Return of the Underdog

By Al Giordano

If my memory serves me, this is the first moment of the general election campaign in which the aggregate state-by-state "poll of polls" on RealClearPolitics shows McCain with an Electoral College lead:

But if you're Barack Obama, this map - coming up six Electoral College points short of the 270 needed for victory - is not a bad starting point at all from which to develop the game plan for the next eleven weeks. The Obama organization's ability to steal "red" states on that map is much, much greater than McCain's ability to take "blue" ones.

So let's play along and assume - even though it is premature to do so until both conventions have occurred - that this map is the starting point.

As everybody knows, turning Ohio or Florida would change the outcome. But the "fifty state strategy" has turned the corner on the 2000 and 2004 obsession over those two states. There are multiple other paths to change the game this time.

For example, if nothing on this map changes except for Virginia (paging Governor Kaine), Obama wins.

The same goes for Colorado, where a million or more phone calls will be made from a stadium next week. (Or let's pretend McCain wins Colorado but loses in mountain states Nevada and Montana: the Republican would still lose the election.)

The same goes for Kansas (paging Governor Sebelius).

Or what if African-American voter registration and turnout goes through the roof and suddenly Georgia (hello, Mr. Barr!), or North Carolina, and/or Mississippi break the mold?

I've said it before: Pollsters are going to have an unusually difficult time this fall factoring in new registrants and turnout among youths, African-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans.

What happens when, as university students go back to school in swing states, more than half of the student body gets registered in that state in a single weekend? In that case, it's not just a matter of new registrants, but of youngsters changing the state in which they vote. Don't think the Obama campaign has that up its sleeve? Check in with a college student in any battleground state in the coming weeks and report back to us.

See, 96 of McCain's 274 Electoral Votes on that map come from seven states where his lead is four percentage points or less in the aggregate "poll of polls": Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada and Indiana. That's a vast territory to defend.

Among Obama's 264 Electoral Votes on that map, only 36 come from just four states where he is leading by less than five points: Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Minnesota.

And that's why field organization - registering new voters and turning them out on Election Day - is more important than the kinds of "messaging" matters that The Armchairmen fret about so loudly.

And here's my final thought: Remember the Democratic primary contests? When Obama was still the underdog, his troops were working harder and more "fired up and ready to go." It was after his 11-state winning streak in February that Senator Clinton got to play the underdog and made quite the ride of it, even though the math was insurmountable for her ever since she had lost Wisconsin and Hawaii on February 19. A lot of us knew that Obama had the nomination in the bag way back then, and, frankly, the grassroots just wasn't working as hard and began to rest on its laurels.

Obama plays the underdog role much better than he plays the frontrunner. Those that have constructed their echo chamber as a "panic room" are mainly trying to hold up their own illusions that Obama ever was safely ahead. They fear what would happen if suddenly the conventional wisdom shifted to a belief that McCain is going to win.

My own sense is counterintuitive: Let's have a month or two when people think McCain's got the upper hand, just like they thought that Clinton had the upper hand in January and early February. That's what it took for Obama's volunteers to work harder and donate more: February was his single greatest fundraising month, and the day after losing New Hampshire marked his single greatest fundraising date. Likewise, Clinton had better fundraising in the later months when she was perceived to be the underdog, too.

I'm not sure we'll get that, by the way. My greater sense is that the polls will remain neck-and-neck straight through to a nail-biting finish (but I'll be watching to see which pollsters adjust their demographic estimates based on new voter registrations among key groups: the rest will simply be offering chaffe).

In sum: There's no need to hold up the sky. Let it fall! It's the ground where the real action is going to take place. In fact, it already is. But if you're too busy writing "panic diaries," you're not out there to see it for yourself.

