Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Battle Plan: California

Battle Plan: An Exclusive Look Inside Barack Obama's Push to Win California
Posted November 2, 2007 | 08:27 AM (EST)

Sandy City, California -- Barack Obama might indeed be running a full 20 points behind Hillary Clinton in the latest California polls but the Illinois Senator is hardly ready to concede the Golden State. Quite to the contrary.

With a neat one hundred days left to go before the voter and delegate-rich California contest, the Obama campaign is unfolding a full-blown battle plan, devised by a veteran strategist, with the aim of snatching away the West Coast's golden fleece.

The plan is a mini-campaign in every California congressional district, using a modified form of pyramid campaign marketing. With small core groups established in every congressional district, the Obama strategy relies on the multiplier effect of each-one-reach-one with an ultimate goal of knitting together volunteer campaign staff in every one of the thousands of California voting precincts. Starting immediately, the campaign is also embarked on a strategy of converting campaign donors into campaign workers.

If the plan is implemented, this will be "the deepest organizing strategy ever in a California presidential primary," says Brent Messenger, one of the Obama campaign's six California regional field directors.

The man behind the Obama plan, its veritable architect, is the legendary organizer Marshall Ganz, who originally helped build the farmworkers union before moving into grassroots campaigning. His involvement in the Obama campaign is only the latest chapter in Ganz' decades-long career of engineering progressive ground operations.

According to his plan, every California congressional district will have a seven-member team running its own mini-campaign. Each of the seven will find and teach another seven, according to the campaign blueprint. Then each of those groups doubles again. "You will be forming these teams for the next 30 days," Messenger said to a group of northern California organizers. "For the next few weeks you will be doing intense volunteer recruitment."

I caught up this week with Messenger and his right-hand-man for training, Jeff Coleman, just after Messenger had spent days touring the 11 congressional districts in his purview. Driving up to Monterey Bay from Avila Beach, where the field directors and other top campaign staff had pow-wowed hours before, Messenger and Coleman arrived early for the local organizing meeting -- despite the fog and rain that hampered my progress through the Santa Cruz Mountains down from San Francisco. We met in a bar in an old factory neighborhood near the water, a hip bar that the 30th congressional dustrict's 17 campaign troops, all white, almost all middle-aged, would not frequent if it were not for Obama. Messenger and Coleman, sick of Roundtable Pizza meets, seemed ecstatic.

"Let's clash the cymbals together and get us organized," Messenger said, before launching into Obama campaign signature mode -- personal story-telling. From a conservative family (another frequent characteristic of Obama staffers), Messenger worked for moderate Republican state legislator Brook Firestone ("people know who he is as soon as I say he's the father of 'The Bachelor,'" Messenger quiped) until he saw the machinations of the state Republican Committee in Sacramento. "'I gotta get out of here,' I tell myself, so of course I promptly move to San Francisco and join a rock band." For Messenger, like many a supporter, Obama's 2004 Democratic Convention speech was a turning point. "It broke me down," he said. "I realize there is another way, another way than anger. . . . I would work for this guy if he were running for dog catcher."

"So. This is a major tool. Telling your story. You'll be using that," Messenger said. The tone shifted and Messenger was off and running -- first, with some pep talk to the troops. "We have a 4-state strategy in place. All the top candidates will be coming out of them with a mixed bag. But California has over 30% of the delegates. We can pick the next president of the U.S."

Messenger then rolled out the rest of the California battle plan time line: "November 14th. You'll help with Obama's last appearance here probably before the primary. The 17th. State-wide Service Project Day. Team building winds down after November 18th. No more cold-calling for volunteers. Next is voter identification. You will call and ask, 'do you know the primary is on February 5th? Do you know who you are going to vote for?' You rank all your calls on a scale of 1-5. Then mid-December is our time for the permanent absentee vote. There are 6 million in California. Then it's G.O.T.V. full-on in January. We target the 2's in a huge phone bank. We get every single person identified as a supporter out to vote. Now we're down to the precinct level, and our goal is 120 votes at precinct level. We walk the vote. For the precinct captains, that literally means neighbors."

The Obama Battle Plan ultimately depends on the commitment of the state's 27,000 precinct captains. The three-dozen middle-aged people in the hip Sand City bar are going to be some of the 7-member teams who muster these legions and some of them had a visible What have we got ourselves into? look on their faces. What's called "the intense volunteer recruitment" drive between now and Thanksgiving will target the roughly 100,000 Californians who have given money to Obama. They are about to be drafted into field work.

Briskly, Messenger helped the bar group begin its work. He divided them into teams: Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel. He charged them with their roles: chief coordinator, data manager, volunteers, communications, phone banking, canvassing and resources. He told the teams that they can't leave that night until they've settled on three positions: chief coordinator, canvass manager and data manager. The data managers are key, Messenger emphasized. Finally, three people who know how to use Excel spreadsheets raised their hands. "We have a geo-coding data guy," Messenger said, "and we keep him locked away in a dungeon in Oakland." Over the next few days the data managers will talk with the map whiz in Oakland; they will be trained via conference call with the data people at Obama HQ in Chicago. Without precise data collecting and entering, the campaign would be marching forward blind.

Messenger told the teams that they can't leave until they set up their next meetings, sometime in the next few days. Messenger told each new communications volunteer that he or she will be getting a list of Obama donors in the team's section of congressional district 17 the next morning. And that very night, each of the seven on each team will spend several hours phone-banking - quite literally. "You'll start with the low-dollar donors," Messenger said. "With supporters, it's not so hard. Usually right away they say, 'it's about time. What took you so long? I was wondering when you were going to call.'"

Messenger assured the volunteers that they will have all the tools they need: the list of donors by precinct, the state voter file, web-based voter tools, Google groups, new software, and a new field manual. There's skills-based training at northern California HQ in Oakland, as well as Messenger himself, who will constantly be on call for the core 77 campaigners under him.

All the troops, from the 7-member teams down to the 27,000 precinct captains, will be volunteers. As Messenger points out, the Obama California campaign can't afford the Iowa ratio of paid operatives to voter. "That would mean 65,000 people on the payroll in California," he says.

These are the plans. They may or may not match reality. The very day after Messenger's meeting with the leadership of CD17, Chris Matthews of MSNBC says before the Drexel University Democratic Debate, "Obama has fallen down to where Jesse Jackson was this time in the race for president in 1988. He is now an also-ran, a minority candidate in a number of ways; he's not really a contender anymore. He has to get in the ring tonight. If he doesn't, he'll stay where he is right now, dropping in the teens. And that's not serious business. It's a waste of the millions and millions of dollars he's been given by people who hoped he would bring an alternative. . . ."

The Obama campaigners, the core group of staff and volunteers, however, weren't watching the debate. It was Tuesday, and that's "data night" at Oakland headquarters. The leaders of CD8 and CD9 sdre there, learning how to put information into the data base -- one of the tools, they are convinced, that will carry them to victory. --end

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