January 10, 2008

Dems 2008: The media discovers that organization matters [Karl]

Having over-reported stories based on polling — and having been embarrassed by the polling in both Iowa and New Hampshire — the media may be waking up to the importance of the “ground game” of presidential politics… for a day, anyway.

The first example is the New York Times story on the race in Nevada, the next stop on the Democratic campaign trail (this caucus is non-binding for the GOP, so only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have bothered there):

The Clinton and Obama camps rushed in volunteers and staff members from Iowa, furiously opened new field offices and saturated the airwaves with radio advertisements in Spanish and television spots promoting their health care plans.

The NYT later notes:

Volunteers have been clocking phone banks for multiple shifts a day, canvassing neighborhoods not only to ferret out potential voters, but also to educate people on how a caucus works. While only about 9,000 people participated in the 2004 caucuses, the state’s Democratic Party is bracing for far higher numbers.

The piece also hits the influential Culinary Workers Union endorsement of Obama.  The influence comes from organization.  The AP collected this quote from Ted Jelen, a political science professor at UNLV: “The technology they use is shoe leather.”  But the AP also notes skeptical arguments about whether the time pressure and the union’s high immigrant membership can really deliver.

In addition, the NYT claims that Obama has a highly organized cadre of enthusiastic supporters and nearly double the number of field offices of any other candidate in NV.  

The NYT notes Clinton’s (once) commanding lead in the NV polls in passing, for good reason.  The current RCP average of Clinton +20 is based on polls from early December; everyone now knows how quickly polls can change this cycle.  Moreover, the two most recent polls, taken at roughly the same time, showed Clinton +27 and Clinton +8 — results far too frothy to have any confidence in them, especially for a caucus.

At the Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei take a broader view of the ground game:

As they confront the prospect of competing in 25 states in the next 27 days, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama face urgent strategic choices over message, money, and time.


Both campaigns are working a high-stakes Rubik’s Cube as they calculate the deployment of staff, advertising and candidate time in the complex map they face in this four-week rush.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from Dark Lord Karl Rove himself which contains way too much pablum, but fleshes out the nature and cost of these decisions:

With so many states voting on Super Tuesday, no candidate will have enough money, time or energy to cover all the contests. Burning in a single television ad in every Super Tuesday state will cost nearly $16 million.

Instead, candidates will pick states where they have a better chance to win and, by doing so, lock down more delegates. They will spend their time in cities with local TV and print coverage that reaches the biggest number of targeted voters possible. And they will spend their limited dollars on TV stations that deliver the largest number of likely supporters at the least cost. Memphis, for example, may be a smart buy, with its stations reaching western Tennessee and eastern Arkansas, both Feb. 5 states. Fargo, which reaches North Dakota and Minnesota, may be another effective buy.

Left implied is the organization required to coordinate and budget for those decisions, not to mention the logistics of scheduling the candidate for free or earned media in local markets – either physically or for interviews on local outlets via satellite for television or by phone for radio.

The Politico piece generally confirms that the Clinton camp still plans to follow the “trench warfare” strategy for Super-Duper Tuesday rumored in the wake of her Iowa loss – focusing on the big states, those with closed primaries and (of course) Arkansas.

A faux internal memo from the Obama camp (first leaked to Matt Drudge, but then reported at a variety of spots), after touching on Nevada and South Carolina, claims that:

We now have staff in nineteen of the twenty-two February 5th states and will be adding to the remaining three – Delaware, Arkansas and Connecticut – by the end of the week.

In the six caucus states – Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Idaho, Alaska and North Dakota – we have been engaged in heavy organizing and voter contact. In many of these states, our opponents are not engaged in any organizing. We firmly believe you cannot build a caucus operation in a matter of four weeks, so we are at a decided advantage in these states where we have already identified tens of thousands of Obama supporters and where, in the last five days, the number of new volunteers and supporters has exploded. We are in the process of mailing past caucus-goers and our ID-ed supporters in those states. We are also preparing aggressively for vote-by-mail in states like California and Arizona, where we have mail pieces hitting this week and an exhaustive phone program in place to identify supporters and make sure those ballots are returned.

