Amid on the ground reports that McCain is outspending Obama on the air at least 2-1 in places like Missouri, we learn that Obama’s team is betting on a different strategy – overwhelming ground organization early and often.
In Missouri, Obama will have 150 paid organizers and maintain a 12-1 paid organizer edge in my native state. Show-me, indeed. In Michigan, Obama will put an unprecedented 150 field organizers on the ground. In Ohio, why not go for 300 field organizers? That sounds like a nice, absurdly large, round number.
This is the campaign equivalent of invasion with overwhelming force. In the coming days, we should be hearing more reports like these from other battlegrounds (here’s Iowa, for example), giving us a clearer and clearer picture of each campaign’s voter contact strategy. Already, however, Marc Ambinder has pointed out that:
The polls don’t account for the force multiplier effect that Obama’s campaign will almost certainly bring to bear with its millions of volunteers and thousands of paid staffers. Whether that effect is 1.01, 1.05 or even 1.3 — we don’t know yet. But even the McCain campaign acknowledges its existence.
Those paid organizers are each recruiting underneath them volunteers and precinct captains (themselves responsible for recruitment and management of volunteers). As I’ve said before, it’s a pyramid scheme aimed at massive voter-to-voter contact. Millions and millions and millions of voter contacts, all knocked out 5, 10, 50 at a time by volunteers. The info gleaned from the contacts is re-looped into the voter file, and repeat contacts are thereby more informed (undecideds can be persuaded; supporters can be urged to early vote; banked early votes allow campaigns to use resources more efficiently in the closing days, etc.). The principle is: voters persuade other voters more personally and powerfully than a 30-second TV ad. Ads give impressions; real people close the sale.
Consider for a moment an oft-discussed example that directly relates to ground organizing – the burgeoning power of the Latino vote. High-information voters like you and I read stories about Obama or McCain each speaking to this or that Latino group, each man arguing why he is the better candidate to implement policies that will improve quality of life for Latinos. But which campaign is more likely to do the actual on-ground registration and one-to-one voter contact in places Latinos live, such as Nevada?
Whatever the ultimate election outcome, it’s clear the Obama campaign believes it knows what it’s doing and a wise investment of resources when it sees one. An “almost preternatural self-confidence about their strategy” is how Ambinder describes it.
And it makes sense; Obama’s team has been vindicated after undergoing months of second-guessing previously during this campaign. In the months before Iowa, outsiders and even supporters were questioning the campaign’s strategy in view of the consistent polling showing Obama lagging behind “where he should be.” Obama’s team remained confident that those polls were Charmin-soft and Obama himself trusted his sense of meeting the moment, that the Democratic electorate was so hungry to turn the page that it would even turn the page on its biggest brand name.
Yet without the deep, well-planned and executed advance work, without having recruited and built the best on-ground political organizations in the key early states, this confidence would have been a false front. Obama likes to say he “made a bet” on the American people by entering the primary despite doing so as a conventional-wisdom prohibitive underdog, now he is making another bet, that the summer’s silly season mini-narratives will be washed away in convention and debate drama, and that chance will favor the better organized in the end.