Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
As Kos noted yesterday, despite last week’s wave of media enthusiasm for Clinton, Obama’s delegate lead didn’t shrink at all. The delegate math doesn’t look good for Clinton: she’ll need a big win in Pennsylvania, an upset in North Carolina, and solid victories in Florida and Michigan revotes, all still up in the air.
So, barring the unlikely, Barack Obama will preserve his delegate lead and become the Democratic nominee. At the risk of starting the Monday morning quarterbacking a bit too early, how did Obama put the Clinton machine on the brink of defeat?
Other than the obvious—charisma, fundraising, Iraq, to name a few—consider this:
Obama’s overall delegate lead: 117
Obama’s delegate advantage in caucuses: 129 delegates
The Clinton campaign’s decision to “skip” the caucuses by not matching Obama’s investment in local organizing, may be the biggest political strategy blunder since the ignore-the-Swiftboat call.
Idaho. Maine. Texas. Nebraska. These are not obvious “Obama states” yet he grabbed big delegate leads in each of these caucuses.
Why? Because Obama’s campaign embraced bottom-up campaigning. Because it pumped money into local organizers. Because it gave tools to precinct captains and volunteers.
While Obama also ran television advertising and leveraged endorsers, Clinton’s campaign is marked by its top-down messaging and its use of local political machines. Obama perfected bottom-up organizing – and the caucus system rewarded him.
I’m torn when it comes to caucuses. On one hand I respect their political intimacy, the retail politicking, and the face-to-face discourse they require. And I’ve admired the Obama movement in its execution: armies of Obama’ites rolling up their sleeves, packing events, knocking on doors, calling neighbors. It’s the image of democracy thriving.
On the other hand, caucuses are overtly undemocratic. I’m on the Advisory Board of Why Tuesday? and we’ve reported why caucuses can be extremely difficult for voters to participate in. Single moms, service employees, hospital workers, hell, just an average working citizen having to spend two hours locked in a room—many times on a Tuesday evening—is a lot to ask for democratic participation.
Fortunately, I think we can have it both ways. My estimation is that, whether Clinton pulls off a surprise victory or not, top-down campaigning is toast in our party. The benefits of bottom-up inclusion, financial and organizational, are too great to sacrifice in favor of top-down control. And whether it is a caucus or primary, the bottom-up, caucus-style, army-driven political strategy is here to stay.
While our democracy is refreshed through bottom-up campaigning and all-star candidates with inspiring messages, we must find ways to sustain this increased participation, starting with a dialogue about the state of our voting system. When it comes to our primary calendar, we must make voting more accessible, whether its eliminating caucuses, moving them to to Saturdays (as Nevada and Wyoming did), or just adding absentee caucus ballots. And, in the general, we should consider instituting a national Election Day holiday, expanding mail-in ballots, and experimenting with Internet voting.
Our grassroots has been liberated through bottom-up campaigning. Now we need to upgrade our voting system to sustain this renewed enthusiasm in democracy.
Don’t you think it’s time for an upgrade?