Week in Review: Meet The Field's Convention Guest Blogger Katie Halper


Al writes: I've mentioned that there will be too much going on in Denver next week during the convention for me to report all by myself, so we'll be involving the Field Hands Denver Posse and we're also bringing in a ringer.
Please join me in welcoming Katie Halper, co-founder of Laughing Liberally, who will be terrorizing the media and the party insiders next week in Denver with the Field Hands, much in the same way that she did at Netroots Nation in Austin last month. She'll be assisting with the blogging here on The Field next week (and if we find a video shooter or two in time, we may even supply video reports).



The Week's News in Review

By Katie Halper

Bush flip flops on Putin's soul. It seems like only yesterday that Bush said of President Vladimir Putin: "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue... I was able to get a sense of his soul." Now, Bush accuses the Russian president of "bullying and intimidation." It remains unclear whether Putin has changed or Bush has bad soul-dar.

Condoleezza Rice leaks conscience to the press. [or "in rare moment, Condoleeza Rice let's conscience slip."] The Secretary of State said "military power" is "not the way to deal in the 21st century."

In a similar episode, the AP lets the truth slip, referring to Joe Lieberman as "the Democratic vice presidential prick* in 2000..."

William Kristol lies only 1/4 of the time. Since joining The New York Times Op Ed team in January, William Kristol has already forced the paper to issue four corrections. Although Kristol founded the Weekly Standard, he prefers writing for The New York Times, where he can push the neo-con agenda, bring down Obama, and destroy the credibility of a newspaper he hates, all at the same time.

McCain's cone of silence could be confirmed by Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.  The McCain campaign insists that the presumptive Republican nominee was in a cone of silence during Rick Warren's interview of Obama. Some, however, suggest that, since McCain was traveling in his motorcade,  "he may not have been in the cone of silence" and might have had "some ability to overhear" the questions. This leaves the McCain campaign in the unenviable position of holding the world's first nationally televised presidential audiological test in order to prove that the cone of silence was unnecessary because the senator is hard of hearing.

Bored with just stealing American jobs, immigrants turn to taking away our medals.

Taking on the System

By Al Giordano

I've just penned this review of an important book that comes out tomorrow: Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era, by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (2008, Celebra). Here's an excerpt:


Taking on the System should not only be required reading for candidates for office and those that run their campaigns, but also for non-electoral and anti-electoral activists, too.
Chapter Five is titled "Feed the Backlash," and is summarized:

"When your enemies begin to notice you - and attack you - you have arrived. Instead of avoiding confrontation with gatekeepers and opponents, embrace it and feed it. Stoking the flames of controversy brings visibility to your issues, raises your profile and effectiveness, and begins a cycle of ever-increasing attention that you can use to your advantage."

It covers not only how to "embrace the attacks" but also "when to ignore the attacks." These are the simple techniques that the late Abbie Hoffman worked so hard to teach the few of us then-youngsters that would listen, back in the 1980s, when his own generation had pretty much used him up and spit him out. Today, in 2008, we have a current teacher from a new generation who discovered many of these techniques through his own experience, amended and mutated them to better fit the new century and its domination by media, and who now - as his multiple hat tips to Saul Alinsky suggest - has come to see his work in the tradition of the great community organizers that had been mostly forgotten for so many years.

Taking on the System goes on sale tomorrow. If you're an activist, a journalist, or an aspiring change agent of any tendency, the $23.95 price of admission ($16.29 online) will be the best and most economical college tuition you ever paid. And if you know somebody that is, or tries, or wants to be one of those things, and you sometimes wish they would just be better at it, then don't dawdle: purchase a second copy for him or her. This is the most coherent guide to political organizing - on or off the Internet - penned in a generation.


Read the whole review.

If It's Biden, There's a Consolation Prize for Dodd and Maybe for You, Too

By Al Giordano


Adam Nagorney and Jeff Zeleny of the NY Times claim Obama's vice presidential pick is down to Bayh, Biden or Kaine. Mark Halperin hints it's Biden. They all may be victims of head fakes. Or not. I don't claim to know.

But if it is Biden, here are some interesting angles.

