Risky or Smart? Obama's Big Bet on the Ground Game
Over the past few days, a fair number of high-profile progressive bloggers have been, to put it mildly, flipping out about Barack Obama's campaign style and his chances in November. Josh Marshall thinks there need to be consistent lines of attack against McCain. John Aravosis thinks Team Obama is in a bubble and this is feeling like the Democratic campaigns of the past. Matt Stoller thinks it's time for message testing to find the attack that'll work on McCain.
All of these are very smart people who want Obama to win - some of them were his staunchest supporters in the primary - and see it slipping away. I think they all make points which are valid to varying degrees. But they are failing to totally account for the X factor of the election, an X factor which is going virtually unmentioned throughout the blogosphere - the historic ground effort that the Obama campaign is banking on to win. It is not without peril, but it is a very new thing, and I think we have to understand it if we want to understand the twists and turns of this election.
It's true that McCain has gained in small but measurable ways in most polls over the past month. It's true he has found a couple lines of attack against Obama and hammered them consistently. It's true that the combination of Obama's world trip and his vacation in Hawaii, along with the crisis in the Caucasus, has made McCain more present in the campaign than at virtually any other time.
This is also the way that the traditional media, particularly the cable news media, looks at the campaign. Something happens in their line of sight - a Swift Boating, a tough political ad, a bad convention - that convinces the public en masse to vote one way or another. In the historical aftermath of these elections, narratives get set up to "explain" how a candidate won or lost. But the reality is that campaigns are much more complex. They have a life that goes beyond advertising and day-to-day attacks on the stump. And I truly believe that the majority of them are won or lost on the ground.
As bloggers, we are essentially writers, and as such creative people, who tend to focus on the creative aspects of the campaign ("Obama should do an ad that says X!!!"). There is a whole other aspect, and as much as it pains me to say it, here's David Broder - gah! - capturing it: