Barack Obama, please shake up your national staff

Back in June, I urged Barack Obama to fire the scheduler who put him at a west-coast fundraiser instead of at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids. It seemed crazy to me for Obama to pass up a chance to address 1,000 Democratic activists in Iowa, especially since he wasn't hurting in the fundraising department.

I've long questioned the wisdom of David Axelrod's strategy to make the Obama campaign about Obama's inspiring personal story and his quest for consensus and post-partisanship.

Now I read in the Des Moines Register on Friday that Barack Obama will skip the September 20 AARP forum in Davenport.

John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson will be there. But Obama will miss the chance to address more than 2,000 Iowa seniors, as well as the national public television audience who will watch the event.

Last week the Obama campaign announced plans to skip many of the remaining forums held by interest groups, and his national campaign manager explained the decision to the Register:

The number of events threatened to take Obama off his own game plan, his national campaign manager David Plouffe said.

"Otherwise, our schedule would be dictated by dozens and dozens of forums and debates, and we think the most important part of this process is individual interaction with voters," Plouffe said. "We benefit greatly when we're out there meeting with voters at our own events."

A lot of pundits and bloggers applauded Obama's decision, saying there are too many debates and forums. I see their point, but on the other hand, interest group forums raise questions that might not come up often on the campaign trail. I like the idea of the candidates being forced to address these issues.

Plus, I think it's risky to turn down an invitation when your rivals will all be there.

But even if I agreed with Obama's general strategy to attend fewer of these forums, the last one I'd skip is the AARP forum in Iowa.

Think about it: Obama does well with the under-30 crowd, but many (most?) Iowa precincts have a very small proportion of voters under 30. The majority of caucus-goers are likely to be over 50. The Register notes:

That group also has carried disproportionate clout in recent caucuses, according to Iowa Democratic Party statistics.

In 2004, 64 percent of the people who participated in the Democratic presidential caucuses were 50 or older. In 2000, the figure was 63 percent.

If Obama is going to do well in Iowa, he'll have to improve his numbers with the over-50 set.

Iowa State University political science professor Dianne Bystrom said she would have thought Obama would have made an exception for the AARP forum.

"He may not think that's his political base," said Bystrom, whose expertise includes debate strategy. "But it's the older voters that go to the caucuses, and I think he's really passing up an opportunity to speak to those voters."

Obama has a great Iowa staff led by Paul Tewes [update: I was wrong--John Norris's wife Jackie Norris is on Obama's staff, not John Norris]. But his national campaign handlers need to have their heads examined.

You may wonder why I care, since I am supporting Edwards for president. But I don't want Obama to do poorly in Iowa. I want him to finish ahead of Clinton.

To do that, he'll need to do better with older voters.  I hope he'll turn up in Davenport on September 20 after all.

Tags: 2008 elections, Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Iowa, president, Primaries (all tags)



Re: Barack Obama, please shake up your national st

Lets see what his supporters that applauded the move when he announced it will say , I would like to hear their reaction.

Do you think his decision is wise now ? or Should he back track and go to the AARP ?

by lori 2007-08-24 06:05PM | 0 recs
Good diary.

I am sure, 100%, he will change his mind.  

by bookgrl 2007-08-24 06:09PM | 0 recs
I agree.

While it was wise for Obama to decide to skip some of the forums, this is not one he should avoid.

Hopefully someone will contact Obama's campaign and let them know how stupid they are for missing this opportunity.

by Namtrix 2007-08-24 06:14PM | 0 recs
my guess is the Iowa staff

are pretty unhappy about this. I wouldn't be surprised to see a backtrack.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 06:19PM | 0 recs
disagree desmoines

 Frankly he needed to do this and can't now pick and choose. Obama needs to spend his time reaching voters in personal settings across Iowa and the other early states. Interest group voters aren't really his target demographic and people who are really considering voting for him aren't going to not support him becuase of limiting his forum stops. Obama can not win the Iowa caucus or the primary as a whole playing Hillary's game pandering to people who are single issue voters and he can't win unless voters who wouldn't normally show up for a primary/caucus show up. That's what Obama needs to focus on and he doesn't want to insult particular groups so he had to take a stand.

