Obama Campaign Strategy Reminder

>> Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Obama campaigns strategy and tactics are again at the center of attention for Dems. As McCain has pulled ahead of Obama in electoral projections cries of doom and dissatisfaction abound. I understand why they might start to feel nervous, i really do. The stakes are so high that most people cannot fathom the horror of another loss to a deceitful, manipulative, unethical Republican. This has caused real freak outs over the Obama ad and media strategy. So to combat this i think it is a good time to remind everyone of the general Obama strategy.

The Obama campaign is a very sophisticated organization. In accordance with this they are taking an electoral tactic that is very different from a traditional 20th century campaign. Those campaigns were built and driven by media cycles. We see this in the Atwater-Rove-Schmidt campaign run by McCain. For him the entire election is predicated on winning the news cycle every day. The Palin pick and its timing was a big example of this. Everytime Obama starts to get some positive coverage the McCain capaign does something to try and undercut this. Typically this includes the video press releases that the TV people seem to think are ads. They dont run often or for very long. They are just designed to grab media coverage.

McCain thinks that winning the cycle everyday will give him a victory in November. This is standard classic, traditional campaign thinking originally developed in 92 by Bill Clinton and his famous war room. Obama has always been against pursuing this type of strategy. Yes it drives every one crazy but that is how he operates. His campaign operates on a different wavelength than traditional campaigns. There is good reason for him to disdain this type of national level media war. It has not proven to be effective in winning votes in November. In fact most of the day to day movement is likely to be driven more by the vagaries of polling and noise than actual daily events. Let me take you back all the way to august 28. On that day the entire election was laid out by David Plouffe.

Plouffe spent about the first 15 minutes talking about his field operation, and returned to the subject several times over the remaining 45 or so minutes. He said the campaign is focused on 18 states. They're especially concentrating on people he called "true undecideds" – people who aren't leaning one way or the other. The demographics of the true undecideds are favourable, he says: "We like where they are and who they are."

...He framed the contest as being about field operation vs. news cycle. "Their campaign," he said, referring to McCain's, "is all about winning the news cycle." He said his campaign's constant research shows that voters listen more to people in their communities they know and trust than they listen to attack ads or blowhards on television.

Unlike the McCain campaign the Obama campaign is based entirely on demographics. It is based on a breakdown of who votes democratic and the maximization of those groups and it is based on who the truly undecided voters are and how to swing that group. As Plouffe stated they dont think the way to do this is through national media cycles. Here is Plouffe's take on the undecided voters,

Just who exactly these voters are varies from state to state, he added, but the Obama campaign's research shows that they tend to be unhappy about the economy, are two-thirds more likely to oppose the Iraq War than support it, and are largely women. In other words, he suggested, they are far more likely to end up in Obama's column in the fall.

Now we need to evaluate exactly how Obama thinks he is doing. That means we need to examine some polls and look at the voter registration trends. Time recently reported on the Obama camps self reports,

For the next month, the Obama campaign's ground focus is on finishing up the stunning gains in voter registration that it and the Democratic Party have made. Since January alone more than 3.5 million new voters have been registered in 17 of the 23 states tracked closely by the Obama campaign where information is available. Three states — Florida, Michigan and North Carolina — have seen increases of more than 400,000 new voters, and 10 more states have recorded new registrations of more than 100,000. Though these numbers include registrants to all parties, in 14 of the states at least half of the new voters are under 35, a key demographic for Obama.

"We're on pace to hit goal," says Jason Green, a 27-year-old Gaithersburg, Md., native who is Obama's national voter registration director. "I would love to exceed goal." Green, not surprisingly, isn't in the mood to get specific about what that goal is, though he does say that it is "in the millions," and that the bulk of the voters will be in the 18 battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado and New Mexico (though drives have been mounted in all 50 states). Green is also happy to share the news that they registered more than 100,000 people over Labor Day weekend, capitalizing on the wave of excitement coming out of the convention in Denver.

I did a previous post that outlined the voter registration trends in the different battleground states. Everything is pointing towards Obama's campaign being on track to accomplish the registration and the turn out goals. With the selection of Sarah Palin many have wondered about the reinvigorate of the evangelical ground game that was instrumental in putting Bush into office. time has a brief profile on that and, if accurate, paints a picture of a complacent almost bloated organization.

