Obama's Activist Victory

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Jun 04, 2008 at 01:09

Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination because of the roughly two million activists who supported his campaign. These were the donors, the volunteers, the caucus goers and the rally attendees who, in several key ways pushed him over the top. Here is how:
  1. Media: Starting early in the campaign, much of Obama's mystique was built on the huge crowds he drew at rallies. Massive groups of 3,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 people who attended his rallies back in the first half of 2007 gave him a rock start persona that no other candidate could match.

  2. Money: Obama's entire monetary advantage over Hillary Clinton came from small donors who gave $200 or less to his campaign. His $57M+ advantage over Clinton in this area of fundraising accounts for all of Obama's financial advantage during the nomination campaign.  Outside of the $200 or smaller donors, Clinton's $10M transfer from her Senate campaign and $11.4M loan from personal funds draw her even with Obama in overall fundraising. As such, the extra money Obama had for paid media and staff came entirely from his small donor corps.

  3. Iowa: Obama had to win Iowa in order to have any chance at the nomination. His Iowa victory was the legitimizing force that helped push the vast majority of African-Americans into his camp. Also, his victory knocked out all other contenders, setting up a one on one campaign against Clinton. The Iowa caucuses, like all caucuses, are fundamentally an exertion of raw activist power, and Obama's victory among Democratic Iowa activists was one of the main keys to his victory.

  4. Caucuses: As I already noted, caucuses are a hothouse for activists. With odd and narrow voting windows, with a public vote, and with extremely low turnout, a candidate can only win caucuses if s/he commands the support of the most dedicated Democrats and Democratic leaners. Without his consistent, dominating victories in caucuses, Obama would not have led in pledged delegates. Without his pledged delegate lead, superdelegates would not have flocked to Obama. And without a lead in both pledged delegates and superdelegates, Barack Obama would not be the nominee tonight. Caucuses, and the dedicated activists who attend them, put him over the top.

So, because of the advantages that his activist corps gave him in terms of media, money, Iowa and caucus delegates, tonight Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. This statement is not meant to imply that other candidates lacked activist support, only that Obama had significantly more support from Democratic and progressive activists than any other candidate. He achieved this support because of his personal magnetism, excellent organizing within his campaign and, just as importantly as anything else, because of his early opposition to the war in Iraq. Because Barack Obama opposed the Iraq war before it began, he had the inside track to Democratic and progressive activist support. No other top tier candidate could stake the same claim to appropriate judgment on the defining issue of this decade.

Without his opposition to the Iraq war, Obama doesn't dominate among activists to nearly the same extent. And without his activist advantage, he doesn't win the nomination. The DFH's delivered Obama the nomination. Hopefully, he will campaign in the general election, and eventually govern, in a manner that recognizes and appreciates this fact. And, if not, hopefully those same activists will hold him accountable.

Chris Bowers :: Obama's Activist Victory

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A bit off topic, but (0.00 / 0)
Can't a good case be made for the fact that, Clinton, by her 50% support in the voting, is sorta owed the Vice Presidential slot?

I know there are arguments on both sides.  And the way Hillary has acted, there is a clear danger that she will undermine Obama at every turn.

But isn't it clear that Hillary is a VERY clear 2nd choice for Democratic voters?  How can you NOT listen to the voters, in this regard, and offer the VP slot to Hillary Clinton?

At any rate - with a contest this close, that would be the default position, I would think, given the idea of respecting what voters want.

It depends ... (0.00 / 0)
after all .. she said he hadn't crossed the CiC thresold ... and it seems the Rethugs are already using that in commercials .. do we know if she really wants it? .. why would she want to play second banana to him .. especially if in her own mind .. he's gonna lose .. because we know that is what she thinks .. she's already said he's unfit to be president .. so why(in her mind) would she jump on a losing ticket?

[ Parent ]
Hopefully she won't want it (0.00 / 0)
In my mind, they plan out something where SHE announces that Obama has graciously offered her the VP nod, but she declines, as she wants to continue to represent the "great state of New York", or some such.

