Obama's campaign book: part Iowa
by Jerome Armstrong, Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 07:30:26 AM EST
So back to the '08 election books for the second part (the first part is here) of the primary season: Iowa.
In ATW, page 106. Its mid-October '07 and Clinton has peaked too early, though few could tell at the time, and it seemed she "could do no wrong" but Plouffe points at two mis-steps that leveled the field in Iowa. Clinton's flip-flopping about whether illegal immigrants should have driver licenses which put her into the penalty box among the national press, and what he calls "Plantgate" which was about Clinton staffers putting questions into the Iowan crowds, which hurt her authenticity. This second one really got to the heart of the oppositional push by Obama's campaign. It was a very patient operation; one that waited for openings and then maximized them when they occurred. Edwards paying $300 for a haircut in Iowa & Clinton's staffers putting up softball questions both served to undermine the character of the opposition, with the particular angle that Obama was emphasizing in himself: authentic hope for change.
A whole book could be written on the Democratic caucus in Iowa in 2008. I've got some great books on Iowa that cover the '70's and '80's caucus events. And the '92 & '96 caucuses were non-events. Starting with Gore vs Bradley in '00, then the '04 race between Gephardt, Edwards, Kerry & Dean; and then the '08 contest, which I believe is one of the greatest nominating events of all-time, there's a historical book calling out to be written. The section on Iowa is the most revealing part of Plouffe's book (the second being the VP selection process), but it deserves even more than what Plouffe has laid out.
Back to our timeline. When the opening emerged in November, Obama, at the JJ dinner, found a message to differentiate himself from Clinton, Plouffe tells us Obama said:This is not about issue differences, other than Iraq," he summarized. "Its about leadership qualities and vision. that's what we have to punch through at the J-J."
I think that pretty well sums up what Obama's appeal was to his unique coalition. Its very transformative-based, instead of issue-based. When I had been reading polling done in '05 and '06 in Iowa, I picked up on the same consistent thread of post-partisanship appeal (though it is, given the current nature of Republicans in DC, a pony ride express).
This distinction between the two candidates is driven home by Plouffe:When at last Hillary took the stage... the main thrust of her speech was that she was tough enough to take on the republicans. She asked the crowd, "And when the republicans engage in fearmongering, and saber rattling, and talk about WW III, what do we do with them? And her supporters... shouted out... "Turn up the heat!" Plouffe, in Chicago watching it on TV with his wife, remarks:"That just seems awful," I said to her as Hillary riled up the crowd. "Even for a Democratic Party dinner it's awfully political and partisan."In contrast, Obama hit a "Fucking home run" in the words of Axlerod.
So it was with the distinct coalition of Iowan voters, new voters and not that partisan, that coalesced around Obama. When they brought Oprah into Iowa in Dec, it broadened their tent-- 30,000 people attended. That's amazing.
By December '07, when Clinton talks about her experience and ability "to take on the Republican machine" Plouffe says the campaign was "all over this as a prime example of that was wrong with Washington and the current state of politics."
This seemed at the time, nothing but a fairy tail, and readding what I wrote in mid-Feb, it drove home the only distinction I could find meaningful for the primary:
I happened to have noticed that the Clinton and Obama voting record are nearly identical... In that light, that they are the same as far as policy goes, or more or less, I happen to have made up my mind based on which of them is more likely to kick the Republicans in the balls, rather than give them a helping hand back to the table.It might be what's wrong, but its also the reality.
Obama's effective appeal to a slew of new caucus-goers for Iowa was that we'd hold hands in DC. Part if this is, to be sure, is how he could win through positioning. By the end, Plouffe says he had 60K 1's and 30K 2's heading into the caucus. The final DR poll was very accurate on the spread, showing Obama 32, Clinton 25, Edwards 24.
In a revealing passage, Plouffe goes into the John Kerry endorsement, which he tipped them off about a few days prior to the Iowa caucus. It was definitely a good call to hold off on it, because Kerry didn't reflect their message in Iowa as a closing argument. Not many candidates would recognize that as the right call.
By January 2008, in a cool scene, Plouffe describes the coalition of voters in the caucus outside Des Moines in a suburban high school in Ankeny at 6:15 pm, just before they closed the doors to caucus while Obama pounded for a few more votes:Right there, in front of our eyes on caucus night, we were seeing the coalition of voeters we had set out to build: high school kids; republicans who said they were switching their registration to caucus for Barack; Iowa residents atteing MI and WI colleges who had stayed home a few extra days to caucus; an older couple who said they had not participated since '68; when they volunteered for Bobby Kennedy. And my favorite, a man dressed like Gandalf from The Lord of the Rights, holding a staff with an iPod attached at the top and a little speaker playing Obama's speeches on repeat.I have an image of the Obama campaign as I was driving through Iowa diring the waning days of the primary. Signs saying "Hope" in blue, on a white background, posted in snowy corners of the towns throughout Iowa. Even down to the meshing the campaign slogan-speak with the holiday spirit, the Obama Iowa campaign nailed it.