by nevadadem 2007-08-24 06:40PM | 0 recs
but a lot of old people watch public tv

and most Iowa caucus-goers will be over 50. I think this is a much more important forum than most of the other ones that have been held already.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 06:42PM | 0 recs
Re: but a lot of old people watch public tv

 I sort of agree but for Obama's sake he'd better get a much higher% of younger voters than usual to turn out. I don't think Iowa seniors are his best demographic. In addition you can't take a sand agianst having to go to a tons of events and then make a 1 time exemption, I would get on him for that! His explananation for his non-attendance for any of these things will fly if he's sticks to it. Ny January he will have personally met every Iowan that's interested so I wouldn't worry too much about this.

by nevadadem 2007-08-24 06:53PM | 0 recs
Why the concern for an AARP forum?

The only people I have heard from that think it is a mistake to skip it were clearly not Obama supporters. I think skipping this forum is a good opportunity for those not supporting him to make his campaign seem insensitive to seniors.

But it is just one of the countless forums that people are not paying attention to. There are 2 or 3 of these things every week! The press gives at most a  one or two sentence comment on the individual candidate, and no one pays attention to what was said.

By the way, AARP is an insurance company that is a Republican-supporting group. Like the other insurance companies, they supported the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan D, a big government ripoff of seniors and taxpayers. Even if the Republican candidates all support privatization of Social Security or any other detrimental cause for seniors, AARP will not endorse a Democrat. Among the Democrats, Clinton would be their obvious choice. So why should progressives bother?

By the way, John Norris is not officially or unofficially heading Obama's Iowa campaign.

by tomcat 2007-08-24 06:43PM | 0 recs
John Norris not heading campaign?

I'm sorry, where do you get that? I am pretty sure that he is running Obama's Iowa operation.

Who do you think is running Obama's Iowa campaign?

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 07:01PM | 0 recs
Re: John Norris not heading campaign?

Paul Tewes. John Norris is not even on the staff.

by tomcat 2007-08-24 07:04PM | 0 recs
my mistake--Jackie Norris

John's wife, is on staff, and John Norris has appeared at campaign events endorsing Obama.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 07:08PM | 0 recs
Re: my mistake--Jackie Norris

You are right on both counts, but Jackie is not running the Iowa campaign.

I don't think Obama should make an exception for the AARP forum, and I bet his staff are not that concerned about it. But maybe I am wrong. It is pretty trivial to me, and I have been invited to join the AARP (but I would never join a Republican outfit like that).

I remember all the concern about him skipping the Hall of Fame dinner, but I bet it had no lasting, negative impact on the Obama campaign at all. I am sure those supporting other candidates made a big fuss about it, though.

by tomcat 2007-08-24 07:16PM | 0 recs
Re: John Norris not heading campaign?

John Norris is not running Obama's field in Iowa? I knew Tewes was involved but I saw on OpenLeft that John Norris was running the field program.

If that information is wrong, and Norris is not involved but Tewes is running things, then I revert back to my original estimate of Obama's chances in Iowa. He is screwed.

by souvarine 2007-08-25 08:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Why the concern for an AARP forum?

That should be a great talking point with Iowa voters...

By the way, AARP is an insurance company that is a Republican-supporting group.

by robliberal 2007-08-24 07:35PM | 0 recs
I don't disagree with him, actually

but the problem is that members of the AARP don't see it like that. They join for the discounts and probably think the AARP lobbies for their interests, when they do lobby.

Just like members of AAA would be surprised to learn that the group lobbies against clean air standards and better mileage for cars. Just like members of the Farm Bureau are for the most part unaware that it exists to promote agribusiness and not family farmers.

