Obama Operating

A couple of profiles on the Obama operation.

The first, written by Dana Goldstein and Ezra Klein is one of the first to really get at the 'meat & potatoes' of what made it all click for Obama to win the nomination. Basically, Obama has terrific skills himself, but the inheritance of Daschle's DC team (which had already been primed for an '04 race), and the rise of Dean's 50-State Strategy of grassroots and netroots organizing, laid the table for the newcomer to go to the front of the pack. They have excelled at every stage of the campaign, except closing the deal.

The second, on the WaPost, by Jose Antonio Vargas, profiles the Obama web team. It profiles the operation that Joe Rospars has built around YouTube, Social Networking, and Text-Messaging. A nice piece of work in gathering up the most prominent pieces of strategy that the Obama campaign is executing in their online strategy. It doesn't get into their fundraising efforts, their online advertising, or their one-to-one recruitment, but instead focuses on the new media tactics.

Rospars has no peers when it comes to knowing how to write an effective fundraising email. He's done a terrific job at the things set out in the profile and more, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out why he hasn't pursued a blog outreach strategy to date. I'm not talking about a constituency relationship or blogads, but a strategic message one. One that recognizes the blogs as being more powerful in concert with what the campaign is trying to do in opposition to McCain, and coordinating the execution of that strategic message. I'm sure that Josh Orton can speak more to the fault here, so hopefully he'll chime in somewhere with his commentary.

This isn't a ground-breaking idea I'm talking about, but a strategy that's been executed successfully many times over in winning contests over the past few years. Joe was a blogger with Ezra and Nico Pitney at 'Not Genius' back in 2002-03, and then with the Dean campaign, so its not like he doesn't get it. Even John McCain executes on the strategy. Joe ought to do some outreach himself to Peter Daou, who was in a similar situation in '04 with Kerry's campaign. Kerry had won the primary without any help at all from the blogs, and it wasn't until after the swiftboating explosion in August that the Kerry campaign realized they had a problem with controlling the message via the blogosphere. It was probably too late for Peter to do much, but he certainly dived in and worked well with the blogosphere in those last few months to develop an opposition message strategy against Bush.

Now, of course, a number of things have changed, including two big things, which the Obama campaign has recognized. First, blogs have went mainstream, all the traditional media outlets have bloggers and they are 24/7 bloggers with access. They've effectively become the online outreach vehicles for the Obama campaign message push-- the Marc Ambinder, Ben Smith, and Jake Tapper world. Second, there's a world of social networking sites that have huge numbers of available for finding voters and for organizing supporters, and the Obama campaign has leveraged those like none other. But neither have replaced the partisan blogosphere, which has grown about 10X since 2004 in terms of bloggers and readership.

And without the outreach, partisan Democratic bloggers are left on their own to pursue a decentralized strategy which has largely wandered in the desert looking for an attack angle on McCain. Bloggers complain about there not being a consistent message from Obama against McCain because nothing is being coordinated from within the campaign for outreach purposes.

Tags: Dana Goldstein, Ezra Klein, Joe Rospar, Jose Antonio Vargas, Josh Orton (all tags)

Comments

25 Comments

Re: Obama Operating

"except closing the deal", what does that mean?

by venician 2008-08-20 08:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Operating

Not sure.

In May, Obama had a ton of unfavorable primary states and the race continued as it had before: completely reliant on Demographics (and you could add about 20 points to Obama for caucuses).

by Dale Johnson 007 2008-08-20 08:13AM | 0 recs
Good point on blog outreach

They should, at the very least, be contacting elite PARTISAN bloggers occasionally. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. Who knows? Well... I guess Jerome probably knows.

The Clinton campaign actually did better blog outreach than Obama, now that I think of it, even though the demographics of blogging always favored a pro-Obama blogosphere, the Clinton campaign made the best of it. Lemons from lemonade.

by Dale Johnson 007 2008-08-20 08:15AM | 0 recs
Jerome have you seen the Reuters/Zogby

poll and RCP map for today? I hope these are statistical outliers. The polls seems to suggest Obama needs to work on the base.

