A while back
I posted about McCain's apparent lack of a ground campaign - and especially the lack of a nationwide organizational structure capable of matching up against Barack Obama's. At the time, the discrepancy in the ground campaigns seemed so incredible that I was half-convinced there was some kind of weird Trojan Horse thing going on - a stealth ground campaign we couldn't see.According to the Washington Post, apparently not:
McCain has faced a severe spending imbalance during most of the fall, but the Republican nominee squirreled away enough funds to pay for a raft of television ads in critical battleground states over the next four days, said Evan Tracey, a political analyst who monitors television spending.
The decision to finance a final advertising push is forcing McCain to curtail spending on Election Day ground forces to help usher his supporters to the polls, according to Republican consultants familiar with McCain's strategy.
The vaunted, 72-hour plan that President Bush used to mobilize voters in 2000 and 2004 has been scaled back for McCain. He has spent half as much as Obama on staffing and has opened far fewer field offices. This week, a number of veteran GOP operatives who orchestrate door-to-door efforts to get voters to the polls were told they should not expect to receive plane tickets, rental cars or hotel rooms from the campaign.
"The desire for parity on television comes at the expense of investment in paid boots on the ground," said one top Republican strategist who has been privy to McCain's plans.
The Post article quotes a campaign advisor saying that negative ads are more likely to change people's minds than personal contacts are. And maybe that's what the McCain campaign believes. But to me this reads more like a campaign that has realized that it can't and won't win (check out this piece of desperation
), and is doing what it can to poison the well and make governance harder for the next president.
The problem with my giving up/spoiler interpretation is the overwhelming evidence
that the ground campaign has been lacking from the beginning, even in swing states where it was presumably needed most. That link is to a 538.com article called "The Big Empty," a summary of their experiences visiting 50 McCain offices in 13 battleground states. It's a devastating indictment of the campaign - check out their photos, in particular.
On the flip side, Obama's ground organization has been truly revolutionary. Everyone with an interest in practical politics should read this lengthy, thoughtful, and fascinating analysis
of how the Obama ground campaign is structured, and their intense efforts to develop, nurture, and sustain volunteer leadership.
The "New Organizers" have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so "top-down" and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or "bottom-up" organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization.
Win or lose, "The New Organizers" have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation. Obama must continue to feed and lead the organization they have built—either as president or in opposition. If he doesn't, then the broader progressive movement needs to figure out how to pick this up, keep it going and spread it to all 50 states.
As I read the article, I kept thinking of my experiences working with Dean For America
in 2003-2004. Many of the organizing principles sounded like grown-up, much-improved versions of the work we were trying to do in the Dean campaign. And indeed, the success of the Obama organization developed from both the DFA organization and Dean's work to develop a nationwide Democratic Party structure in his work as the Chair of the DNC.
Because I'm still a Dean partisan in many ways, I'm so thrilled to finally see public recognition of the brilliance of his 50 State Strategy
. When he took over as head of the DNC, a lot of people thought sending paid Democratic organizers into places like North Carolina was a dumb waste of money. Dean looks like a genius now.