Biden comes from a Democratic state (Delaware) with a Democratic governor (Ruth Ann Minner) so his possible vacancy from the US Senate could be quickly filled with another Democrat. That's not the case with Bayh. If it came down to a choice between those two, that fact alone probably pushes Biden over the top.

Also, Biden is chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Guess who's next in line to take the chairman's gavel in the event of Biden moving on? It's Chris Dodd! That's a consolation prize for Dodd and for foreign policy progressives, human rights watchers and Latin American democracy advocates in particular (and a long overdue nightmare for Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, his death squads and his mercenary DC lobbyists Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson).

Biden as vice president would also remove him from consideration for Secretary of State in an Obama administration: that would certainly please Bill Richardson (and maybe John Kerry?).

My preference would be for the "three point shot" - that Obama pick somebody from outside of Washington such as Kaine or Sebelius or Schweitzer. There's little doubt in my mind that as running mate Biden - when those flash bulbs start popping - will stray off message and undercut Obama at various points during the campaign (he can't help himself) no matter what kinds of electronic monitoring bracelets Patty Solis Doyle has concocted for him. (Although the daily struggle to keep Biden, if he's the veep nominee, on the leash will make for entertaining copy in the coming months. And Solis Doyle did get some practice, albeit with mixed results, in her efforts to house train Bill Clinton earlier this year.)

And Biden's horrid record on crime and civil liberties as a drug war hawk is just plain embarrassing (and goes hand in hand with his tendency to seek out TV cameras and do the pander dance for them). Then again, a vice president has no direct authority over those matters and removing Biden from the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations committee (and from his third-in-line post - behind Leahy and Kennedy - on the Judiciary committee) and stuffing him in the vice presidential closet wouldn't be the worst thing for good legislation in Congress in the coming years.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. But it's realpolitik: If you're not a big Joe Biden fan, there are consolation prizes for you, too, in "promoting" him to that dungeon manse on the southeast corner of 34th and Massachusetts Avenue!

(I'm not saying he's the choice. I'm just speculating on "what if?")

Obama's VP: Why Not Wait Until Next Wednesday?

By Al Giordano


The more I think of it, there's little reason for soon-to-be Democratic nominee Barack Obama to announce his vice presidential pick before the convention begins in Denver a week from now, and one very good reason to wait - and keep everybody at the edges of their seats - until the second or third night of the convention.

With the campaign giving every American that text-messages the letters "VP" to telephone number 62262 (that's touchtone-speak for "O-B-A-M-A") the simultaneous opportunity to be the "first to know" about his choice (and thus gathering a multitude more of voters whose cell phone numbers are in his database and will be contacted with other news, invitations, fund appeals and requests over the coming months), there would be a distinct advantage to holding off on the announcement until during the convention itself.

From the (nationally televised) stage on Monday and Tuesday nights of the convention, the phone number offer could be announced again and again, netting many more hundreds of thousands of people to link into the Obama text-messaging network and then receive their instant gratification on Wednesday - the day of the pick. (And, after all, which of those millions doesn't get a secret thrill out of getting the confirmed news before the Great Mentioners and middlemen of the national media announce it?)

In fact, I can't think of any really good reason to spill the beans before then. That move would simply suck the oxygen out from Clinton-centric or other "off message" speculation to gain traction or dominate the convention week narrative and would retain a real element of surprise and meaningful theater to the convention itself, upping viewership, and making the eventual choice seem bigger than life: the whole world waiting, together, to find out the news.

The only potential downside of such an extended tease tactic would be if somebody got a photo of a campaign plane or placards being printed with the two names together, thus spoiling the surprise. But there are ways around that, too, simply by providing some decoy "leaks" or photos in which members of the national media announce with authority the name of the VP nominee, but end up proved wrong by the real deal.


Field Hands Update: We're now at 499 Field Hands (members of the network that puts you in contact with each other and facilitates organizing by Field Hand locals throughout the country and the world). Question of the day: Who will be Field Hand #500?