In all of the February 5th states, we have active chapters at most colleges and universities and are pursuing support from independent voters aggressively where they are permitted to participate, which is in most of the states. California and New Jersey, two states the Clintons have pointed to as firewalls, both will have healthy independent turnout in the Democratic primary.

We expect to see a great deal of movement to Obama from superdelegates in the coming days, seriously eroding the Clintons’ existing advantage in this universe.

I will believe that last bit when I see it.  And should we infer from this memo that the Obama camp sees the caucus states as better suited to their organizational tactics, perhaps freeing up resources to contest California and New Jersey, maybe even relying on the black vote for relatively cheaper victories (or strong seconds) in a few states of the Deep South?

Finally, it is notable that the first NYT excerpt above about NV had Clinton and Obama duking it out in the Hispanic media.  While the gringo media has been figuring out the import of Clinton campaign’s targeting of older Democratic women, John Judis may be one of the few who has written about Hillary’s Hispanic firewall:

In a poll from the Pew Hispanic Center released earlier this month, Clinton led among Latino Democrats with 59 percent, compared to 15 percent for Obama and 4 percent for John Edwards. In polls taken last week in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas by ImpreMedia, the largest Hispanic news company in the United States, Clinton led Obama by an astounding average of 55 to six percent among Hispanic Democrats. Edwards got only 1.8 percent. Of course, even with this kind of support from Hispanics, Clinton could still lose those primaries, but it certainly gives her an edge.

Though that poll was taken before the campaign heated up — and I think Obama will do just fine in his home state of Illinois – there are a number of reasons given by Judis that suggest Obama may have trouble seriously denting that key voting demographic, so RTWT.

How does a post about the media finally noticing importance of organiztion end up commenting on polling data?  The difference is that, prior to the past few days, the media has been focused on the most superficial numbers of the horse race.  If the media has actually learned something about organization, perhaps they can learn how the candidates use poll data to help shape their strategy and organization.

Posted by Karl @ 8:26am

Comments (15)

  1. The NPR knocked Edwards out today, repeatedly calling it a 2-man race for the first time, so the polling data I guess does start getting thrown up in the air as Edwards supporters get the message that they’re not in the game. I’m not sure what NPR’s strategy is here exactly. Their biggest demo is rich older white liberal men, so given the way Obama and Hillary’s demos stand now, declaring Edwards out should be a net benefit to Obama, which definitely accords with NPR’s sympathies of late. (They did do an adoring look at Hillary’s genuine moment of genuineness, but they definitely lean Obama.)

  2. Karl

    I gotta scoot to work but I just heard via the radio that Kerry has endorsed Obama.

    Geez, he really hates Edwards, eh? And the Clinton machinery, too.

  3. Happy, I agree with you that NPR is up to something, but I don’t think you got the demo right. Rich older white liberal men might be NPR’s best benefactors, but their biggest demo is by far DINK yuppies. Admittedly, I have zero understanding of NPR’s business practices, so maybe benefactors are more important than listeners, but I doubt it.

  4. I emphasize the men cause their recent trends have shown that they have lost women – a lot of women – over the last couple years and have become strikingly male skewed, but you’re right that DINKS are a big component but that’s kind of misleading given the median age of their audience, which is steadily increasing.

  5. But mostly my point is that BOTH the income and gender demos favor Obama from what I understand, so peeps in the Edwards camp among the NPR audience should be more inclined to end up with Obama is my thinking.

  6. I think I may have run my analysis on the morning day part though to isolate news listeners.

  7. Why is everyone talking about the stupid election? Theyre just trying to dsitract you.. There’s something going on out at Tagruato’s Chaui Station platform over the mid-Atlantic ridge … something the MSM is totally covering up.. Just calling it “an altercation”.. no details.. WTF does that mean? I think terrorists like AQ or Tidowave hit it and the government doesnt want it known.. Anyone heard any recent news? I got friends that contarct out their and no one is answering their cells.

  8. You’ll know in 8 days, brother. You’ll all know in 8 days.

  9. Also “daypart” shouldn’t have a space in it. A real media analyst person would know that you’d think.

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