WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is stalled in early primary and caucus state polls partly because his “hidden vote” does not show up in surveys, argues campaign manager David Plouffe in a memo released Saturday.
Plouffe also introduces a new notion in the 2008 Democratic primary: That chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is a “quasi-incumbent” who presides over a “political machine.”
And even though Iowa is now in a three-way tie — and the one state where former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has a decent chance of winning — Plouffe also cleverly starts to raise expectations about the need for Clinton to come in first. “Clinton will pay a severe price for not winning Iowa — national front runners always do,” Plouffe writes.
Plouffe's memo comes as Clinton holds a solid lead in all national polls, though I agree with Plouffe that they are not totally predictive at this point. But Obama's problem is that he does not rank first in polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Those hidden souls in the Obama army Plouffe writes about are younger voters who escape pollsters because they have cell phones, not land lines. Plouffe is depending heavily on this demographic to win the Iowa caucus — if the campaign team for Obama can deliver them.
That’s just one Plouffe insight from a memo that was timed to land in in-boxes the day before Clinton commands a seat on all the Sunday political shows.
The memo will also do double duty as a dress rehearsal for Monday, when Plouffe, or other top Obama campaign strategists and representatives from the Clinton and Edwards campaigns meet with the top honchos of the Service Employees International Union in Chicago.
Last week, Edwards won an SEIU straw poll after the top Dems appeared before the SEIU, one of the most politically influential unions in the nation. The SEIU did not announce results but I’m told that Edwards won a plurality, followed by Obama and Clinton.
But Clinton’s backers in the union were able to deny Edwards the endorsement his team thought they had snared. Obama’s backers just did not organize well and his rivals did. The SEIU executive board, after a long meeting, decided to go back to local leaders and ask the campaigns to meet with union leaders on Monday “to lay out their strategies to win in November.”
That’s what SEIU chief Andy Stern and chief SEIU politico Anna Burger said in a phone briefing last week. Stern and Burger want to know how the candidates can put together the “puzzle” and win 270 electoral votes to seize the Democratic nomination.
Enter the Plouffe memo, subject lined “Enthusiasm and Organization: a Path to the Nomination." It could be subtitled Obama’s viability strategy. The SEIU—and the big labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change-to-Win (meeting in Chicago on Monday) don’t want to endorse someone the members like but is not likely to win. There is also a lot of discussion not to endorse, I’m told.
Experience is still a problem for Obama and Plouffe is framing the conversation as Obama having the “right” kind of experience rather than enough.
Below, the entire Plouffe memo.
To: Interested Parties
From: David Plouffe, Campaign Manager
RE: Enthusiasm and Organization: A Path to the Nomination
Date: September 22, 2007
It has been about a month since our last memo updating you on the progress of the campaign. In that time, the campaign has entered the critical post-Labor Day phase where the pace will pick up and the public will become more engaged in the campaign.
Framing the Race
Barack kicked off this new phase of the campaign with an important speech at a Labor Day rally where he framed the critical choice that voters face in this election. This speech had two key elements: First, he took the issue of experience head on, making the point that he “may not have the experience that Washington likes, but he has the experience that America needs” to bring change. Second, Barack talked about how it is not going to be enough to change parties; we have to change our politics. Our problems and our failures on big issues like health care, energy, and education pre-date the Bush Administration and real change requires a President who is capable of truly transforming our politics.
As someone who has spent 20 years in public service, standing up to the special interests and bringing people together to enact change, Barack is the only candidate with the right kind of experience in this race. Barack and the campaign will take this case to voters in the four early states and the February 5th states in the coming weeks and months.
Earlier this week, the campaign launched two new powerful ads in Iowa that further this case. You can see the ads by clicking here: “Believe” and “Mother”.
A Clear Path to the Nomination
It is important to take a moment every once in a while to reflect on all the progress we have made together in this campaign.
When we got into this race as a largely unknown candidate new to the national political stage, we never expected that nine months later at this stage of the race, we would be in a tight three way race in Iowa; leading in the money race; have the largest grassroots organization in modern political history; and have an organizational advantage in the early states and February 5 over a quasi-incumbent from the most powerful political machine in modern political history.