Reuters/Zogby

McCain 46 Obama 41

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080820/ts_n m/usa_poll_politics_dc

RCP map
Barack Obama 264    John McCain 274    
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/ maps/obama_vs_mccain/?map=10

by louisprandtl 2008-08-20 08:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Jerome have you seen the Reuters/Zogby

The media is all over this poll as evidence that Obama is in trouble. I think it is a lot more likely  that it is an outlier and until I see a couple more like it I am not going to worry too much.

by JDF 2008-08-20 09:25AM | 0 recs
MSM can go fly a kite for all I care...

It is expected that the polls would tighten.

by louisprandtl 2008-08-20 02:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Jerome have you seen the Reuters/Zogby

He's had, in the shortview, a bad month, no doubt.

I think part of it is an unwillingness to go too negative too early.

I'm not sure it's a bad long-run strategy. Especially since headlines like this will help wake up the base, donors and diminish McCain's self-label as the underdog.

I think rather than tying Bush and McCain together now and turning that into a redundant line in the fall, after the convention (the actual start of the GE) he's going to run against McCain and Bush together, and wrap them up in a big bow.

by evantakesall 2008-08-20 01:24PM | 0 recs
McCain in my opinion learnt a wrong lesson..

it helps to go negative. Obama has started hitting back which is good. In a tight election base turnout becomes important and  this would help the campaign to focus a bit more on this aspect too along with what it is already doing. I'm not worried about the flip shown in Zogby, it is too early to tell. But this gives the campaign an early opportunity to bolster any weak spots...

by louisprandtl 2008-08-20 02:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Operating

He hasn't out-reached to the blogs because 1) he can't control us 2) we are part of the 'partisan problem' maybe a necessary part to the republican hate of the 2000s, but one that if Obama really want's to move beyond that divide, he needs to marginalize.

by MNPundit 2008-08-20 09:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Operating

Ah let me note I disagree with the marginalize part, but that is how I think we are seen by Obama.

by MNPundit 2008-08-20 09:25AM | 0 recs
Foreign Policy V Economy

Many of the partisan blogger write endlessly about foreign policy.

The voters Obama needs to win will vote their pocketbooks. This election will turn on the Jobs Jobs Jobs message.  Obama lost that primary message to Clinton at the end.  Only organization and the right on Iraq issue propelled Obama over the hump.  

McCain is soooooo weak on jobs, that Obama should be winning easily.  Instead Obama travels to Europe and spends his sound bites answering McCain attacks on foreign policy.

Obama needs to move off foreign policy and start attacking McCain on the jobs issue.  The bloggers could help, but the Obama economic team is way to the right of Clinton and Edwards and don't seem to be pushing a populist economic message.  

Another issue that few have touched is "who will run the government?  Neither McCain nor Obama have run any organization larger than their presidential campaigns.  McCain will have to rely on the Bush people who have already run our government into the ground.  This is a good line of attack.  Phil (Enron) Gramm needs to be a target of everything that is wrong with McCain.

Obama will have to bring in people who gained experience during the Clinton era.   The lack of executive experience in either candidate makes it more difficult to translate their rhetoric into coherent policies.

by bakho 2008-08-20 09:24AM | 0 recs
Obama on jobs

Today in Virginia Obama had a town hall and was talking about jobs and the economy. He talked about how weak McCain was on it.

He spoke specifically about cutting the tax incentives to companies who ship jobs out of the United States and continued to talk about his 1k tax credit for working families.

by JDF 2008-08-20 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama on jobs

This is precisely what is wrong about Obama's message.  Bush gave us tax cuts.  They suck.  Obama is promising--More tax cuts.  

Why won't that suck just as bad.  How will cutting tax breaks on rogue corporations create more jobs?

