Obama’s Campaign Manager Displays the Confidence that Comes with $300 Million

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David Plouffe looks ready to roll. At a Washington, D.C., press conference, Barack Obama’s campaign manager surveyed the general election political landscape for several dozen reporters, and he spoke confidently, like a man who will have the money to do all that he believes is necessary and optional. Which he is, because he can expect to have $200 to $300 million to deploy–now that Obama has decided to sidestep the public financing system (which awards $85 million to party nominees) and raise much more from individual donors.

Plouffe repeatedly noted that the Obama campaign will have the resources to challenge John McCain in practically every state and to pursue multiple strategies for victory. That is, the campaign can attempt to win by holding on to every state John Kerry won in 2004 and swinging only Ohio from R to D, or it could win by bagging Iowa plus Colorado and New Mexico. Or how about losing Pennsylvania but winning Virginia and North Carolina? Plouffe claimed that Obama was already competitive in states that are not traditionally Democratic in presidential races, such as Alaska and Montana and that he can make a run at McCain in Georgia (where Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, a former GOP congressman from Georgia, might draw votes from McCain). Plouffe has the money to invest in a number of game plans–to run ads and set up staff in various states. And as the election approaches, he will be able to determine which states to stick with or abandon. He’s in a candy store with plenty of allowance.

How will he use the money? Plouffe told the reporters that a top priority is to “shift the electorate.” He wants to spend a lot on registering African-Americans and voters under the age of 40 to “readjust the electorate” in assorted states so the voting pools in these states are more pro-Obama. “A couple of points here, a couple of points there,” he says, and red states can go blue. Especially smaller states, where a swing of 10,000 votes could be decisive. And, he emphasized, his campaign will have sufficient resources to identify the people it needs to register, contact them directly, and mount targeted get-out-the-vote efforts. The campaign, he said, is not just going to set up registration tables outside community events.

And there’s more. Plouffe boasted that Obama’s campaign will not have only an edge in volume (more volunteers, more organizers, more door-knocking, more phone-banking, more precinct work, more advertising); it will have an advantage in quality. There’s a “persuasion army” working on behalf of Obama, he said. He pointed to polls showing that Obama supporters and Democrats are far more enthusiastic about this election than McCain supporters and Republicans. Consequently, Obama persuaders–supporters who volunteer or merely talk up Obama among friends and relatives–are likely to do a better job than McCain persuaders. This is “a hard thing to quantify,” Plouffe remarked. But he added, “we think it means a lot.”

It was an impressive performance: more cash, more volunteers, more ads, more opportunities to go on offense, more enthusiasm, more…everything. And when I asked Plouffe about possible racial bias among voters, he said that based on the campaign’s own research, “we certainly don’t believe it will be a major impact….It’s not a barrier for the people who will be deciding this election.” In other words, voters who won’t vote for Obama because he is biracial are the same voters who wouldn’t vote for any Democratic nominee. Is Plouffe right about that? Well, he seemed confident. But, then, he seemed confident about everything. He did acknowledge that all elections have unforeseen twists and turns. Yet whatever comes, he and Obama will not have the excuse, “if only we had more money, we could have tried….” Plouffe essentially said that he is going to play every angle he can imagine. And that’s not spin.

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