But I really think the offer should be there (even if fake) for the 50% that voted for her.

[ Parent ]
I think she wants it... (0.00 / 0)
Seems clear from her speech and post all speeches behavior.

[ Parent ]
Um... no. (4.00 / 3)
It would be stupid for Obama to pick a running mate who essentially ran Nixon's racist Southern Strategy against him. It would be stupid to pick a running mate who argued that he was too inexperienced to be Commander in Chief. It would be stupid to pick a candidate whose endless goal post shifting has left her with all the credibility of a pathological liar. It would be stupid to pick a running mate who voted for the war. It would be stupid to pick a running mate that would fire up the Republican base like nobody else. It would be stupid to pick a running mate whose husband would be an ego-driven headline grabbing distraction. It would be stupid to undermine a message of change by enabling a political dynasty.

I don't think Obama is stupid. He ran a better campaign. He beat the "inevitable" candidate. He gets to pick his own running mate. It will not be Hillary. Let's move on.


[ Parent ]
I get that (0.00 / 0)
I get the reasons why not.  From the undercutting she has done, might continue to do, the distraction of Bill, etc.

But still - 50% of the vote.  50%!  How do you not respect that, being a democrat?

You say, "sorry, that's the way the cookie crumbles".  Which is what Bush said about Gore.

I don't know the way forward - it just seems to me, she has a VERY strong claim to the VP nod.

[ Parent ]
I do respect it (4.00 / 3)
But we come back to the fundamentals: Clinton as VP, as near as we can tell from the polling, doesn't cover Obama's weaknesses, it just adds hers.  Sure, it would shore up the Democratic base a little more than it would probably become, anyway (the older women, anyway, the minority of actual racists are beyond reach).  But it turns Independants against the combined ticket and moves Republicans from "won't vote" and "undecided", gets them motivated to turn out against a candidate they hate when a candidate on their side they don't much like wouldn't do it.

Beyond that, now that she's moved beyond behind the scenes overtures to having surrogates demand it outright, to give it to her would communicate weakness.

The VP nod isn't a prize to be claimed.  It's an asset to be deployed.  And Hillary just wouldn't be much of an asset in that position.

[ Parent ]
Change Theme More Compelling to Me (4.00 / 1)
This was originally an 8-way race. Some people voted for individual candidates, some voted against other candidates, some voted for who they thought was the establishment candidate or the anti-establishment candidate, some voted for the "inevitable" candidate, some voted for who they thought had the best chance of winning in November.

It is very difficult to say what Clinton's "50% of the votes" really means.

Now it is time to decide what the best ticket to win in November is. That might mean choosing Clinton because a lot of people want her on the ticket. But it might mean choosing a VP who reinforces Obama's change theme and anti-war theme. It might mean choosing a candidate from the South or West who might bring along voters from those areas. It might mean choosing someone who Obama gets along with well.

No one has a "claim" to the VP position, only an argument about why she should be that person. But there are other arguments and, to me, reinforcing a change theme is much more compelling.

[ Parent ]
maybe (0.00 / 0)
If a general election is close enough to be practically 50-50, we should toss out the running mates and make the losing presidential candidate the vice-president.

On second thought, maybe not.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
you probably know this (0.00 / 0)
but that's how it used to work up until the 12th Amendment went into effect in 1804...

[ Parent ]
But as we all know (0.00 / 0)
the Vice Presidency isn't something "owed" to the runner-up; and respecting what voters want is now focused on what they'll want in November, not in the Democratic primary. I'm not saying that disqualifies Hillary, but neither does it mean she's necessarily the best person to help get Obama elected.

Hillary certainly has political strengths, but for all that she could bring to the ticket I can see ways she also could detract. Most obviously and importantly, having Hillary on the ticket could undermine Obama's over-arching message of change, of overturning the paradigm in Washington, in a fairly serious way. Her Iraq vote doesn't help either. And unfortunately, Hillary Clinton has been a deeply polarizing figure for a long time to a lot of people.