The American people don't want stupid tax cuts.  Tax cuts are stupid Republican bait and switch talking points.  Obama's economic advisors are very conservative so they seem to think tax cuts are a good idea.  They aren't.  Bill Clinton had to dump his promised tax cuts in 1993.

Americans want good paying jobs.  This is where Obama and his economic team just don't seem to get it.  What will Obama do that will create good paying jobs?

by bakho 2008-08-20 09:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama on jobs

Lets review
Bush gave tax breaks to corporations and the Rich.

Obama wants to repeal those tax cuts and give a 1k tax credit to working families to help them deal with rising costs in the world. It is an immediate help to those who need it- we are not going to create new jobs over night.

By not giving tax incentives to industries who are leaving the country and instead giving them to the companies that will employ American workers you are keeping jobs here AND keeping wealth here. Those are two good things.

And you can talk all you want about how tax cuts are a republican talking point but I live in a middle class family that is struggling and let me tell you my parents, who are long time progressive Democrats, would love to see that 1k tax credit about now.

by JDF 2008-08-20 09:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama on jobs

Yes, but they would gladly trade in that $1k tax credit for their child to land in a good paying career or get a pay raise.  

Liberals endlessly bashed Clinton for not doing enough for the poor when Clinton provided the poor with exactly what they wanted and had not had for years-  Jobs.  

Tax cuts and rebates are a poor substitute.  Voters know this.  Republicans and conservative economists do not.

by bakho 2008-08-20 10:05AM | 0 recs
False Choice

You assume that these things exist entirely independent of one another. Giving the middle class a tax break in no way hinders the ability to find them jobs as well.

Taking away incentives from companies who outsource jobs is certainly good in the long run for those of us who need jobs. Pushing for alternative energy is good for those of us who need jobs.

People who don't think Obama is good on the economy aren't paying attention- or falsely believe, as you do, that giving the middle class a tax break must be the beginning and the end of his plans on the subject.

by JDF 2008-08-20 11:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama on jobs

It's not a matter of tax cutting or creating jobs -- Obama would do both.

Read this:

"How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy,"
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/magazi ne/24Obamanomics-t.html?em=&pagewant ed=print

<snip>

"Among the policy experts and economists who make up the Democratic government-in-waiting, there is now something of a consensus. They agree that deficit reduction did an enormous amount of good. It helped usher in the 1990s boom and the only period of strong, broad-based income growth in a generation. But that boom also depended on a technology bubble and historically low oil prices. In the current decade, the economy has continued to grow at a decent pace, yet most families have seen little benefit. Instead, the benefits have flowed mostly to a small slice of workers at the very top of the income distribution. As Rubin told me, comparing the current moment with 1993, "The distributional issues are obviously more serious now." From today's vantage point, inequality looks likes a bigger problem than economic growth; fiscal discipline seems necessary but not sufficient.

In practical terms, the new consensus means that the policies of an Obama administration would differ from those of the Clinton administration, but not primarily because of differences between the two men. "The economy has changed in the last 15 years, and our understanding of economic policy has changed as well," Furman says. "And that means that what was appropriate in 1993 is no longer appropriate." Obama's agenda starts not with raising taxes to reduce the deficit, as Clinton's ended up doing, but with changing the tax code so that families making more than $250,000 a year pay more taxes and nearly everyone else pays less. That would begin to address inequality. Then there would be Reich-like investments in alternative energy, physical infrastructure and such, meant both to create middle-class jobs and to address long-term problems like global warming."

...

by eliot 2008-08-21 07:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Foreign Policy V Economy

"Obama will have to bring in people who gained experience during the Clinton era.   The lack of executive experience in either candidate makes it more difficult to translate their rhetoric into coherent policies."

This is bogus and will be used as a reason not to vote for Obama.  While you didn't specificly say "Clinton Administration Personnel" it is strongly implied - Obama is more likely to bring in former staffers from the House/Senate Majority/Minority leaders offices, as well as new people to government.  People with Private and Non-Profit sector experience.

