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Obama and Austin, Take II

I wanted to extend and revise my remarks from the other day about the enthusiasm for the Obama campaign at the Netroots Nation Conference in Austin. I would maintain that there is somewhat less gusto for Obama than there might have been a couple of months ago. But there is an alternate explanation for this, apart from the notion that people are dissatisfied with the nominee: confidence — perhaps overconfidence — about Obama’s electoral prospects in November. Everyone I spoke with this weekend expects Obama to win, to a degree that somewhat exceeds the relatively tight standing in the polling.

While such confidence might seem natural coming from the liberal/progressive base, it has not always been that way in the past. Liberals can sometimes be a pessimistic bunch, and John Kerry’s defeat in 2004 had left many people feeling especially bitter. By contrast, it would be hard to overstate the importance of the 2006 election in terms of buoying and reinforcing activism, particularly in the online sphere. If the Democrats had not won back both chambers of Congress in 2006, one imagines that there would have been much less comfort in Barack Obama’s business model, and that Hillary Clinton would have received a larger fraction of support from thought leaders both in the netroots and in the party establishment.

Are there dangers to Obama in all of this? Certainly there are some. Turnout is going to be high almost no matter what, but if people have concluded that the presidential race is fairly safe, they may begin to donate their time and money to Senate, House and local candidates rather than the Presidential effort; their attention already seems to be somewhat directed that way. Obama’s July fundraising number — which will serve as a baseline in a relatively newsless month — is going to be worth paying particular attention to.

p.s. Also somewhat contrary to my earlier reporting, the Obama campaign did have some presence here. Deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand spoke on a panel yesterday, and Obama addressed the conference by means of a video message.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.