I'm fine with it if that's what works for Obama and his team, but I know one thing: Hillary and Bill Clinton will both be out stumping for Obama this summer and fall, campaigning their asses off, whether she's on the ticket or if it turns out to be John Edwards, Kathleen Sebelius, Wes Clark, Sharrod Brown, etc.

When Hillary gets up on that podium in Denver and reminds everyone how critical it is that we all help elect Barack Obama as the next President of the United States, I hope her most ardent supporters, especially those who are feeling let down right now, take that advice to heart, no matter who the Veep candidate might be.

[ Parent ]
This is the first time the party establishment (4.00 / 10)
has lost a primary fight since 1976. My hope is that activists will re-learn the lesson I was taught when I came of political age in the early 1980's: the establishment can be beaten.

Clinton was not an establishment candidate (4.00 / 1)
She was a machine candidate.  Her machine, built by 8 years in the White House, was very powerful, and made her the inevitable candidate in 2007.  The establishment pretty much stayed neutral until the end, and then poured into the Obama camp.  

[ Parent ]
Empirical question (0.00 / 0)
Because I don't know the answer. Was Clinton's establishment support greater or less than, say, Gore or Mondale? And how was that establishment support different from her "machine" support (Clinton had tons of party elected officials behind her from the get go, and that's establishment, right?).  

[ Parent ]
the establishment (0.00 / 0)
The establishment is a vague term, but to identify key members is not so difficult.  These people all support Obama, either actively or tacitly, awaiting to formally endorse when more politically appropriate. :
Howard Dean, Party Leader
Speaker of the House Pelosi
Senate Majority Leader Reid
Nobel Prize Winners Carter and Gore
Old Lions of the Senate, Byrd, Dodd, Biden, Kerry, et al, and most importantly Ted Kennedy, who was instrumental in swaying Caroline Kennedy into Obama's camp.

Whether declared or not, these people are a good part of the establishment minus the Clinton machine.  If Clinton could have relied on the establishment and her machine, no amount of grassroots could have delivered the race to Obama.

I agree with Chris that Obama became competitive due to the small donor base, and that allowed him to take on the Clinton machine.  Obama was exceedingly luck in that in attacking the Clinton machine, he did not have to alienate the "establishment".  

The establishment I suspect always leaned toward Obama, and were convinced by his charisma and record-breaking fundraising, to throw in with him.  

[ Parent ]
"Establishment" (4.00 / 2)
Obama was heir to a revolution in the establishment, if that term is interpreted to mean the party structure.  The DLC controlled the party for 13 years, only being forced out of the top positions when Dean staged his red-state revolution in 2005.  The Dean faction certainly was probably always hoping Obama would win (because if Hillary did, and then won the General, the DLC would come in with a vengeance), but I think they bent over backwards trying not to take sides (most of them didn't endorse until the end).

Hillary was the candidate of a DLC resurgence, which still controlled many of the traditional Blue state parties and the swing-state machines.  They didn't even pretend to be impartial, most of Hillary's initial lead in SD's came from them.

Obama not only endorsed, but pursued the 50-state strategy of party building in every state, regardless of whether it was in play for the presidential general.  Most of the resources, especially the cash, will still go to swing states.  But unlike under the DLC, non swing states, especially red states that we must make inroads into if we want a long-term movement to the left rather than a narrow tactical victory or defeat every 4 years, are integral to the Obama strategy and won't be completely starved to buy a little more airtime in Ohio.

Will the Mountain West turn blue, or even swing, this cycle?  Not likely.  But with the DLC approach of swing-states only, they never would.

[ Parent ]
Obama was "alternative establishment" (4.00 / 2)
He had some heavy-hitting early supporters in the party establishment.

In Iowa, pretty much all of the prominent Obama supporters (elected officials, state party hacks, campaign staffers) backed Boswell for Congress. These people were not anti-establishment, they just picked Obama over Clinton.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
Hillary VP (0.00 / 0)
It's rather moot at this point, isn't it? How can Obama offer
her the VP if she hasn't conceded that he's the nominee?