How can you expect change bringing in the same old hands?  You do need some experience in how Washington works (or doesn't work) and you need some experience at the basic process levels, but you do not need DC/White House experience in every position.

Putting a Chris Dodd in the VP office, a Daschle in as COS or Legislative Director, etc along with a few people with Capitol Hill experience mixed with some newcomers with real world experience beyond the beltway is a recipe for real change and progress.

Just please dump the "will have to bring in Clinton experience" crap, it is toxic to indys and  R's, and makes liberals/progressive think we are in for another Administration that leads the fight for non-solutions like NAFTA, DADT, etc

by mp 2008-08-20 09:45AM | 0 recs
Clinton White House

Agencies were run very effectively during the Clinton administration when they were not being shut down but Newt and the GOP Congress.  

It is laughable to think that there are enough Congressional staffers to fill the positions.  Congressional staff are dwarfed by the numbers of agency staff.  We had better hope that Obama brings back many of the old Clinton people because there is a great need to get rid of the Monica Goodlings, (incompetent party hacks) that will be a drag on anything Obama wants to accomplish.  

How well Clinton ran the government for the people compared to how Bush has run our government for the special interests should be a major campaign issue.  Especially since special interest lobbyists are running the entire McCain campaign including Phil (Enron) Gramm.  This is not a "get along" issue.  These people are planted to undermine Democratic administrations.

by bakho 2008-08-20 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Clinton White House

Wow, I had no idea you were talking about filling EVERY staff position with Clinton Admin staffers - that really is laughable.

I was talking about the true senior level positions, the people that will set the tone for the new administration at the direction of their President.

Of course we should root out the cronyism and other varieties of incompetence and partisan hackery.  We should not boast about "bringing back the good old days of the Clinton Administration" - for the bulk of undecided voters, that is not a positive connotation, yes, the Bush Admin is bad, but lets not compare to the past, lets look forward at a better government in Obama's image.

You start talking about the Clinton White House staff you will get more discussion about Whitewater and Monica cover ups than about "good government" - we want to win this election, don't we?

Was Clinton's Government better than Bush's? By leaps and bounds.  Is it the standard we should project as the future?  Hell no.  We can do better.

As a logistical aside...eight years later, the majority of the Clinton staff have likely progressed in their careers well beyond their position in his administration, maybe a few of them would step back in service to country, but most of them would expect to move up the ladder several rungs, leaving you with out anyone to fill a majority of the jobs anyway.

If Obama puts the right people in the upper level positions, those people will fill the positions below them with good people and so on, where those people come from isn't important if they are capable of handling the job they are hired for.  Maybe some will have had experience in the Clinton White House, maybe none will. Not really important to me, but as a campaign issue, I know its a loser.

by mp 2008-08-20 11:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Foreign Policy V Economy

The upcoming NYT Magazine has a feature story on Obamanomics, "How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy," which can be previewed here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/magazi ne/24Obamanomics-t.html?em=&pagewant ed=print

For additional insight into the talent that would populate an Obama Administration, see:

"Is (His) Biography (Our) Destiny?" By James Traub
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/magazi ne/04obama-t.html?hp=&pagewanted=pri nt

"The Obama Doctrine" by Spencer Ackerman
http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?arti cle=the_obama_doctrine

"Obama's Brain Trust" by Joanna Klonsky, Council on Foreign Relations
http://www.newsweek.com/id/139894/output print

"Obama's Brain Trust Taking Shape" by Eli Lake
http://www.nysun.com/national/obamas-bra in-trust-taking-shape/71580
?print=87123 39121

And for an interesting take on Obama's & McCain's contrasting views on economics, see
"Obama's Populism versus McCain's Free Trade" by Walter C. Uhler, http://atlanticfreepress.com/content/vie w/3463/81/

by eliot 2008-08-21 07:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Operating


The first, written by Dana Goldstein and Ezra Klein is one of the first to really get at the 'meat & potatoes' of what made it all click for Obama to win the nomination. Basically, Obama has terrific skills himself, but the inheritance of Daschle's DC team (which had already been primed for an '04 race), and the rise of Dean's 50-State Strategy of grassroots and netroots organizing, laid the table for the newcomer to go to the front of the pack. They have excelled at every stage of the campaign, except closing the deal.

