JUNE 25, 2008
A couple interesting take-aways from Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's presentation to reporters at the DNC this afternoon:
1.) The campaign genuinely thinks it can pick off a small state like Alaska, Montana, or North Dakota, where Obama is polling reasonably well this point. Obama has a solid organization in Alaska left over from the February 5 caucuses, while McCain doesn't have any presence to speak of. Plouffe also thought Libertarian candidate Bob Barr could take in the neighborhood of 5 percent of the vote there, allowing Obama to win with 48 percent or so. For its part, Montana has been increasingly hospitable to Democrats in recent years, electing a new Democratic senator and a Democratic governor.
In general, Plouffe argued that organization matters most in these small states, where 8,000-10,000 votes can be the margin of victory in even a not super-close race. He was confident that Obama's precinct-level organization could scare up enough votes to bridge that kind of gap. It's basically the same logic behind the Obama campaign's aggessive focus on small caucus states during the primaries. The difference is that you rarely see that strategy deployed in a general election. There's no reason in principle why it couldn't work, though.
2.) The campaign seems to think it can compete in Indiana. Plouffe noted its proximity to Illinois, the strength of their organization there, and McCain's non-existent presence. This is presumably one of those states where Obama's opt-out decision could pay huge dividends.
3.) Similar story for Virginia and North Carolina: Strong Obama organization, little McCain presence. On top of which, Plouffe says there are several hundred thousand unregistered African Americans in these states, whom the campaign is working very aggressively to register. Perhaps most intriguingly of all (as a sign of their priorities, or what they want us to believe are their priorities), Plouffe said he's dispatched the campaign's best field staffers to these two states.
In general, Plouffe stressed again and again that the campaign thinks it can win non-traditional Democratic states like these by expanding and shifting the electorate, as it did in the Iowa caucuses. Plouffe argued that unprecedented numbers of African Americans and voters under 40 would make these states competitive (along with the campaign's sophistication at targeting, registering, and turning out these new voters).
4.) Another factor Plouffe dwelled on: The grassroots persuasion activities the campaign is overseeing around the country. The idea is to duplicate the Bush effort from 2004 (and the Obama effort from early primary states like Iowa), in which an Obama supporter makes the case to a couple dozen friends and neighbors over a period of several months. These "persuasion armies" are especially critical in "communities where swing voters live," of course. The beauty of relying on them, rather than some more centralized effort, is that they talk like their swing-voter neighbors do, they think like them, they often have similar values/interests/concerns, etc. Also, these persuaders tend to keep up with campaign news and can apply a favorable local gloss when talking it over with friends and neighbors.
This discussion got me thinking that the absolute number of non-Democrats Obama is attracting at this point, or non-Republicans McCain is attracting, is much less important than the intensity of their non-Democratic or non-Republican supporters. For example, suppose Obama and McCain both have 10 million supporters from outside their own party. If one million of those non-Democratic Obama supporters believe in him so strongly they're willing to evangelize to their friends, but only a couple hundred thousand of McCain's non-Republican supporters are similarly enthusiastic, then that's a huge advantage for Obama even though they both have the same number of outsider supporters overall. The Obama campaign seems well-positioned to exploit this disparity.
Update: You can see most of the slides from the presentation here.