Good point (0.00 / 0)
Of course, she hasn't conceded, because then he clearly won't offer the position to her, I think.

[ Parent ]
Off topic? (4.00 / 1)
My local news just ran a montage of Clinton supporters expressing doubt about voting for Obama in Nov., and sometimes outright refusal to do so. Most expressed sexism as the reason they thought Hillary lost - one asking how could the Democrats pass over the "experienced" candidate for someone with as "little experience" as Obama? There was little or no talk about the respective candidates' message, vision, or even campaign strategy in the primaries.

But here's my sincere question: As far as fitness for the Presidency goes, is Clinton really so much more "experienced" than Obama? And if "yes", how so and by what measure(s)?  

most of those Democrats will come home (4.00 / 1)
by November, and you have nothing to gain by arguing with them now about whether Clinton is really more experienced than Obama. That will just make them mad.

I have a diary coming soon about tips for Obama volunteers in communicating with Democrats who don't like Obama.

One of the main points is that you don't need to win an argument with voters who preferred a different candidate. You need to get on the same side as these people, with a view toward making them feel more comfortable eventually supporting Obama themselves.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
Yes, but you missed my point (0.00 / 0)
I wasn't asking about the "experience" issue as a matter for engaging in debate. I genuinely want to know the answer to that question, if anyone has any answers. Is that OK?  

[ Parent ]
Ahh, there's the rub (4.00 / 2)
To question the validity of Clinton's experience, because most of it was gained as the wife of a major political figure rather than as one directly, opens you up for charges of sexism right there.  Even to try and point out the parts of that experience that weren't derived from her husband's status, but weren't public service either (the Rose law firm, sitting on the WalMart board) doesn't go over well.

Unfortunately, "experience" here is not meaning what the word says.  She's older, and presumably wiser, and he's young, and presumably not.  It's not that she has more applicable experience.  It's that she's 14 years older.  Subtle ageism.

[ Parent ]
Well, something may break loose. (0.00 / 0)

Mark Halperin is reporting at The Page that Andrea Mitchell said this on MSNBC tonight:

   Clinton advisers are telling me that she wants to sit down very quickly with Barack Obama, and she wants to do this in a private way.

   She doesn't want to concede or embrace him until she's had a chance to sit down with him and explore what's on his mind, and her mind.

From Huffington Post

Other factors (4.00 / 4)
Excellent post. I'd be interested in your thoughts on expanding the factors involved, in terms of lessons for the future:

(1) his opposition to the war was not only reflected in his activist support, but it represented 4 out of 5 Democratic voters, and in those places where independents could vote, about two-thirds of independents. Although Iraq is no longer the top issue for voters, it was in 2007. Also, with congressional Democrats not ending war funding, his candidacy was an outlet for expressing that sentiment. The larger point: how can any candidate (Clinton) expect to win when they begin their candidacy to some degree opposed to what 80 percent of party members support on what was then the No. 1 issue?

(2) expanding the base and the playing field, especially among young people.

(3) the use of online organizing.

(4) the dynamics of identity politics, not only blacks versus women, but generational politics. Clinton too had her generational politics. Both organized that politics around diferent themes (see below)

(5) articulating and capturing the desire for change. Since 1981, Democrats have controlled both the presidency and the Congress for only two years, the first two years of Bill Clinton's administration. That has created a huge reservoir of people hungry for a change from conservatism when the country has moved on in so many ways (the increasing support for gay marriage and gay rights generally is the one that leaps to mind), when conservatism has proven to be a disaster as a governing ideology, and when it does not have answers to the problems we face.

(6) How the desire for a deep-rooted change, for getting beyond political divisions, trumped experience or policy expertise, especially when (progressive) Democrats control Congress. Obama can work with Congress and with experts in his adminstration to enact policies. In other words, Obama's campaign was less focused on him as the savior than was Clinton's.

More broadly, the fate of health care and other issues will depend more on the politics of it than on the policy. I think Clinton mistakenly saw the problem of the Bush administration as incompetence, whereas Obama saw it (and the conservative movement more generally) as a divisive assault on what America is in its better lights and values. He tapped the desire of people to get involved in changing the country, not simply in electing him to solve their problems. It's a different model, more of an "open source" politics. Obama tapped the zeitgeist.


