Thursday, March 6, 2008

How Obama wins

The sometimes annoying Slate web magazine has an incisive piece by John Dickerson about Hillary's "too little, too late" victories in the Ohio and Texas primaries.  The gist of the piece is that the race has now become a contest of numbers vs. narrative.  Obama is winning by the numbers, and now Clinton has regained momentum on the narrative.  More likely than not Obama will win the nomination because of his continued advantage on the numbers.  But that's not a very satisfying kind of victory, and it's the kind of victory that could alienate a healthy percentage of Hillary supporters, allowing McCain to win in November. 
So, how does Obama take the momentum back from Clinton and win the nomination on both narrative and numbers?  Here's how:

Go on the attack.  As Dickerson says, Democrats love a fighter.  For a long time it worked for Obama to stand above the fray, but now he needs to get his hands dirty and show that he won't be afraid to take on McCain in the general.  What is Hillary trying to hide in those tax returns?   Where did they get that $5 million to loan the campaign?  Why not release her scheduling books from the Clinton White House?  What hearings has she failed to hold?  What about her wink wink, nudge nudge to the Canadians on Nafta?  And it's time to more directly confront Hillary on the Iraq war vote for what it was - a political calculation intended to preserve her ability to eventually run for president (just about everyone in Congress with political ambitions for higher office was doing it at the time - but a lot of Democratic officeholders weren't biting).  

Win Wyoming and Mississippi decisively. He's well positioned to do it, but should not by any means take these states for granted.  Loss of momentum may make these states, especially Wyoming a bit closer, but decisive wins will probably restore most of the net delegate loss from March 4 and restore a lot of Obama's momentum going into PA.    

Keep up the record fundraising.  This shouldn't be too hard to do, but now Hillary has a base of small donors too.  Obama needs to keep up the pace and make sure he dominates paid media opportunities in PA.  This, by itself, is not that important as Hillary, whom Obama outspent 2:1, showed in TX and OH.  However, Obama cannot let Hillary get any advantage in PA, and the extra money could allow him to get a lot more creative with micro-targeted outreach to bring more less frequent young voters to the polls.  

Double the Ground Game in Pennsylvania.  Obama's campaign has an amazing field operation.   Now that it's all about PA, Obama can bring almost all of his field capacity to that state, but this time with a deeper reach beyond the big cities and college towns to the suburbs and small regional centers that Hillary organized in Ohio.  

Put the Nafta/Canadian consul and Reszko negative buzz to rest once and for all.  The Canadian Consul memo will decrease in importance over time anyway, but Obama needs to put some responsibility on the media to not let Hillary get away with taking one passing statement out of context from the rest of the memo, which in its entirety actually makes Obama look smart and committed to real change on the trade agreement.  The Rezko thing is a bit harder to deal with because it's out of his control.  He should probably directly confront it in the Pennsylvania debate, repeat his mea culpa about the boneheaded move of letting this guy help him buy his house and then put it in context with the very true statement that he is not in any way tied to the issues for which Rezko is on trial.  But, Obama needs to pro-actively make it a non-issue before Hillary can further exploit it.  

Confront the Barack "Hussein" Obama is a secret Muslim agent crap in the most direct way possible. Every aspect of this rumor-mongering is vile and reprehensible, but Obama does have to directly confront the fact that he's got an Islamic middle name shared by a few Islamic bad guys (along with about half of the male Muslim world), had a Muslim dad, went to a school in Indonesia where he was exposed to some Islamic history and religion (in the same way that French school kids are exposed to Catholic history and religion) because so many Americans, even Democratic primary voters, are convinced that Muslim = terrorist. Obama can actually turn this in his favor by talking about how his exposure and family history gives him some insight and credibility with peaceful Muslim world leaders, which will allow him to work out a  Middle East peace agreement and deal with other potential Muslim hot spots like Kosovo and Indonesia.  

