CHICAGO--Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama has state directors and paid staff in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Based in his national campaign headquarters on Michigan Avenue in Chicago -- the home office for Camp Obama -- Obama is building a separate political operation in Illinois.
The point is not just to win the Feb. 5 Illinois primary -- Obama has a lock on that election -- but to tap into his tremendous strength in Illinois and train people on his behalf.
The Illinois Obama operation has already started to train workers to send to the other states to help.
Recent Illinois Obama for President organizing meetings have been attended by Comptroller Dan Hynes; Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan; Secretary of State Jesse White is also on board.
These statewide officials -- and of course, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of Obama's earliest boosters -- have name recognition in neighboring Iowa, where the first caucus vote will be held next January.
In 2004, Howard Dean made a big mistake in Iowa by sending in squads of out-of-state volunteers wearing orange hats (the hats backfired because it pegged them as outsiders) who were numerous and exuberant but ineffective in the Hawkeye State.
Intent on not repeating problems of past presidential campaigns -- and leveraging the proximity of Illinois to neighboring Iowa -- the Illinois Obama operation is:
• Organizing sister city programs. One getting off the ground is between Illinois communities and Iowa. For example, Obama backers who live in Evanston or the Lake View neighborhood on the North Side would be assigned precincts to get to know in Cedar Rapids.
• Training volunteers to canvass voters -- which means shoe-leather door knocking to find out whom a registered voter supports, leans toward, or wants to know more about.
Obama canvassers will be fanning out across the country. The idea is not to have strangers making calls and house visits but to use all the social networking tools available to make real people-to-people sustained connections.
• Building networks for low-dollar fund-raising.
• Opening an office in the Loop where volunteers can come, work and just hang out.
• Creating Camp Obama. No, there's not going to be cabins with bunks. But it will be in Chicago. Camp Obama is a training program -- run by campaign professionals -- being launched by the campaign. People who do well in the four-day training will be put in the pipeline for internships and paid jobs. Training topics will include canvassing, phone banking and recruiting volunteers. Camp Obama applications can be found at www.barackobama.com.
Veteran field organizer Jon Carson has been tapped to be the Illinois state director. Before the Obama campaign, Carson managed Tammy Duckworth's general election congressional bid last year.
Nate Tamarin is the Illinois political director. Tamarin moved back to Illinois after serving as the political director for Obama's political action committee in Washington, the HOPEFUND. Before re-upping with Obama, Tamarin was working for Pete Giangreco's Strategy Group, the political direct mail firm based in Evanston. Tamarin was in the Obama presidential campaign from the start; last January, he organized the telephone conference calls to supporters in which Obama announced his exploratory committee.
The Illinois Downstate director is Anita Decker, who is moving over from Obama's Quad Cities Senate office; deputy Illinois director is Keevin Woods, who comes out of Madigan's political operation. Camp Obama chief is Jocelyn Woodards, who worked for South Suburban College and the Democratic National Committee.
What's interesting in Illinois is that the local campaign is drawing in people who actually know Barack and Michelle Obama. At one recent organizing event, I'm told Michelle Obama's Whitney Young High School principal showed up as well as a person who worked with Obama in the days when he was a community organizer in Chicago.