Chicago Sun-Times
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Sweet blog extra: New Yorker's Lizza on Obama's "Relaunched" campaign. Obama's metric guru.


SAN JOSE, CALIF.—When it comes to the Democrats in Iowa, a central element of winning the Jan. 3 caucus has to do with organization and a field operation that can identify, target, persuade and turn-out a vote for a candidate.

On those points, an article in the Nov. 16 New Yorker by Ryan Lizza LINK reveals that White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has a running start because he hired one of the masters of political micro-targeting, Ken Strasma.

Much of Lizza’s piece, titled “Relaunch” has to do with Obama’s in-course correction that occurred when he decided he had to deliver—himself—criticisms of chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
I kicked myself for not realizing that Strasma was working for Obama. Here’s Lizza’s account of how Strasma works his magic. I’ve pasted on the end of this Lizza excerpt a column I wrote that ran Jan. 29, 2004 about Strasma’s labors for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Lizza writes, “in Washington, D.C., an array of forty-eight computer processors were mining census demographics, consumer-marketing data, and Iowa-state voter files to form one of the most sophisticated and data-rich portraits of an electorate ever created.

This is the work of Ken Strasma, who is among the Democratic Party’s most admired numbers gurus. After being pursued by all the major candidates, Strasma, who helped Kerry to win Iowa in 2004, decided to commit his firm, Strategic Telemetry, to Obama.

“In the nineteen-nineties, consultants loved to talk about finely sliced pieces of the electorate pie, such as “soccer moms,” and seemed to discover new segments of the electorate as if they were minor planets in the Kuiper belt. In 2000 and 2004, campaigns used consumer data to work out simple correlations in order to target voters. (For instance, Prius owners tend to vote for Democrats, while S.U.V. owners tend to vote for Republicans.) In the past few years, though, this so-called “micro-targeting technology” has made great leaps forward.

Strasma’s firm builds profiles of voters that include more than a thousand indicators, long strings of data—everything from income to education to pet ownership—that he calls “demographic DNA.”

“The actual combinations that we come up with aren’t really anything that you could put on a bumper sticker,” Strasma told me. “You know, soccer moms or office-park dads. Sometimes people will ask to see the formula, and it comes out to ten thousand pages long.” When the demographic DNA is combined with polling and interviews with Iowa voters, Strasma is able to create the political equivalent of a FICO score—the number that creditors use to determine whether a consumer is a good bet to repay a loan. Strasma’s score tells the campaign of the likelihood that a specific Iowan will support Obama.”
Here’s a column I wrote about Ken Strasma and his metrics that ran Jan. 29, 2004, during the Democratic primary. We talked about how he was targeting voters for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who went on to become the Democratic nominee.

The pressure is on front-runner Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to show that he not only can survive but win in the "Super Seven" states with primaries Tuesday.

If “Bring It On" Kerry takes all seven primaries, it will be hard for his major rivals to continue much past the March 2 Super Tuesday contests in 10 states. But Kerry is going to territory where he is not as well-known as he was in New Hampshire and Iowa, and he only has one week to capitalize on his twin victories, as the primary becomes a national race in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and New Mexico.
With ethnic politics in play in Tuesday's elections, it's not clear how Kerry will be received within some of the core Democratic constituencies.

The outcome in the homogenous, liberal New Hampshire and the bit more diverse Iowa is not necessarily a weathervane for what is to come. About 40 percent of the Democratic vote in South Carolina is African American, and about 35 percent of the New Mexico and Arizona vote is Hispanic.

“What is interesting about Kerry is that he does not have a demographic," said Ken Strasma, a Kerry consultant who is president of Strategic Telemetry.

Strasma, a numbers cruncher, works on identifying Kerry's target voters and places where it is worthwhile to pour in campaign resources such as canvassers, direct mail and phone calls.

“The No. 1 thing you want is people who will vote for your candidate if you can reach them," he said.
Strasma uses data from past election results and from phone surveys. The 2004 election is the first presidential race to use results from the 2000 Census, so Strasma's cross tabs on Kerry backers could include commuting times, home equity values and the language spoken by a voter.

Kerry's demographics are across the board," Strasma said. Usually a campaign can claim some demographic for its candidate. Kerry's votes cut across age, income, education, race and ethnicity, Strasma said.
Kerry, with his wins, now will have all kinds of voters who are going to be giving him a second look who were not available two weeks ago. In Missouri, they will be loyalists to Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), who dropped out after coming in fourth place in Iowa.

Kerry is also going to have a second chance in winning over defectors from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Exit polls suggested that Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire may have agreed more on the issues with Dean, Clark and Edwards but voted for Kerry because he was seen as the best one to beat President Bush.

Targeting will be important to Kerry because he has an enormous job to identify and mobilize this potential new pool of supporters in a very short time.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) stumped for Kerry in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the last thing Kerry may need in the more conservative South Carolina is another liberal from Massachusetts. Republicans have already started to pound Kerry as more liberal than Kennedy, the liberal icon.

Kerry's victory in New Hampshire is not going to force anyone out of the race right away, notwithstanding Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe's decree that anyone who has not won a state by Feb. 2 should quit. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who came in fourth in New Hampshire, is running television spots in four of Tuesday's primary states --Delaware, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arizona -- as his campaign ponders whether to shift media and other resources.


"well, look", lynn,
don't be so hard on yourself. john kerry was/is a white, massachusetts, war hero/several term senator/lt. governor/etc. the junior senator from illinois..."well" we don't know. o.k.? the junior senator from illinois can hire sherlock holmes but that don't mean he'll lead or find the voting booth, yes?

I am still trying to figure out who the original Obama was, is, what is this reinvention all about? I feel like someone is marketing a new toothpaste or beer.

That's great news for Obama. Theses sophisticated targeting operations are a vastly undercovered phenomenon that are nonetheless important to the outcome.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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