While the press remains focused on the simplistic and erroneous view of national polls as predictors, the Obama campaign has several structural advantages:
• Barack is the candidate with the message and biography that is most in synch with the electorate – according to a Gallup poll in September Democratic voters prefer change to experience by a margin of 73 percent to 26 percent;
• The largest organizations with the most experienced staff and enthusiastic volunteers in the 4 early states;
• An unexpected financial advantage that allows the campaign to compete in multiple contests at the same time;
• The most donors by far in the race, who as the election draws nearer will get even more active on our behalf, giving us financial sustainability;
• A significant organizational advantage in February 5th states.
Well-Positioned in Iowa
Iowa is fundamentally a close three-way race with Obama, Clinton and Edwards all within the same range in most public polling. In the last month, public polls have shown each of the three candidates leading. But the truth is, caucuses are very difficult to poll, particularly in a year where turnout will likely explode with many new attendees. So instead of focusing on the polls, we are much more focused on the growth of our hard count (number of committed supporters) statewide and we remain ahead of schedule in that regard. And there are other positive trends that have emerged that are worth noting.
Because we will likely enter the caucus with thousands of potential first-time caucus attendees committed to Obama, organization is paramount. Last weekend’s Harkin Steak Fry – Senator Tom Harkin’s annual event, where six of the Presidential candidates attended – showcased the strength of the Obama Iowa operation in the first head-to-head battle of organization. It is estimated that 5-6,000 people attended who were committed to candidates. Of that number, approximately 3,000 Obama Iowa supporters attended. It was described by many press accounts as akin to an Obama rally. That shows not just our organizational strength, but a real commitment from our county and precinct leaders, as well as our committed supporters. Our dominating presence at the Steak Fry is an example of the enthusiasm gap that we enjoy over our fellow candidates. Our supporters will drive for hours and walk for miles to help elect Barack to the White House. “Organization plus Enthusiasm” is a time-tested formula for success in the caucuses and that is the path we are on.
Below is a picture of the Obama supporters entering the Steak Fry:
Obama’s Entrance to The Harkin Steak Fry
As Ben Smith of the Politico put it: “Iowa field operatives make a big deal of "visibility' -- making sure their campaigns have high profiles at high-profile events. On that note, you could mistake Tom Harkin's steak fry for an Obama rally. It was in fact preceded by an Obama rally, and the train of Obama supporters behind a marching band stretched for at least a hundred yards. His campaign said he'd given out 2,000 T-shirts, a number that seemed plausible.” LINK
On a related point, polls consistently under-represent in Iowa, and elsewhere, the strength of Barack’s support among younger voters for at least three reasons. In more than one survey, Barack’s support among Iowa young voters exceeded the support of all the other candidates combined. First, young voters are dramatically less likely to have caucused or voted regularly in primaries in the past, so pollsters heavily under-represent them. Second, young voters are more mobile and are much less likely to be at home in the early evening and thus less likely to be interviewed in any survey. Third, young voters are much less likely to have a landline phone and much more likely to rely exclusively upon cell phones, which are automatically excluded from phone surveys. So all of these state and national surveys have and will continue to under-represent Barack’s core support – in effect, his hidden vote in each of these pivotal early states. Of course, there are organizational challenges associated with maximizing this support, but we are heavily focused on that task.
Prepared to Capture Momentum in New Hampshire
It is also clear that the importance of Iowa has only grown over the course of this year. The Democratic story coming out of Iowa is likely to be a much bigger story than the GOP contest, ensuring maximum velocity for a strong showing. Clinton will pay a severe price for not winning Iowa - national front runners always do. The average New Hampshire bounce on the Democratic side has historically been just under 20 points. Our internal data and most of the public polls show Obama with a solid foundation, despite having done no TV advertising or even direct mail. Those activities will begin in the near future. The demographics of the state would suggest that we will be able to build on our foundation as we begin to devote significant resources there, turning New Hampshire into a tight race over the coming months and almost ensuring that a positive Iowa result will result in a New Hampshire primary win.