How will the activists hold him accountable? (4.00 / 2)
That is not snark, that is a serious question.

If he gets elected, Obama will have many days on which he can choose to do what pleases his activist base, or what pleases Tim Russert and the Washington Post editorial board.

If he goes the DC establishment way, what are the activists who got him elected going to be able to do about it?  

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

No idea (0.00 / 0)
I'm inclined to think that progressive activists will have least marginally more sway with a President Obama than with a President Clinton. But some people's naive hopes are definitely going to be dashed.

[ Parent ]
Excellent point... (0.00 / 0)
ButI think that most of his supporters won't even think he did something wrong.  So of course there will be no reason to hold him accountable.

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
Agreed (0.00 / 0)
While I certainly prefer Senator Obama to the megalomaniacal, myopic, mud-slinging Sen. Clinton whose prevarications about serving anyone but herself (since Day One) seem to be inexhaustible, we should not fool ourselves  into believing Barack Obama is a true progressive.  Doubt me? Google "Senator Slither" (Alexander Cockburn article). Or hop on to http://zcommunications.com and check out an article called "Obama's Audacious Deference". These are two of many, many examinations of his philosophy and choices.

There was one progressive in this race: Kucinich. We can agree he's not electable by any measure.  But let us not indulge ourselves with such fanciful thoughts about building a new progressive movement around a person who is cozy with Wall Street lobbyists and hawkish/conservative establishment advisors. Please.  If we're going to be practical, let's face facts so we have our story straight on Judgment Day and aren't caught in any more transgressions.  This also has the notable advantage of precluding "surprise" when Senator Obama does the inevitable: include the above Power Movers as a disproportionate part of his "unity" plan.

Nevertheless, I pray Obama defeats the truly awful alternative, the champion of Endless War and government intrusion, McCain. Amazing - that someone can make an honest man out of Nixon who claimed to be the peace candidate. Well, in comparison....  

[ Parent ]
No Progressive Superman (4.00 / 3)
On the issues, Hillary and Obama were so close you could barely see daylight between them.  I think his supporters are well aware that we've backed a centrist, someone slightly to the left of center instead of slightly to the right of it.

He's not a liberal firebrand.  He's going to disappoint some of his supporters, that's inevitable.  But you really shouldn't accept the "Obamabot" talking points at face value.  Hillary was the candidate of the DLC, she wasn't going to be a progressive herself.

Just as some of Hillary's supporters still can't accept she lost, just as 20-25% of the US thinks Bush Jr. was the bestest president ever, some of Obama's supporters may think he can do know wrong.  But few of us are that blindly loyal to anyone.

[ Parent ]
I expect Obama to govern much like Bill Clinton (0.00 / 0)
On domestic policy, I think Hillary would have been better than Obama.  I just hope healthcare reform does not become a great missed opportunity of an Obama administration.

I expect Obama to govern much like Bill Clinton in the 90s. Clinton of course had to contend with a Republican-controlled Congress, and "triangulation" was basically an earlier term for "post-partisanship," so it's a little disheartening that Obama is already promising post-partisanship when he's going into a Congress with an overwhelming Democratic majority.

If there is any genuine progressive movement in the next legislative session, I expect it to come from Congress (from Pelosi).  At least a Democratic president should withhold the veto on progressive legislation.

Foreign policy is going to be a mess.  It's going to take 50 years to clean up the mess that Bush has made.  I expect that US troops will still be in Iraq at the end of an Obama administration.  Maybe they will be called "residual troops," but the foreign policy elite will be braying about our strategic interest in maintaining a hold on the Iraqi oil fields.  Perhaps at least those rationalizations will finally go public.

[ Parent ]
I am glad Chris aknowleldges that Obama's victory is based almost totally on the Caucus States (2.67 / 3)
And while the activists won those caucuses for him...these wins are very misleading in terms of gauging his strength in a general election.  

