Damn you, Barack Obama

By AL GIORDANO  |  September 26, 2007

In the 2004 cycle, albeit to a lesser extent, Dean had out-raised all rivals for the Democratic nomination, and was leading in national polls, but choked early in the primary process when Kerry loaned his own campaign enough millions to close the gap. Dean was unable to convert the enthusiasm for his candidacy into organization on the ground in Iowa and early primary states. And while he had raised more money than the others, it wasn't enough to compete with Kerry's war chest. Dean raised $52 million during the entire campaign, much of it also from small donors. As of the second quarter of 2003, he had raised $10 million, compared with the $58 million Obama raised at the same benchmark in this cycle. So the Dean candidacy went the way of "change candidates" before him — Hart, Jackson, Brown, and Bradley — while Obama's fundraising success puts him in a league of his own. He's the first Democratic challenger-to-a-front-runner in memory with enough cash to go the entire distance of the nomination fight.

Dean, a centrist governor who morphed into a maverick during his 2004 presidential campaign, had no background fighting from the outside and below. Dean didn't wear it well. It is Obama's history as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago — and the application of that experience to organizing his campaign — that is making the 2008 cycle distinct from previous ones. Where Dean failed to convert his donor-activist base into effective organization, Obama is apparently writing the book on how to do it.

During a three-day training session of Obama volunteers — called Camp Obama — in New York this past month, the campaign's field director, Temo Figueroa, confronted the ghost of Dean's '04 crash head on.

"What's the difference,' he asked, 'what's the main distinction between the Howard Dean campaign and all that enthusiasm and all those big crowds and this campaign? What's the biggest distinction between the two? And I'll tell you. It's this. Howard Dean never did this. What is it? Training. Putting a large investment up front about the strategy, the tactics of how we win. We have now trained over 2000 people in Chicago. Two thousand people have gone through three-day, four-day trainings like this and are going back to their home states and developing field structures, organizing structures, in their congressional districts."

Camp Obama is partly the brainchild of Marshall Ganz, a veteran community organizer (now at Harvard) who worked in Mississippi in the civil-rights movement during the 1960s and later alongside United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez. Camp Obama expanded last month from its Chicago base to host organizer trainings in California, Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, and New York. After all, when 258,000 people have invested in a campaign, there's no use leaving them to sit at home awaiting the next fundraising appeal: the Obama campaign is giving thousands of them the training and putting them to work.

Zack Exley, of the online citizen-journalism project Off the Bus, covering the 2008 campaign at ground level, wrote in the Huffington Post that Camp Obama had already trained more than 1000 organizers for the delegate-heavy Tsunami Tuesday primaries on February 5, and posits that it will have organization down to the precinct level in each of those states.

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