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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Rove Advises Obama

The strangest article of the day has to be Karl Rove’s Wall St. Journal piece “Barack’s Brilliant Ground Game,” in which he compliments the Obama campaign. Says Rove:

Sen. Obama’s organizational emphasis wisely avoids the Democratic mistake of 2000, when Donna Brazille’s plea for a stronger grassroots focus was ignored by the Gore high command. It also avoids the mistake of 2004, when Democrats outsourced their ground game to George Soros’s 527 organizations. The latter effort paid at least $76 million to more than 45,000 canvassers – many hired from temp agencies – to register and turn out voters. It was the wrong model: Undecideds are more likely to be influenced by those in their social network than an anonymous, low-wage campaign worker.

Rove’s central argument, however, is that Obama’s campaign strategy owes much of its success to “the Bush-Cheney playbooks of 2000 and 2004,” which were designed by you know who. For example:

Barack Obama’s manager admitted to the New York Times that he wanted an “army of persuasion” modeled explicitly on the massive Bush neighbor-to-neighbor “Victory Committee” of ’00 and ’04. Those efforts deployed millions of volunteers to register, persuade and get-out-the-vote…The Obama campaign is trying to catch up with the GOP’s “microtargeting” program, which uses powerful analytical tools and extensive household consumer information to focus on prospects for conversion and extra turnout help. Another Obama adaptation of a 2004 Bush campaign technique is a stepped-up, rapid response effort. Charges do not go unanswered, the campaign stays relentlessly on the offense, using every channel of communication.

While there is a grain of truth to that part of Rove’s argument, low-tech versions of such GOTV tactics have been around for a while. Rove is on even shakier ground in claiming credit for pioneering the use of internet tools, and when he critiques elements of Obama’s strategy, you have to wonder if he’s really afraid it is working.

Mr. Obama’s people admit they want to sucker Mr. McCain into spending money. To be successful, a bluff must be credible. In places like Nebraska and North Dakota, Mr. Obama can’t rely on local issues – like Mr. Bush did with coal in West Virginia in 2000 – to unexpectedly win a critical state. Organization alone won’t suffice. And putting Obama dollars into Texas, for example, to help win five state House seats may simply cause Texan Republicans – not Mr. McCain – to raise money and work harder to counter…Instead of consistency, Mr. Obama has followed Richard Nixon’s advice, to cater to his party’s extreme in the primaries and then move aggressively to the middle for the fall.

The article concludes, predictably enough, with a barrage of cheap shots about the perils of flip-flopping, as if McCain was immune to the charge. Coming from the architect of the GOP’s ’06 debacle, it’s another encouraging sign that the Obama campaign is on the right track.

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