Michael Barone, Fox News pundit and author of the Almanac of American Politics, wrote a piece yesterday titled “The Race Isn’t Necessarily Over For Barack Obama and John McCain.” I was fascinated to read his central hypothesis — that Obama’s ground game = Howard Dean’s Iowa caucus ground game. Seriously, that’s what he’s pinning his hopes on.
A disciplined approach, certainly. But how effective are all those volunteers? Are they as effective as those stocking-capped Perfect Stormers of the Howard Dean campaign in Iowa in January 2004? You saw those orange stocking caps swarming all over Des Moines, but they didn’t end up producing many caucus votes.
I read Barone’s piece yesterday and had an epiphany. I recalled our conversation with Nevada’s Republican State Party Executive Director, who in so many words argued that this is what they expected from Nevada Democratic turnout. A bunch of kids organizing other kids who ultimately wouldn’t turn out in a non-caucus election. They really do think it’s Dean’s Iowa 2004 ground campaign.
Despite tens of thousands of “Neighborhood Team Leaders,” and an entire organizing outreach tool actually named “Neighbor to Neighbor,” Barone apparently fervently hopes Obama has no peer-to-peer efforts:
The most successful recent turnout drive was that of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign, which relied on peer-to-peer volunteers, local people who made connections with neighbors with whom they had something in common (fellow members of a particular church, fellow accountants, nearby neighbors). The Obama campaign, in contrast, seems to be depending on youthful volunteers who seem unlikely to have such connections.
Wow. They. Are. So. F#$%ed.
They look at the Ohio numbers from the first part of early voting — and assumed that Obama’s campaign would have focused on voting between September 30 and October 6, when October 6 was the registration deadline. Early “absentee” voting continues every day from now to the election in Ohio. It’s only after October 6 — when no new registrants may be added, that the focus switches to early voting. That seems kind of logically obvious — effort spent herding people to the polls that week (with a full month to push early voting afterward) would have been effort not spent on registration while there was still time left to get every last possible new voter. But to Barone, trumpeting Sean Oxendine, this is evidence it’s just kids in stocking caps. Holy out of touch, Batman!
For Barone, it’s the kids and the blacks who are “susceptible” to — gasp — organizing:
… there are surely more voters today who are persuadable. And there are surely a lot of marginally involved young and black Obama supporters susceptible to organization efforts—people who would not vote if not contacted but who will if urged and helped to do so.
Yes, Mike, it’s not the evangelical churchgoers in 2004 who were vulnerable to just standing around one day and then suddenly, before they knew it, found themselves organized. (Note: If you are a parent of a kid or a black, you may want to sit down with them and have a heart-to-heart before it is too late.)
We simply don’t know. There will be other metrics in the weeks ahead on which to base judgments. But I think we’ll have to wait until the actual election results start coming in to make a judgment on the effectiveness of these tactics. Which was the case in 2004. Journalists then provided good accounts of the easy-to-cover Democratic organizational efforts in black neighborhoods and university towns. They provided very little on the harder-to-cover Bush-Cheney ’04 organizational story. My working hypothesis is that peer-to-peer is a lot more productive than young, stocking-capped volunteers.
Barone is right in two respects. One, peer-to-peer is a lot more productive than young, stocking-capped volunteers. And two, he “simply doesn’t know.”
So, an invitation to Barone. Mike, come out on the road with us. You’ll have to ride in a relatively cramped backseat, but we’ll make room. We go into all these offices. Not as in, “we simply don’t know.” As in, you can walk inside and see for yourself whether it’s just kids driving this effort, or whether there’s a single stocking cap. Peer-to-peer on a mass scale is what we’ve directly seen with our own eyes and what we’ve been chronicling for a month.
By the way, it wasn’t kids who just tied up Washoe County, Nevada. It was an organization the likes of which we haven’t seen in American politics, ever.
Put that in your Almanac.