So he is right about the AARP and you are right that this would not be a helpful talking point in Iowa.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 09:07PM | 0 recs
AARP is not a Republican shop

Thye have fought against the Republicans on the import of drugs from Canada.

In fact that same group that helped to swift boat Kerry has taken shots at teh AARP ( -face-a-dilemma-with-aarp-2005-02-23.htm l ).

There is tension between the AARp and many Democrats on the Hill because the AARP gave its support to Bush's Medicare drug plan.

by dpANDREWS 2007-08-25 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Why the concern for an AARP forum?

Tomcat ----

REALLY!!! AARP is an insurance company??  You really need to educate yourself better.  As a senior citizen I have to disagree with you!!

AARP is so much more than that, yes insurance is contracted THROUGH them but only to EXTERNAL insurance companies willing to work with AARP offering workable coverage to it's members.

My car insurance is with Hartford, my home is insured with Foremost and my Plan D is with United Health Care.  None of these companies is owned by AARP!!!  But it is through AARP that I get GREAT rates.

by Rocky37 2007-08-25 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Why the concern for an AARP forum?

AARP is also a big reason why we have the travesty that is the Bush prescription plan that is going to screw us royally when the bill comes due... conveniently in 2009.  That alone puts them in my and many others shit boxes and the reason we will never give them our money.

by yitbos96bb 2007-08-25 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Why the concern for an AARP forum?

Of course I should say that the REASON they supported it was that it would lead to an increase in policy sales, thus their commission... so greed was the main factor.  Way to screw your members AARP.

by yitbos96bb 2007-08-25 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Why the concern for an AARP forum?

And for the record, while TOMCAT isn't entirely correct, AARP was guilty of this when Leonard Davis ran it... or did you forget the government investigations in the 1990's

by yitbos96bb 2007-08-25 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Why the concern for an AARP forum?

AARP is actually like a broker or agent.  They let their name be used, give discounts to members and then collect commission on those policies.  Just for the record.  

by yitbos96bb 2007-08-25 11:44AM | 0 recs
Close enough

As far as I am concerned, they supported Plan D because it was good for the insurance industry, not because it was good for seniors. The insurance industry may play a smaller role in AARP than in the past, but they are still tied into the insurance industry as mentioned above, and it is my opinion that they are still carrying the insurance industry's water.

I am glad that Obama is not attending their forum, and I wish Edwards would back out, also. Both Obama and Edwards recognize that the insurance industry is standing in the way of a good health care system in the USA.

by tomcat 2007-08-25 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Agreed

Out of all the early voting states, Iowa is the hardest race for Obama, mainly because it is a caucus and young people do not turn out in a cuacus. Missing the AARP is not the best strategy to win Iowa. I highly doubt he could win Iowa anyway, but it would be much better to come in second than third, especially if Edwards is first.

by RJEvans 2007-08-24 06:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Agreed

mainly because it is a caucus and young people do not turn out in a caucus.....................very good point ------Obama's campaign will rise or fall on his ability to change that. If the caucus demographics do not inlude more younger people and indies/first time caucus goers he won't win. Obama is going to spend his time tying to the above instead of going from forum to forum for the next 4 months.

by nevadadem 2007-08-24 07:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Agreed

It's not just that either, there are still (many) people out there who do not or cannot see Obama as Commander-in-Chief. He needs to cross that threshold. They need to be able to see him sitting in the Oval Office telling Americans A to Z. He is not there yet. But there is good news for Obama though. If he could come in second in Iowa, I will say there is a 75% chance he will win NH, and if he does, there will be almost a 100% chance he will win SC. As for Super-Duper Tuesday, he may still have to fight Clinton. I don't think a third place finish in Iowa for Clinton is enough to knock her out.

by RJEvans 2007-08-25 12:10AM | 0 recs
Obama has a good shot at Iowa, AARP or no

Obama is doing well in Iowa, and it is a 3-person race here, with maybe Richardson having a shot of moving into the top tier.

Iowa is Edwards' best (only?) state and Clinton's weakest state, by a long shot.

