Wednesday, November 05, 2008

So Just How Did Barack Do All This?

Democrats around the world today are rejoicing, mostly because their candidate, Barack Obama, became President-elect of the United States last night. But for me, it's not really about that (that's partly because I don't consider myself a full-on Democrat).

For me, the lasting image of this historic campaign, this historic time in American politics, will always be the breakdown of this concept of traditional "Democratic strongholds" and "Republican strongholds." Like I said in my last post, the signal most refreshing thing about Barack Obama was ability to get the American people caring about their politics again, something that has been an issue since Richard Nixon betrayed the public's trust back in the Watergate days.

People voted for what candidate brought the most to the table, not the party that would most conform to their ideology. And now, a day later, the examination of what took place begins. Strategists from all over are going to focus on the demographics, especially how Hispanic voters (the biggest and fastest growing minority group in America) flocked to Obama. How the age group of 18-29 year-olds came out in record numbers as compared to previous years.

That's all well and good to me, but I want to know how it happened. And I've been scouring the newspapers this morning trying to figure it all out. The Washington Post has a pretty interesting piece that basically points to Obama's deft handling of the economic crisis as his primary reason for victory. With his campaign in the doldrums following the convention season (which, to their credit, the Republicans owned thanks to the shocking jolt provided by Sarah Palin, Obama and his top advisers met in an effort to re-shape his campaign for the stretch run.

Then Lehman fell and all hell broke loose. Except for in the Obama camp. As our new President remained cool, calm, and collected throughout, it was some little-known foresight that not only won him the election but also bodes well for his future as leader of the free world. See back in August:

Relying on a stockpile of data gathered over the spring and summer, Obama's strategists agreed that economic instability, driven by the subprime mortgage crisis, was likely to evolve into the dominant theme of the race.

Joel Benenson, Obama's lead pollster, separately concluded in August that the campaign would need to target a slice of undecided voters deeply motivated by economic concerns. In a PowerPoint presentation, Benenson identified about one-quarter of the electorate as being "up for grabs" in the 18 battleground states, with 67 percent of them citing the economy as a top issue, far more than the 51 percent who named Iraq.

Amidst this long as hell campaign that Obama embarked upon (seriously, getting challenged by Hillary until June is the equivalent of Obama going through an entire NFL season without a bye week), I think all of us lost sight about how well-run a campaign the man had. He had very few slip-ups and he went to more places around the country than any President before him.

From the back, Robert Horry kind of looks like Obama. Btw, this is the shot in Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals that sunk the Kings, and sadly, was pretty much the last we heard of Chris Webber's career as an elite power forward.

Apparently, this was all part of a plan that began as soon as Obama defeated Hillary back in June (and just to continue the sports analogies, this election was almost exactly like the 2002 NBA Playoffs. The Lakers barely got by the Kings in a seven-game Western Conference finals which was marred by loser complaints afterwards and then the Lake show swept the Nets in four in one of the more predictable finals of all time). Obama and his team set about transforming the politics involved with a national election, starting with a mutation of their original message from "Change We Can Believe In" to "The Change We Need":

At the campaign's headquarters in Chicago, an unprecedented ground game was under development. Regional directors, battle-hardened during the primaries, were retrained and dispatched the moment the general election launched, opening offices across an ambitious 18-state battleground.

Rather than work toward a traditional Democratic electoral map that hinged on trying to steal Ohio or Florida, Obama advisers aimed at using the candidate's unique profile -- and the vast public dissatisfaction with President Bush -- to peel off seemingly more difficult states such as Virginia and Colorado.

All this was possible thanks to the unprecedented amount of money Obama raised, something that will likely be emulated by all future Presidential candidates to come. That drastic advantage in wealth led to technological things like this:

Jon Carson, a brainy, 33-year-old field director, developed sophisticated databases to chart developments -- the number of hits the campaign's Florida Web page got in a single day, for example, or the number of people nationwide who had downloaded voter-registration forms. Such unprecedented technology would later give the campaign confidence that its strength in Republican-leaning states was not a mirage.

Through it all, I think the general movement towards a new order of campaigning towards something bolder and brighter than we've ever seen in modern politics is what won this election for Barack Obama. This was the most well-executed Presidential campaign I can remember. Just think about all the new concepts Obama brought to the political equation that look large in hindsight, but seemed small at the time they were initially thought up.

Chris Hughes, one of the unsung hero of this campaign.

There was his hiring of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes as his resident technology expert, something that enabled Obama to:

revolutionize the use of the Web as a political tool, helping the candidate raise more than two million donations of less than $200 each and swiftly mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters before various primaries.

There was new technology brought in to more efficiently conduct online phone messaging, which allowed Obama and his campaign to start a nationwide voter registration drive after the primaries and:

after Senator Clinton bowed out of the race, the millions of people on the Obama campaign’s e-mail lists were asked to rally her supporters as well as undecided voters by hosting “Unite for Change” house parties across the country. Nearly 4,000 parties were held.

Oh, but there's more:

During the primaries, volunteers could sign in online, receive a list of phone numbers and make calls from home. The volunteers made hundreds of thousands of calls last winter and spring. At the end of June, the Obama campaign began carefully opening up its files of voters to online supporters, making it easier to find out which Democratic-leaning neighbors to call and which registered-independent doors to knock on.

All this while McCain's own social networking attempts appeared futile to onlookers:

(The McCain site is) virtually impossible to use and appears largely abandoned,” said Adam Ostrow, the editor of Mashable, a blog about social networking.

Plain and simple, Obama revolutionized the use of 21st century technology in a political campaign, embracing the future and signaling an end to what now seems like rudimentary forms of gaining support like merely giving stump speeches, kissing babies, and shaking hands. Cynical Republicans will probably point to the huge amount of money he spent in doing, but there was no way mobilizing the nation to the extent Obama did could ever be cheap.

I just finished a meeting with the publisher at my paper here, and she made a point to mention that even though Obama won these traditionally red states like Indiana, Virginia, and Colorado, there still remains large pockets in all of these states where people don't even know someone else who voted for Obama. She thinks in terms of unifying the country, Barack has some work ahead of him.

I say the tools are in place for the country to become "unified" once again. If anything, all this new technology Obama brought to the forefront has made it easier than ever for someone to get involved or at least (if you're a Republican scratching your head about a guy who is going to raise our taxes tenfold) give our new President a chance.

So in order to reward the people who read this entire post, I'll leave you with these two passages from another really well-written piece in the Washington Post. If you're a reluctant McCain fan (which is what Republicans have to admit they are because if there was a true Republican candidate this election wouldn't have even been up for debate considering the damage Bush has done to the party), here's how the Republicans move forward:

Republicans watched yesterday as the electoral map turned blue in places where they have labored for a decade to cultivate a permanent, conservative voter base that would ensure presidential victories.

The party -- now clearly a minority one -- is left wondering whether the Democratic rout is the result of a coincidental marriage of a powerful personality and a terrible political and economic environment or if it signals a deeper change in voter patterns and beliefs that will make it difficult for them to recapture the White House for years.

If you're a Barack guy, here's a simple way of summing up what he's just accomplished and what really went down when all the votes were finally counted:

Obama melded the pride and aspirations of African Americans with a coalition of younger and disaffected voters drawn to his rhetorical style, and a unified base of Democrats worried about the economy and frustrated with the war in Iraq.

Well put. Now we just gotta hope Barack is as good a leader as he is a campaigner and unifier. I've got a feeling we'll find out quickly one way or the other.

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