Learn to love the press.  This is where Obama could learn something from McCain. Reporters are generally pretty nice, interesting people.  Sure, spending more time with the press corps at the back of the plane, making himself available for daily on-the-record press briefings and getting to know the press that follows you around on a personal level is risky. It makes it more difficult to control your message and makes you more vulnerable to mistakes that could come back to haunt you.  But, the risks will be worth the rewards as he gets more coverage and better coverage at this critical stage of the campaign.  After all, reporters have feelings too. 

Schedule time now for a Saturday Night Live cameo, the Daily Show, Letterman, etc., etc. in the week before the PA primary.  These outlets owe Obama.  They gave time and favorable treatment to Hillary going into the March 4 primaries, now it's his turn for the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.  They'll all go easy on him (except maybe SNL - is Lorne Michaels "totally in the tank" for Hillary?) and this is part of the necessary strategy for a still largely unknown figure to familiarize himself with average voters.  

Take up residence in Pennsylvania and talk to every voter possible.  Watching Obama's schedule for a few weeks now, it seems that his pattern is to do a few big rallies in each of the big metropolitan areas in each state and not do a lot more in terms of direct voter contact.  The big urban rallies are important because they draw a lot of local press, generate volunteers and general excitement around the campaign, but this is not going to be enough in PA.  Obama pretty much needs to start living in PA and keep up an incessant schedule of big urban rallies, more intimate town halls, pressing the flesh events at factories and shipyards, and smaller rallies in medium sized college towns and smaller cities deep in Hillary territory.  The campaign so far shows that the more people get to know Obama, the more intense his support grows.  He needs to be campaigning the way Hillary was campaigning the last couple weeks - three, four, even five events a day that get him in direct contact with voters. 

Make a couple of those "important" policy speeches at  "important" universities. Ok, so the rub on Obama (thanks to Hillary) is that he's all talk, no substance.  That's bullshit. One of the reasons that higher educated Democrats love him so much is because he's really fucking smart and he's got plenty of well-thought out policy positions on just about every issue out there.  But, Obama needs to help more casual Democratic voters understand that at this stage of the campaign.  So, he needs to go to the University of Pennsylvania and present his economic recovery and jobs program to the local press with lots of smart-looking professors standing behind them.  And, then he needs to do the same thing at Penn State, with generals and foreign policy wonks standing behind him as he presents his national security plan to the press.  Include some really creative stuff in both plans to get all the pundits talking about how brilliant he is.  

Get Michelle Obama more visibly out on the campaign trail.  Michelle's gotten a lot of flak for her mis-step about being proud of the US for the first time, but she is very much an underutilized asset for this campaign.  In her smaller, more intimate events she's shown a remarkable gift for connecting with women voters.  As the main breadwinner for her family, juggling work and kids with the help of her mom, she can connect with beleaguered middle and working class moms who share that struggle.  And because she herself rose from a lower-middle class background she can connect with blue collar working women better than either Hillary or Barack.   

Duplicate the formula that allowed Obama to win Catholics, blue-collar voters and women in Wisconsin.  I don't know what made the difference myself, it may have just been about momentum. But Obama unlocked a secret to winning votes with these demographics that he needs to reproduce in PA.  Get your pollsters to figure it out and mimic it in PA.  Starting now.  

Win Pennsylvania.  Most of these items lead up to how he can win in PA.  It's the only big state left.  After WY and MS, it's the only contest over the next 6 weeks.  If he wins PA, Obama will own both the numbers and the narrative, and Hillary will drop out.  If Hillary wins PA, especially if by more than 5 points- brace yourselves for the convention bloodbath.  

Finally, prepare for re-do of some kind in Florida and Michigan.  This is not worth sinking a lot of resources into yet, but if these two states do reschedule a caucus or something, Obama will need to win at least one of these too.  A win in PA will help (or maybe even stave off the need for a re-do), but he needs to be ready on day 1 to launch aggressive campaigns in each of these states.  

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