over Clinton overall, if not higher. I was the only "organizer" for Obama, and I did almost nothing -- nor could I. We were simply swamped with people.

Today, when I didn't have any info on the Maine caucuses, except that she was expected to win, I read that Obama had addressed an overflow crowd yesterday, with 3,000 people not being able to get in and being forced to stand out in the snow. Note that this is just what happened in Seattle at Key Arena on Friday. The giant overflow crowd left outside in foul weather is a sign of an organization that has been overwhelmed, not an organization that has been successful. As soon as I read that, knowing what had just happened in WA, and having seen the amazing demographic diversity of the Obama supporters in our caucuses (which made me think, "This is not a regional phenomenon"), I told [xx], "He's going to carry Maine." It didn't take a genius!

As I say, it's a small point. And it's also dealing with a phenomenon no one expected or entirely understands, least of all me. I merely observed it, but so did a lot of other people, including journalists. To ascribe what's happening to "organization" is to miss the story...

I'm reminded of what John Keegan writes about war: It is not the physical destruction of the enemy that one seeks, but the destruction of his morale. We want his (her) courage to crumble, and to have him (her) break and run. Seems so unlike the Clintons. I hope they are only human.

I associate the "destruction of morale" point with John Keegan but even more with my mentor John Boyd -- he of "Patterns of Conflict" and "OODA loops." And about the reader's last point, from the Boyd/Keegan perspective: it is remarkable that never, ever has one seen the Clinton campaign team appear to lose courage, break, or run. Not on the eve of the New Hampshire primary in 1992, when news about Bill Clinton's draft deferments caused a panic. Not a few months later, when the entry of Ross Perot momentarily seemed to put Clinton's candidacy in peril. And of course not during the long years in the White House. It is what makes them -- and her candidacy -- even now so formidable.