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Obama's formidable ground game

Thomas Ash
14 October 2008

Karl Rove's voter mobilisation organisation was widely credited with winning George W. Bush re-election four years ago. This time, the Democrats appear to have the edge in the "ground game". Barack Obama built up a formidable organisation over the primaries, and it was widely credited with winning him the nomination (had there been fewer caucuses, in which organisation is all important, Hillary Clinton would likely have been the Democrats' choice). Armed with a financial warchest far larger than McCain's, he has opened over 700 campaign offices in key battleground states and paid thousands of organisers to create a grassroots army which should make a significant difference come November.

Two recent articles describe the novel - and, by the sounds of it, very successful - approach being taken by the Obama campaign. In Sunday's Washington Post, Alec MacGillis quotes Steve Rosenthal of the AFL-CIO explaining how it can help mitigate the "race factor": "Having white validators, people working these neighborhoods who live in those neighborhoods and are of those neighborhoods, who are saying, 'Get out and vote for this guy,' is really important." MacGillis goes on to report that research shows that face-to-face talks increase a voter's chances of turning out by up to 10 percent. That could make an enormous difference in some of the closer swing states.

Zack Exley also has a piece on the Obama ground game over at the Huffington Post. After several days driving around campaign offices in Ohio, he describes a well-oiled machine filled with enthusiastic volunteers, many of whom are being given real responsibilities and real paychecks for the first time in Democratic Party history. If his report is to be believed, this is paying real dividends in support for Obama.

The campaign isn't seeking help just from those who turn up to volunteer. Recently it sent out e-mails to thousands of young supporters, urging them to have "The Talk" with their parents. You can see the associated website here. The idea is amusingly reminiscent of Sarah Silverman's "Great Schlep" sketch, but if MacGillis and Exley's pieces teach us anything, it is that this is the sort of face-to-face contact that can make a genuine difference.

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