Update: Welcome Field Hands # 500 (Russell Wong) and # 501 (Eric Edenfield) and # 502 (Julie King)!

Civil Forum

By Al Giordano


The intro to yesterday's "Civil Forum" featuring both major presidential candidates by the Reverend Rick Warren called on the "need to restore civility" and "stop demonizing" each other in America. That's one example of how the forum was supposedly on McCain's turf (an evangelical Christian church) but stylistically was on Obama's (a post-partisan end to boomer generation polarization). This forum simply would not have been possible four years ago... nor twenty years ago. And I doubt very much that any other prospective Democratic nominee would have attended it, nor have walked away unscathed as Obama did yesterday.

(You can see the whole thing in YouTube segments, here.)

Warren is not your grandfather's Rev. Billy Graham. He's certainly no Rev. Jerry Falwell or religious-rightist. Stylistically, he stands somewhere between Tony Robbins' self-help inspirational schtick and Oprah Winfrey's talk show pulpit. Guys like him pioneered - in the realm of religion - many of the same techniques that grew the Obama campaign to count with 2 million donor activists. More than 400,000 ministers - including from other religions - have sought and received training from Warren on how to rally the faithful. In politics, that would be called training for community organizers.

So when Warren said that both Obama and McCain were "my friends," and "patriots," and gushed with feel-good admiration throughout the program for both of them, he was - like Obama - "turning the page" from the polarized politics of recent decades. That was very reinforcing to Obama's message. Far more lasting than any impressions left by the candidates' statements (as the more-watched Olympic results ticked across the bottom of the screen) was the imprint that melted away a summer of negative ads by both sides, and an inoculation against the negative campaigning to come among a particular demographic - Evangelical Christians - that in the past has been among the most vulnerable to such techno-marketing.

In 2004, among the 23 percent of voters that identified themselves as Evangelical Christians to exit pollsters nationwide, Republican George Bush received 78 percent of those votes to 21 percent for Democrat John Kerry: giving Bush a 13 percentage point advantage among all voters nationwide. McCain's not going to do better among Evangelicals than Bush: the question is whether Obama can cut into this most important part of what has been the GOP's base.

According to a Pew survey this month, McCain leads Obama among Evangelicals with 68 percent to 24 for Obama. That may seem marginally different than the 78-21 split between Bush and Kerry, but nationwide it's an advance of three percentage points for the Democrat if Obama can simply grab a similar one-quarter of the eight percent of undecideds in that subsample. Right there is the math for what could have been a Kerry victory over Bush in the national popular vote four years ago, and and what, if it occurs, will be an Obama victory in November.

So for Obama to have appeared at that forum, and been humanized by Warren in contrast to the attempts to demonize and attack his character to Evangelicals that have characterized the rival campaign, leaves the lasting impression among those that watched the forum on cable television.

Obama's open discussion of "faith" throughout the primaries, his use of "faith forums" in the Iowa caucuses and gospel concerts in the South Carolina primary, his tolerance (yes, that's the proper word for it) of religious views different than his own, and the intensive efforts (a la the Matthew 25 Christian group for Obama) to peel away Evangelical voters from the GOP base (particularly the younger ones) was grist for attacks on Obama from the identity-politics left during the primaries (remember the screeching, during the early primaries, over gospel singer Donnie McClurkin's views on homosexuality? Interestingly, so many of the same bloggers and commentators that slammed Obama then over his refusal to demonize McClurkin then are those that have today picked new complaints over what they see as Obama's unwillingness to demonize McCain in the ways they would prefer to see a presidential campaign run: it's as if some people don't know or can't even conceive of any other kind of presidential campaign than the ugly contests that produced Bush-Clinton-Bush).

Sure, the "Civil Forum" audience was mostly a McCain crowd, but in those 3,500 seats and among the million or more viewers via cable TV was part of that twenty-five percent or so of Evangelicals that, if Obama wins their votes in November, he will win the presidency.

User login


RSS Feed