As we all should know by now...10 days after he won Washington 68-31 with maybe a max of 200-238,000 voters,  he only won the non binding primary with 690,000 voters by 5%.  If that was a primary he would have split those delegates equally with her.  In Nebraska he won a caucus, 67-31, the primary he won by 2% at a tome when he was th epresumptive nominee!. The primary of course had many multiples more voters than th ecaucus.

He didn't win in the overwhelming fashion that all his most devoted supporters expected.  

He is not a map expander ...he is a map changer and at this point it's a shrunken map.

He is a weak candidate limping into the convention....

he should be humble and calculating and have Hillary as his VP.

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

I don't agree with you ... (4.00 / 1)
... but I'm uprating for trollrating abuse.

Come on, people!  Let's all say it together -- you can't trollrate someone just because you don't agree with their opinion.

Anyway, I think you should consider the possibility that spending time, energy and resources to win delegates, when this is what you have to do to be nominated, is not exactly the sign of a weak candidate; it's a smart candidate.

Investing a huge amount in winning the Washington primary, for example, might be a little foolish if your goal is to win the nomination, and those resources might be better used elsewhere.  I'm just saying it's a possibility.

Republicans can't fix our country; they're too busy saddlebacking.

[ Parent ]
I think it was a smart strategy on his part (0.00 / 0)
Thank you for the uprating..if I trolled everyone I disagreed with on this site..it would be a decimation.

It was very smart on the parto fo him and his staff.

My reference to weakness had to do with his constituency appeals..that the overwhelming caucus wins made him look like a potential steamroller in the general. He's not that steamroller and he has huge gaps in who will vote for him in critical electoral states.  

His huge wins in Miss and alabama doesn't mean he wins those states...even Kansas is not really Obama country in November.

Again thanks

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
Agreed, (0.00 / 0)
it's not a cakewalk.  Neither would it have been for Clinton, I don't think; I truly believe in her capacity to fire up the Republican base.  One thing that Obama has convinced me of is that different turnout patterns really, really matter!

Anyway, since he is the nominee, sounds like we agree that we all need to bust our humps to get him elected.  If he has these weaknesses, we all just need to work that much harder.

Republicans can't fix our country; they're too busy saddlebacking.

[ Parent ]
Weak candidate? .. (0.00 / 0)
What does that say about Hillary if she can't beat him?  She had 100 SD's in her pocket before any votes were cast in Iowa.  And what supporters of his thought he was going to win in overwhelming fashion? Humble and calculating?  I didn't see any humbleness from Clinton last night.

[ Parent ]
I disagree (4.00 / 1)
I don't think the opposition to war really made a difference with dfhs.  The "dfhs" as you describe them were reluctant Obama voters even with the opposition.  

It may have swayed other groups, but not the dfhs.  What swayed the dfhs was edwards dropping out.

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keep caucuses? (4.00 / 1)
Chris--I pretty much agree with this--so shouldn't we allow states to keep caucuses where they want to, now that they have become pluses for activists, rather than just for the party establishment (which is what they used to be, most of the time)?
Seems to me we should get rid (or restrict with earlier dates for party-switching) of Republicans voting in Dem primaries, to eliminate the Limbaugh nonsense, and rotate the early states, but to me, this was a huge upset, a victory for activists and those opposed to the war, and perhaps the most fascinating primary battle ever.  For those who agree, why change the rules?

I disagree a bit on the money (0.00 / 0)
or maybe just want to expand upon it a bit...

YES, absolutely the netroots money and the amazing systems created to generate it were a major factor.  I believe that was a huge factor which has forever changed national races.

But Senator Obama created a lean-mean-machine.  Senator Clinton's campaign was top-heavy from the beginning.  I think that was another huge factor.

Not only did Team Obama generate more money, they had far more to spend because they weren't supporting an old-style, top-heavy management overhead.  The difference was glaring in last quarter's FEC reports.

Because of it's top-heavy structure, Camp Clinton was either unwilling and/or unable to react in the timely fashion necessary for a 21st Century race.


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