It is impossible to predict who will turn out on caucus night. There has never been a candidate that could inspire the youth vote in an Iowa caucus, so it is hard to say if they will turn out for Obama or not. I bet we won't know until caucus night.

by tomcat 2007-08-24 07:09PM | 0 recs
I didn't mean to suggest I count him out

He's got a great paid organization and will have a massive volunteer army in Iowa. I do think Obama has room to grow his support. He will need to make gains among older voters to win Iowa, though.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 10:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama, national staff

2 things.  
Obama needs to pull the youth out in bigger numbers if he wants to win Iowa.  Simple as that.  
And Obama does better in the "walk around shake hands and talk" style.  He appeals to people when he talks face to face with them.  He wins them over on the spot like that.  

You have to play to your advantages or you're playing to lose.  Yes, missing an AARP debate is kind of dumb when 2000+ caucusers are watching, (Out of 100,000-200,000 caucusers total usually) But if Obama wins over 1,000 people doing an event in Iowa, then it may be worth it.  It all depends on what the trade off is.  

by JeremiahTheMessiah 2007-08-24 08:36PM | 0 recs
many precincts don't have youth to turn out

That is Obama's biggest problem in Iowa. If we had a primary, it would be less of a problem for him.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 09:05PM | 0 recs
Re: many precincts don't have youth to turn out

  He also needs besides youth some voters who attracted to him becuase of his "non-partison" tone. Those voters also requie personal contact. I'm sure if he thought he could do the AARP event and not any others he'd do it, However he feels if he didn't put a stop to it he'd have to either do all the forums or pick and choose which groups to offend. Overall he realized going to a bunch of these was not his best strategy and I agree with him. I think Obama's team is focusing on finding people to support him that wouldn't normally show up than to compete with Edwards and Hillary for the type of voter that would caucus every 4 years. I'm sure he'll have some support among the regulars but it won't be enough, he has to turn the caucus going process into a can't miss cause, He needs to get the Iowa students that support him to be thier parents to caucus for him. Could you see any other candidate doing things like that?  that's how he wins and he knows it.

by nevadadem 2007-08-24 09:27PM | 0 recs
Re: many precincts don't have youth to turn out

Obama got hundreds of youth to come from one college to cheer outside of the morning debate.  That's dedication.  I'm guessing 2008 will be different, but really we have to wait and see.  We haven't really had a candidate like Obama recently.  

I think what will bring Obama above Hillary is the "Widespread support" advantage in caucus's.  I'm guessing Hillary will have more concentrated support, while Edwards and Obama could carry over her through widespread support by caucus time.  

by JeremiahTheMessiah 2007-08-24 09:40PM | 0 recs
yes, but those hundreds

who showed up to cheer outside the debate site probably are packed into just a few precincts in Iowa.

In many precincts, like my own (lots of empty nesters, some younger families), there will probably be fewer than 10 people under age 30 in the room on caucus night.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 10:39PM | 0 recs
Re: yes, but those hundreds

The key would be, like you said, having the college be an army of volunteers.  But then you need to get all of the colleges in Iowa involved with volunteering to create the widespread support needed to win a caucus.  

Then that gives you a few precincts packed with youth times however many colleges there are with an army of Obama supporters.  

by JeremiahTheMessiah 2007-08-24 11:29PM | 0 recs
I meant to say

beg thier parents to caucus for him.....

by nevadadem 2007-08-24 09:29PM | 0 recs

You hit the nail on the head.

Obama has got to use his student supporters as hard-core lobbyist that could multiply his support greatly.

Every single student should attempt to lobby their entire immediate family members and this is how he could improve his poll numbers among older voters.

We know that those students are die-hard obma supporters and my guess is that they're already doing the background work of lobbying their parents , specially the ones who never vote or caucus.

One thing you need to know about parents is that their son/daughter expires them and if their kids were to beg them to go caucus for obama , they would find it very difficult to reject their offer.

This could be true to parents that dont usually vote and have no horse in the presidential race...