The two sides' different approaches toward the ground war were evident during a recent late summer weekend in Virginia. On a balmy Saturday morning over Starbucks coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, about two dozen Republican canvassers met to go door-knocking. The Grand Old Party tradition has become a familiar ritual for this Old Dominion group, some of whom have been volunteering since before the Starbucks took up residence in the upscale Fairfax, Va., strip mall, not 10 miles from Washington. They spent the morning retracing familiar paths, calling on homes they most likely have visited before and, as always, completing SAT-style fill-in-the-bubble spreadsheets that are fed to the GOP's massive voter files.

"I sure have knocked on these doors, countless times," former state senator Jay O'Brien says of the approximately once-a-month gathering. "I've been out here since 1991." (O'Brien knows the importance of new voters firsthand: he lost his state senate seat last year, when a surge of new voters came out of nowhere in his Fairfax district. "Frankly, I got as many votes as I used to get, but there was a bigger turnout by new voters who wanted to make a statement about other things, and they were more energized by a Democrat," O'Brien says.)

About 30 miles south in Woodbridge, Va., Angel Thomas was canvassing for Obama. Thomas, 26, who has never before volunteered for a campaign, spent the past month downloading lists of her neighbors from mybarackobama.com. In her free time, she knocks on as many doors as she can. She asks her neighbors whom they support, tries to educate and convince those who are on the fence and logs all the information into Obama's website before downloading another list. While the GOP is still meeting in groups once a month, Thomas and her 8 million allies are canvassing 24/7.

If you are interested in a longer more detailed take on the Obama gound game check out this article.

Given the limited information available it looks like Obama is going to have the ground advantage. The second part to the Obama plan has to do with the demographics of the electorate. This is essentially what they did in the primaries. They built up a bloc of reliable voters that made up enough of the electorate to win. There were few if any major shifts in the demographic breakdown. Clinton had Appalachia, women, Hispanics/Latinos and the elderly. Obama had the young, the African Americans and highly educated as the core of his voting bloc. Obama is counting on retaining these groups in the general. They believe that Dems + 50% of independents = Win.

How is he doing demographically. Among women he is up 51-43 according to the Dkos Tracking Poll. This is a big reversal from the Bush Kerry election where Kerry won by only 3 points. Obama still lags behind McCain among white women 49-42 but better than kerry's 55-44 drumming. Obama is far outperforming kerry in the latino dem. The reason McCain is cles in most of these polls is that he owns the south. If the south was the same as the rest of the country Obama would be killing McCain. If you throw out the NE and the South Obama is up by about 4-5 points.

Also keep in mind that Obama is focused on the electoral map. His best most likely path to victory imo is holding kerry states and picking up iowa, colorado, and nevada. These are three states where the Obama campaign has poured resources into these states. If he picks up Ohio, currently very tight, he also wins. So even with the poll shifts after the convention Obama is still with in striking distance of the win. Especially if he picks up 2+ points over McCain in his GOTV efforts.

It is possible that the Obama campaign is totally wrong about losing the media cycle day after day after day. This means that their hubris will lead to a McCain Presidency. It is also possible that the Palin pick has just enough effect to cut into Obama's margins with Women or to boost GOP turnout though that has yet to manifest itself. As i have been continuously pointing out his biggest problem is with the 60+ voters. If Obama can somehow swing that group he wins media cycle or not.

There is something to say about winning the media cycle. People have to get their information somewhere. The people in the community who inform others may not be getting their info from blogs or other media sources that care about the truth or facts. If people are spreading the bad tm info and rumor than Obama has to fight against that in his ground game persuasion. If he fought this at the top it might make the ground persuasion easier. Although we all know the media has a conservative bias so maybe it is more effective to try and bypass it.

Obama's strategy appears risky on its face. It is hard to conceive that they can simply ignore media cycles and rely on a base turnout strategy reliant on demographics to win. However they probably have real data to back that up. It is one of the least talked about aspects of punditry that the only numbers that are ever introduced are polls that support the narrative and not other numbers that might tend to disprove the narrative.

So when you see Obama ads and think that they kind of suck. remember that their heart may not be into it. I suspect that many of their ads are not designed to do anything other than placate the media and the political class. They are going to rely on community organization and community level out reach to win the election. Obama is trying to win like Bush did, turn out the base and pick off some indys.


O-le,O-le, O-le, O-le! O-le, O-le!

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