Gaming out November

Team Obama lets allies on the left know what it needs them to do (not much) and what contingencies the campaign is anticipating for the Electoral College (all of them).

Published July 29, 2008 1:07PM (EDT)

Obama campaign representatives recently met in Washington with leaders of liberal interest groups to provide a status report on the election. Historically, these are opportunities to share information, rally supporters and ask for folks to chip in -- within the boundaries of election law, of course.

One attendee with whom I spoke was struck by how this meeting differed from meetings in previous cycles, and in two ways. First, the Obama people stressed how they were not expecting or relying too much on outside to help organize at the grass-roots level because they will have a field campaign of their own rather than depending on groups to supply it. By some accounts, this was one of John Kerry's problems last cycle in swing states like Ohio: By the time he won the nomination, George W. Bush's reelection team had as much as a two-year head start building his Amway-style field operation, so the Nantucket windsurfer had no choice but to rely on surrogate groups to supply the troops and other resources. The attendees' second take-away was that the Obama camp is planning for a variety of Electoral College contingencies, so that it has a strategy to win if it loses some Kerry-won states, like New Hampshire or Michigan or both.

In the end, Obama is probably going to win comfortably or lose outright; it is not impossible, but still difficult to see a scenario like the last two cycles where the election hangs on the final returns from a single state. But Obama strategists seem to be planning for every permutation.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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