Hello Everyone,

We returned on Friday from the Democratic convention. It was a memorable and energizing experience. Thursday night was, in fact, magical.

Misplaced Media Focus

In the process, I was reminded of how misplaced the media’s focus can be. We all remember, and I wrote about during the primaries, that many in the media obsessed about winning “innings” (states) not “scoring runs” (pledged delegates) missing the central point. They also failed to tell us that it was essentially over on February 19th, not June 3rd. They most likely wanted to maintain our attention.

The convention coverage was “more of the same,” to use a current phrase. Much ado about how the Clintons would stoke the fires of party disunity which would become evident during a raucous and “cathartic” roll call vote.

As it turned out, that vote occurred ever-so-quietly on Wednesday afternoon. Due to a last minute meeting that Penny and I had with the New Zealand Ambassador and his political officer, we were slightly late getting to the hall and, unbeknownst to us, we missed the vote.

We sat through hours of speeches on Wednesday night and Thursday and talked with dozens of fellow convention-goers without ever realizing that the vote had taken place – and no one brought it up. It was such a non-event that I had to find a newspaper on Friday morning, the day after Barack’s acceptance speech, to read about what had happened.

This was just another example of the public’s, and the media’s, thirst for drama. As one observer said recently, most people go to Nascar races to see the crashes.

I anticipate that this phenomenon will persist through the general election. Switching to a football metaphor since it is almost fall, I think the real story in this election will be about the vast superiority of Barack’s “ground game.” I predict the media will have little to say about it. Too boring.

Ground Game

As the legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes knew, “3 yards and a cloud of dust” may be boring, but it certainly wins football games.

Employing the same community-organizing and social-networking skills they used to prevail in the primaries and caucuses, the Obama campaign once again has a vastlysuperior ground game. Barack has 2,400 people on his payroll, the great majority of whom are in field offices. He has more offices in Pennsylvania (60), and as many offices in Ohio (50) as Sen. McCain has nationwide (50.)

These field offices are supported by targeted, state-by-state advertising and a huge number of unpaid volunteers. (One headquarters staffer, an Amherst alumna, is bunking down in our coach house for the duration.)

All of this is made possible by Barack’s substantial advantages in fundraising and supporter enthusiasm – which are, obviously, mutually-reinforcing. (Sarah Palin’s selection seems to have increased enthusiasm among the Republican “base”, but only time will tell if this Hail Mary pass results in a completion, an incomplete pass, or an interception, perhaps returned for a TD. Only time will tell if the enthusiasm spreads beyond the already converted.)

Why is the boring ground game so critical? To register voters, convince voters and get out the vote. All of that sounds obvious. But, let me illustrate the potential of all of this. Sen. Kerry lost Florida by about 380,000 votes in 2004. This year could be very different. In that election, 500,000 registered African-Americans in Florida did not vote. In that election, 900,000 registered voters under 40 in Florida did not vote (obviously, there is an overlap between these two groups.) Need I say more?

And, do not underestimate the power of enthusiasm or intensity. In some ways, our democratic system is not really based on “one person, one vote.” We actually have a “passion-weighted” system. Those who really care about an issue or a candidate work extra hard and turn out to vote. Think of the NRA.

Of course, the ground game is boring. Like singles in baseball games that seldom make the highlight shows.

Wasilla and Alaska

I don’t plan to comment much on Sarah Palin until we know more. I agree that her gender and family life are not directly relevant. But, a few observations are fun and may even be somewhat instructive.

We know by now that she was a city councilwoman for 4 years and mayor for 6 years. But, did we realize how tiny a town Wasilla really is? Its population was less than 5,000 when she was first elected mayor in 1996. That is far less than 1/10th the size of Evanston, the Chicago suburb in which I live. When Sarah Palin was re-elected in 1999, she received 826 votes. Total. That is about as many votes as I received when I was elected student council president of Shaker High School, a suburb of Albany, New York.

Some are now fond of calling Alaska “the largest state in the union.” True, in terms of gross (not even habitable) land mass. But, it has a population of less than 700,000. That’s somewhere between the population of Charlotte and Milwaukee and less than ¼ the size of Chicago.

Alaska is the least densely populated state in the union and has virtually no African- Americans or Latinos. Due in large measure to oil revenues, it enjoys budget surpluses. It was admitted as a state in 1959, twenty-three years after John McCain was born – and the year I was elected student council president.

Relationships

I may not know much about politics, but I do know something about investment banking (although some of my colleagues might dispute that) having practiced for 34 years.

Investment bankers are always looking to start new corporate relationships. Over the years, I learned many lessons, some of which turned into personal “rules.” One was my “3 meeting” rule: when calling on a CEO or CFO you don’t know, expect it to take 3 meetings before he or she even remembers your name.

Reports are that Sen. McCain met with Sarah Palin precisely 2 times before he announced her selection. So far he’s doing well to remember her name.

Due Diligence

Investment bankers also do what in the trade is called “due diligence” before agreeing to represent a company. This takes times, too. You will recall from earlier Obamagrams, that I intentionally did my own due diligence on Barack after I first met him over 5 years
ago. I now know 3 to 4 dozen people who have known Barack in some aspect of his adult life. The reports are all consistent. He is who he portrays himself to be.

As I told the Christian Science Monitor in a brief interview on the convention floor, which was published last Thursday, Barack is exceptional in “intellect, temperament and worldview.” That is what a couple of years of due diligence has confirmed.

Last night, Sarah Palin gave a confident – some might say cocky and combative – speech, filled with mockery, that was well-received by Republican convention-goers. It is clearer now why Sen. McCain picked her – she’s so much like him. More of the same. It is unclear what she brings to the central issues of this campaign – the economy, healthcare, and the war. She does seem to know something about oil.

Remember the old line “It’s the economy, stupid?”

One commentator reminded us last night that Sen. McCain locked up the nomination on March 4th – a full 6 months ago. He wondered why Sen. McCain waited until the last 48 hours to first interview his V.P. pick.

We will find out in the next 2 months if Sen. McCain’s impulses are an adequate substitute for careful and extended due diligence. And, what that tells us about his temperament and judgment.

One thing we know for sure, most of the media will continue to dwell on the drama and ignore the ground game. I suspect, however, that they are good at due diligence.

Please pass it on.

Chuck

adobe pdf file Click here to download this article in PDF format.

 

Comments are closed.