I think this needs to be contextualized and bracketed a bit.

The staff factor matters on two key questions:

(1) how did Obama, who didn't have a normal Pre-Presidential Campaign Leadership PAC operation, and who may not have fully been on board with a presidential run until January 2007, assemble the a first-rate staff senior leadership so quickly (really within the first 6 weeks)?

(2) What largely staff-driven strategic decisions did the Obama campaign make that allowed them to succeed in the Iowa caucuses?

The answer to (1) is Pete Rouse and the extended Daschle-Gephardt family merger. My sense is that this actually began earlier than many suspect. For instance, did you know that Steve Hildebrand accompanied Barack Obama to the 2006 Harkin Steak Fry at a time when Obama was still publicly denying that he was going to run for President, and at a time when Tom Daschle was still technically considering running for President and Hildebrand was running Daschle's PAC?

The answer to (2) is also the Daschle-Gephardt family merger, but in a slightly different way. Obama based his Iowa campaign on a message that was a direct derivative of John Edwards '04, which Axelrod was the lead media consultant on. Big on optimism, unity, and moral uplift. 2004 showed that, in Iowa, the energy-youth-change-non-beltway vote (Edwards & Dean) was greater than the gray-haired-experienced-long-resume vote (Kerry & Gephardt). The organizational piece was built on the combined expertise of Hildebrand, Tewes, and Plouffe. Hildebrand's calling card is base expansion. You know you've been beaten by a Hildebrand field organization when you wake-up on Election Day finding a different electorate composition than your polling led you to believe.

That's where the staff mattered. Here's where it did not matter:

(1) Money -- the staff did not make one bit of difference in terms of Obama's fundraising. His fundraising advantage was the single most important strategic he had going into January 2008. I'm convinced that his massive outspending of Clinton and Edwards in Iowa proved the difference there, and ultimately it allowed him to overwhelm Clinton in the delegate race.

(2) Net Following -- Rospars is good, but the Obama net operation was not nearly as tactically creative as Dodd's, not nearly as well integrated into the overall communications operation as Clinton's, not nearly as ambitious with the social-networking & grassroots development as Edwards. Ultimately, Obama's glamour and charisma mattered much more here, as well as the pre-existing independent (leftover Dean '04) netroots.

(3) Media coverage -- Again, the good press coverage Obama gets isn't really because his staff are swell people (although they may well be), it's because Obama may be the political story of a lifetime, and the press is easily seduced by charisma.

by blueflorida 2008-08-20 09:46AM | 0 recs
wow

nice analysis.

by Koan 2008-08-20 10:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Operating

If the partisan left bloggers want to add less to the noise and more to the message, they may need to start organizing among themselves rather than waiting for a lead from the campaign itself.

I'm dropping a plug for this site: http://strategy08.wordpress.com/ which is a place for bloggers to really concentrate on messaging, talking points, and a coherent daily strategy. A coordinated approach to advancing specific ideas during each news cycle can emerge from the blogs themselves, reinforcing campaign messaging in even more forceful language.

by BobzCat 2008-08-20 08:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Operating

BobzCat, I think the Obama I've come to know would prefer exactly this sort of independent, netroots organizing you describe happening at strategy08.  The campaign's website and the Democratic Party Platform esablish priorities and provide the framework for messaging, talking points & daily strategy; the rest is up to us.

"This is our time."

by eliot 2008-08-21 06:41AM | 0 recs

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