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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

DNC Chairman Howard Dean just spoke to the students here on campus at Washington University at the Edison Theater. We hung around backstage and had the chance to chat with Dean after his speech.

Howard Dean - BrettMarty.com


We asked him to explain how the 50-state strategy had benefited Barack Obama and Democratic candidates during this 2008 cycle. He was ready with the answer – when you go into places like Utah and South Carolina and Alaska, you give yourselves the opportunity not only to develop the Democratic voter file there, you lay the groundwork for having the infrastructure to support legitimate candidates like Mark Begich, a slight favorite to topple the indicted Ted Stevens.

I asked about Democratic use of Catalist, and how it compared with the RNC-owned VoterVault. Both of these are highly advanced datamining tools that campaigns use to target their voter universes for ground game. (When I say universes, I mean any groupings of voters selected for organizing purposes — undecideds, sporadic voting Ds/Rs, newly registered voters, etc.) Dean told me that Republicans have used theirs longer (7 cycles) compared to this being only the 2d cycle for Democrats, but confidently stated that “ours is better.”

Dean cited the Catalist’s capacity for prediction with 85% accuracy using credit card data whether a voter falls into a particular targeted universe. The amount of streamlining this enables a campaign’s ground operation to achieve is hard to overstate. He argued that having only 30 variables versus VoterVault’s 250 variables allowed for easier use.

In addition, Dean cited the importance of the primaries, where as a condition of being granted access to the voter file, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were required to return the files with updated data. With a contested primary or caucus in virtually every state, and hundreds of thousands of volunteer organizing hours powering that list-refinement, the voter files Dems are operating with just this cycle are both more up to date than the Republican files as well as being worked much, much harder right now during the general election. Of course, Michigan — where Dems did not have a contested primary, just came off the board today.

Dean also argued that in response to the current economic crisis, Barack Obama had displayed calm, thoughtfulness, and poise when the chips were down. By contrast, Dean said, John McCain had spent most of the past week “running around like a chicken with his head cut off.”

During his approximately 20-minute address to students here at Washington University, Dean worked the room like a human quote machine. “If all you do is vote you get a D.”

Referring to the closeness of recent political ground fights, “you don’t win elections because you’re right, you win elections because you work harder than the other guy.”

Speaking about the generational moment this election represents: “Barack Obama is John F. Kennedy, and John McCain is Richard Nixon.”

Making his urgent pitch to the students here about a lifetime commitment to staying in the public sphere: “Don’t you ever get out of politics!”

And of course, on the value of community organizers: “Community organizers are the people who coach Sarah Palin’s kids when they’re playing youth hockey.”

We regret that we did not have time to ask Chairman Dean about yard signs. We’re sure it would have been a beaut.

We’ve had huge difficulty with Blogger.com today, unable to publish things for hours at a time, including this post. We apologize for the inconvenience. We are here to liveblog and provide pictures of the scene at this epic vice-presidential debate, live from the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. We hope Blogger.com will let us do that.

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