Believing in Obama’s ground game

I spent the last week at British Labour Party Conference, in Manchester. I proudly wore my Obama buttons - I brought enough for a different badge each day - and consequently had lots of conversations about the US elections. I was surprised how many people were asking me “can Obama really do it?” and were pessimistic about his chances. They were simply looking at the polls from the past few weeks, Palin’s bounce for McCain and adding in a dose of British natural cynicism for good measure. And hey, suddenly they were downbeat about Obama. Our media was also doing down Obama’s chances too.

So there I was, almost single-handedly I felt, having to reassure and convince Labour people that Obama was still ahead and going to win, albeit in a close election. I guess most people just read a couple of blogs or newsites, see the polling figures and take the state of the race at face value. But that is a complete misreading of what is actually going on.

As Bill Clinton didn’t quite say: “it’s the ground game, stupid.” What we don’t see in the polls and focus groups is what’s actually happening on the ground; the mobilising, voter registration, get-out-the-vote efforts; and the changing demographics. All of these favour the Democrats this time, and have been doing all year. Joe Trippi (Howard Dean’s campaign manager from ‘04) describes the electoral significance of this:

“[Obama's] campaign organization should deliver a 1 to 3 points in additional voters to the polls in get-out-the-vote operations in key states the campaign is targeting. So if these states are close in the closing days of the campaign Obama is likely to win most of them.”
Disappointingly many at Labour Conference just didn’t get it, or didn’t believe it, or thought it the wrong tactics. But if we are not into believing in the power of humanity and collective effort--that by talking to and persuading our peers, building a movement ”brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand” (as Obama said in one of his speeches), that is the right thing to do, as well as what can win us the election--then what is the point in being Labour/progressive at all? It’s certainly what helps drive me and makes me optimistic that Obama will win in the end.

NB. This post first appeared on Malcolm's www.sixfiftyblog.com, which looks at what lessons the UK can learn from these elections, and from the Obama campaign in particular.

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