Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-SD60B) regularly hosts events at which Jeff Blodgett talks about politics and strategy. Jeff Blodgett is most recently famous for running Obama’s MN campaign. He’s also famous for running Paul Wellstone’s three campaigns and founding Wellstone Action after Paul’s tragic death.
That’s Jeff on the left and Frank on the right.
Last night, Jeff joined about 100 DFLers above Tom Braun’s Wild Rumpus bookstore to discuss Obama’s MN campaign.
Jeff talked about the 4 main elements to Obama’s victory. While not specific to the MN campaign, Obama’s campaign shared many traits with the way Jeff ran Wellstone’s campaigns and the way that Wellstone Action trains campaign managers and candidates.
- Strategic, focused message
- Organization building
- Lots of small dollar donors
“Change is believable when Obama talked about it,” Jeff said. “In one of McCain’s darkest moments, when he was casting around for a message, he talked about change. But just wasn’t believable. It wasn’t authentic.”
This is such a key factor. An African-America presidential candidate represents change in a way that McCain simply couldn’t. Duh. That’s the no-brainer that the Obama campaign locked onto.
But other campaigns can do similarly. Each good candidate and campaign manager can isolate what makes them unique and what makes them sound believable. Hint … it also helps if they are believable.
Strategic, focused message
“Obama’s message was always about the economy,” Jeff asserted. Jeff reminded us of how his focused message remained consistent and became even stronger in September as the economy collapsed. He contrasted Obama’s message with McCain’s floundering.
“How do you convey that message about your candidate?” he asked rhetorically. “The Obama campaign controlled the message on a daily basis. McCain was responding to Obama’s message.”
After Jeff finished I asked him about Obama’s rapid response which was critical in hitting back when the Republicans lied about … well … just about everything.
Jeff explained that first you need a crack team monitoring the media. As the stories hit, you need to know immediately, have a responses prepared within minutes and surrogates hitting back while the story is still fresh.
But how would this apply to smaller races?
“The news cycle is slower, but you still need a good person running your media relations, you still need the contacts in the media,” Jeff told me.
“The trick with rapid response is to know when to respond and when to let it go,” he continued. “When the Obama campaign thought the story wasn’t going to get much play, they wouldn’t acknowledge it. This is tough. You can’t seem like you’re responding to everything, letting them drive the message, but you have to answer back.”
It’s a delicate balancing act.
“Obama had millions of volunteers nationwide, 20,000 in Minnesota alone,” Jeff said. “They had a commitment to building an organization backed up with resources.”
Obama was originally a community organizer and built his grassroots campaign around the enthusiasm of a strong volunteer base. These volunteers were given proper training in organizing. Super volunteers, those volunteers who were able to spend 15-40 hours per week on the campaign, were given responsibilities over other volunteers or local aspects of the campaign.
These volunteers took ownership over their little part and made it perfect or as close as they could. Whereas, Clinton’s campaign relied on paid staffers for many tasks that the exuberant Obama volunteers did. Furthermore, Obama had around 4,000 staffers dedicated to organizing volunteers.
Lots of small dollar donors
“Obama raised $750 million, maybe $1 billion by the time the fundraising is all over,” Jeff stated. “While he had large dollar donrs, much of this came from small amount donors.” Many of you got requests for $5, $10 or $25. Once you’d given a little, he’d ask for a little more a little later.
“3 million people gave to the campaign,” he explained. “The campaign was able to hire all the community organizers and swamp McCain on the television.”
“Obama talked about raising taxes on people making over $250,000,” Jeff explained. “And he won that demographic by a higher margin than his overall margin of victory.”
When you consider that Minnesota passed a referendum to raise taxes to protect the environment and pay for the arts by a wider margin than any Governor has won his race since anyone can remember, that says something.
Furthermore, economic growth was the strongest in the United States when the taxes on the rich were the highest. From the 1930s to the 1980s, the wealthy paid high taxes.
What did they do? They socked their money back into the companies they owned. They hired more workers to make more product. They built more factories. They hid their wealth (legally I might add) in their companies.
We saw the largest industrial boom in history during this period. Chew on that you tax-pledge-lovin’ conservatives.
How did Obama do across the state? As I would have expected.
Jeff explained that Obama won MN-01 handily. With the help of Rep. Tim Walz, the 1st will become an important area for DFLers in statewide races.
“Obama held his own in the 7th district,” Jeff related. He got about 48%. “This is probably because McCain was so tone deaf on ag issues.”
“We got hammered in 2 and 6, Michele Bachmann’s and John Kline’s districts,” Jeff continued. “We got about 44%. We didn’t do well there and Tinklenberg lost.”
Obama won MN-03 and did better than Ashwin Madia unfortunately. In MN-04, MN-05 and MN-08 the Obama campaign kicked butt. Jeff focused on the hard work Rep. Keith Ellison’s campaign put in working to increase the 2006 turnout in Minneapolis.
“Turnout went up in Minneapolis though the rest of the state was flat,” he added. It should be noted that Minnesota did lead the nation in turnout. He went on to explain that it’s difficult to increase turnout when you’re getting 70% and 80% turnout.
One of the keys to winning high profile and statewide races is how we should counter 3rd party candidates. Jeff asserts that we need to recruit good candidates and apply the 4 elements that Obama applied.
In essence, we need to sell the low-awareness, swing voters that DFL candidates are worth supporting over 3rd party candidates. As has been discussed in this blog’s post-mortem analysis of the MN-03 race, this is absolutely critical if we are going to win the Governor’s race in 2010.