Organization and Enthusiasm in Nevada and South Carolina
Nevada is less formed than the other early states, but since it is a caucus, our focus has been on building precinct organizations. We already have 2,000 volunteers in the Nevada, which is far and away the deepest volunteer organization in the state.
There was one recent poll in South Carolina that showed Clinton with a sizable lead, but we believe that was an outlier. It had her with a healthy lead in the African-American vote, which is not what we believe to be the case. In fact, a public poll of just African-American voters was released last week that showed Obama with an eight point lead, which would result in a much closer contest in the entire primary electorate.
We believe South Carolina is now a very competitive two-way race, with Edwards, who won this contest in 2004, in a very distant third. Momentum will likely be king in South Carolina, but we are building an unprecedented grassroots organization to maximize our vote and to help provide the margin in a close contest.
We have begun to deploy staff and build organizations in some of the February 5th states. We currently have staff in California, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota and will have staff in over a dozen other states by the end of October. While momentum will likely be the dominant factor in deciding votes on February 5th, we plan to marry that momentum with the strongest organization and most financial resources in these February 5th states to emerge from that day with the most delegates and states won.
Below are some recent news articles about the Obama Campaign’s activities:
The State (Aaron Gould Sheinin) “Obama taking grass-roots approach in S.C.”: Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is using cyberspace, the U.S. Mail and the equivalent of political Tupperware parties to build a more extensive grass-roots campaign than S.C. Democrats ever have seen before, observers say… “The Obama campaign is doing a more extensive grass-roots effort than has ever been done in South Carolina before,” said Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Khare Fowler, who is not supporting any candidate in the Jan. 29 primary. LINK
Denver Post (Karen Crummy) “Obama beefs up Colorado support”: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the only candidate with ground troops in Colorado, is organizing a significant grassroots campaign in the state, according to his campaign manager. "This will be a delegate by delegate battle," said David Plouffe in Denver on Thursday. "Because we have had success financially and enthusiastic grassroots supporters we can starting getting things in place for February 5th states." LINK
Santa Barbara Independent (Chris Meagher) “Barack Obama Rocks Santa Barbara”: Presidential candidate Barack Obama rolled into Santa Barbara on Saturday with the message that’s become the backbone of his campaign: Hope. More than 3,000 people were in attendance at Santa Barbara City College to hear the popular Democrat share his plans for the future, touching on such issues as health care, education, and the war in Iraq. LINK
New York Times (Michael M. Grynbaum) “Obama Urges Wall Street to Protect the Middle Class”: Senator Barack Obama chastised Wall Street executives yesterday as failing to protect middle-class interests and called for increased federal oversight of credit rating agencies, including a government investigation. In an appearance at Nasdaq offices in Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate, praised America’s free-market impulse but lamented what he characterized as its recent toll on the middle class. LINK
Portsmouth Herald (Michael McCord) “Obama unveils tax cuts for middle class”: Presidential hopeful Barack Obama became the first Democratic candidate to unveil a detailed middle class tax-cut proposal, one that he believes will restore "fiscal responsibility and a sense of fairness." In a speech titled "Tax Fairness for the Middle Class," delivered Tuesday in Washington, Obama said his five-part $85 billion plan would cut taxes for more than 150 million Americans (including as many as 800,000 in New Hampshire), cut all taxes for seniors making less than $50,000, institute a mortgage tax credit, simplify the tax code and crack down on tax havens, and close corporate loopholes. LINK
The Atlantic (Marc Ambinder) ”At SEIU, Obama: Rocked The House": …SEIU's members are temperamentally suited to Obama; he is a longtime friend of Chicago's SEIU Local 880 and worked closely with the union as an organizer and later as a state legislator. Obama entered the ballroom to cheers, but he left to a sustained chorus of chants: “Obama!, Obama!” The SEIU president, Andy Stern, had to calm his members: ““Everybody take your seats, please. We have other candidates.”