The students could do much more for obama then just show up alone...If 25% of the students are able to drag their mom/dad out on a cold night , obama chances would have greatly improve.

by JaeHood 2007-08-25 10:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama, please shake up your national st

While I am not young by any means I believe the Obama campaign is working hard to get people to caucus.  In my contacts with the Cedar Rapids office they have never missed an opportunity to ask me if I plan to caucus and if I will caucus for Obama.  With all of the youngsters running around that office I think the message is getting out.  It is yet to be seen if those young people will follow through.

by cwilcox 2007-08-24 09:40PM | 0 recs
yes, they are very well organized

I think Obama will have a strong army on the ground in Iowa, which is why I would not count him out here.

I do question the wisdom of the top figures in his campaign nationally, though.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 10:38PM | 0 recs
Re: yes, they are very well organized

"I do question the wisdom of the top figures in his campaign nationally, though."

How so?  Just wondering.  Conventional wisdom is you need 2/3 of the first early states to take the primaries... Obama has a presence in SC, IA, and NH.  So he's set for a decent shot.  But then again what you're referring to could have nothing to do with the primaries.  

by JeremiahTheMessiah 2007-08-24 11:27PM | 0 recs

You can look at it another way, Desmoinesdem, and then it may be ok with you that Obama misses the event:  What if Clinton wins Iowa?  Then you better hope Edwards places ahead of Obama to stay in the race.  So, if Obama misses out on an opportunity to connect with the most important constituency in Iowa, it could help Edwards stay in the race a little while longer.  

by georgep 2007-08-24 10:11PM | 0 recs
If Clinton wins Iowa, it's over for Edwards


Beating Obama for second place would not be enough for Edwards to make up ground against Hillary elsewhere, unless she makes some big mistakes between now and January.

If I were looking at it a different way, I could say that it's no problem Obama is missing this opportunity, because Richardson will be at the AARP forum. There's still an outside chance he could sneak into second place in Iowa, although I wonder whether he is a strong enough campaigner to do it. He is already doing better in polls than Edwards was at any time before December 2003, and I hear many undecideds say they are interested in Richardson.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-24 10:37PM | 0 recs
I wouln't be quick to second guess Obama

    His team correctly concluded he was not going to be able to beat Hillary (or Edwards in Iowa)in a pool of traditional primary/caucus voters. It's a risky strategy what he's doing, but it's the one with the most reward as so few people take part in the Iowa caucus as you have written about before.(great stuff by the way).  

by nevadadem 2007-08-24 10:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama,

I applaud the way he realizes time is running out and he has to do something different- to me, that's a quality of a good leader who faces reality in the face instead of pretending otherwise- I've been liking him a lot better these days- not enough to vote on him, but now I would like him back in the VP slot.  Basically, this campaign has been "on-the-job" training for him- and he seems to be finding his way back after a disastrous two months of pushing the wrong button.

by reasonwarrior 2007-08-25 04:00AM | 0 recs
Seniors are only like 33% (!) of caucus goers

I can't figure out Obama and Edwards sometimes.  It is like they are working at losing.

by dpANDREWS 2007-08-25 07:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Seniors are only like 33% (!) of caucus goers

I am really not worry about the AARP.

I think "Tomcat" stated above the "they supported the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan D, a big government ripoff of seniors and taxpayers" which is true.

Obama is right and smart !
It is better to talk with voters face-to-face instead of pandering in front 2000 people packed in one room.

Old politicians like Hillary love it because it is a one-way conversation and they are afraid of tough questions from voters.

by win 2007-08-25 08:38AM | 0 recs

Yeah a one for 200 trade is great when you are trying to win.  

Oh and hey, don' they ask tough questions at these forums?  I think they do.

by dpANDREWS 2007-08-25 10:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama, please shake up your national st

Thanks for your continued local insight on the race in Iowa!

by Stephen Cassidy 2007-08-25 09:32AM | 0 recs


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