by Unknown | 4/25/2008 03:15:00 AM
(Cross-posted at Open Left and Blue Indiana.)

Folks have been asking me about this via e-mail, so now that my state is officially ground zero for the Democratic presidential campaign, I thought I'd go ahead and briefly describe what I've been seeing here over the past few weeks. I've only lived in Indiana for the past eight months, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt.

Basically, Indiana is kind of like Ohio (that is, rural Midwest Hillary country), except with three hotspots that should lean heavily toward Obama. I live in the smallest of these Obama hotspots, the college town of Bloomington (home to Indiana University -- go Hoosiers!) in southern Indiana. The other two are the city of Indianapolis, in the central part of the state, and the Chicago suburbs in the northwest. I have no idea what's going on in the 'burbs, though I can imagine Obama is probably organizing his heart out up there. He may be hurt a little by the fact that he didn't campaign terribly hard in Illinois when it had its primary, so the Indiana 'burbs haven't had their media market saturated for months by Obama ads. On the other hand, it might as well be Illinois up there, so I'm sure Obama will do very well.

As for Indy, there's a bit of an interesting situation going on up there. There's a fierce primary battle for the Indy congressional seat (IN-07), currently held by newly-minted Congressman Andre Carson, who replaced his late grandmother in the seat. Carson faces opposition from several other prominent Democrats, most notably former Indiana State Health Commissioner Woody Myers. Carson is black and Myers is white black as well, but the other two candidates, including money leader David Orentlicher, are white. So at the most basic level, Carson's GOTV effort should be expected to help Obama, while Myers' should help Hillary. Incredibly enough, the DCCC is fundraising for Carson as part of its incumbent protection program. I have no idea why the D-Trip sees a six-week-old Congressman as an "incumbent," but the fact remains that the D-Trip is indirectly providing GOTV for Obama. While I don't know directly what's going on with Obama's field organization up in Indy, it seems like Carson's doing his work for him even if he doesn't lift a finger -- which I'm pretty sure isn't the case.

Over the flip, the part you really want to know: my own personal observations of the two candidates's campaigns here in Bloomington.

The closest I've ever gotten to a real live Presidential primary campaign was organizing for Dean in rural Arizona six months before the actual primary date, so I've got nothing really to compare this to. But I will say it's surreal -- the campaigning I've seen by both candidates is unbelievable. (Note: I don't have television, so I have no idea what's going on in terms of TV ads, but I'm guessing both candidates are blanketing the airwaves.) Hillary definitely got here first, and she primed the pump with guest speakers. Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea have all been to Bloomington, as well as actor Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings). Obama's response to this was to send actor Kal Penn (Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle) and -- more significantly -- to bankroll a free Dave Matthews concert. I was dubious about this at first; not being a popular music listener, I was under the impression that Matthews was considered retro. I actually collared a bunch of students and asked them whether they thought Matthews or Bill Clinton was a bigger draw, and almost all of them gave the edge to Matthews. Finally a friend got the attendance numbers for me, and apparently Matthews outdrew Clinton by something like 3 to 1. So I guess Obama wins the battle of the surrogates. Obama also stopped in town during Little 500 Weekend, which is basically the weekend when IU gets drunk and goes crazy. He didn't stay for a rally, instead just putting in a surprise appearance at the bike race, and then having a quick lunch at Nick's. Note to readers: if you're ever in Bloomington, please try to have better taste in restaurants than Barack Obama does.

Over the past six weeks or so, I've gotten to watch Obama's voter creation machine in action, and it is incredibly impressive. Obama's had people out registering voters since a week before the Texas and Ohio primaries at least. The strategy is to have folks stand at busy pedestrian crossings, bus stops, and the like, and ask you whether you've registered to vote (and have the forms in hand if you haven't). They never ask you to vote for Obama, but they wear Obama buttons and stickers, so the subliminal messaging is there. This campaign is amazingly effective; I only go to campus 3-4 times a week, and I was probably stopped nearly a dozen times by Obama volunteers sporting clipboards. Interestingly, only one of these volunteers was a little old lady; the rest were either college students or looked like them. I think this is smart on Obama's part, because students are more likely to listen to other students than to little old ladies.

About a week before registration closed (April 7), this part of the campaign heated up considerably. Obama took out a full-page ad on the back page of the Indiana Daily Student (the student newspaper) reminding students to register to vote and telling them how. Two days before the deadline, I was eating a late lunch in the student union (this was like 3 PM) when about a dozen Obama volunteers swooped down onto the dining area, going table to table with clipboards offering to register students. As I said, it was surreal.

All this voter creation work seems to have paid off. The IDS ran a story yesterday stating that Monroe County just finished processing 6,985 new registrations, nearly all of them from students. Of course, the campaign wasn't perfect; I overheard a student yesterday waiting in line to vote who hadn't registered (she was turned away with an exhortation to register in time for the general). But still, 7,000 new Obama voters is a pretty big deal in this sleepy town of 69,000.

Since the registration deadline passed, the Obama folks have had a non-stop roving "Obamamobile" -- a minivan commissioned by the Obama campaign that drives students to and from the early voting station. Since the early voting station is less than a mile from campus, that's some lazy students who are being ferried back and forth -- but it's still a good move by the Obama people. The Obamamobile has been advertised through the IDS but also through some innovative viral marketing, including chalk writing on well-trafficked sidewalks (the Ron Paul people did this first, in September 2007, but Obama's crew has learned well). Yesterday, there was a five-hour early voting polling place set up in the student union. I'd forgotten all about it until I ran into a student sporting -- you guessed it -- an Obama sticker who reminded me to go vote. I had about half an hour, so I figured I could go over there and get that done and still get to class. Nothing doing -- the wait was over an hour at 11, and it was still over an hour at 12. There was a guy standing there handing out literature for a local candidate (because the line was so long that he could stand the required 75 feet from the polling place and still talk to people in line). He told me that the wait is far shorter at the elections office, so I'll be heading over there within the next few days.

If you're wondering where Hillary is in all this, so am I. I've seen absolutely nothing from her campaign since her appearance here two weeks ago. Apparently she's supposed to be speaking here again this Friday, but that may be too late: this is the last week of classes, and most students won't be here to vote on Election Day (May 6), which is why the Obama people have been so desperate to get them to the polls early. Frankly, I'm stunned that there's been no organizing from Hillary, since she's gone to the trouble of priming the pump with two campus visits and a bevy of surrogates. Maybe she's trying to appeal to the "townies," but if so, why send people like Sean Astin and Chelsea Clinton here, whose appeal is strongest for college students? Here's my theory: Hillary isn't organizing GOTV here on campus because she doesn't have enough money to organize in Obama country. That's really telling, because I'm sure Obama is running GOTV in the eastern part of the state just as hard as he can, even though he fully expects to lose there by 20 points. The goal is to keep it from being 30.

As an aside, it's also worth noting that there is absolutely no Ron Paul presence on this campus whatsoever. Paul did have a very large and well-organized group here that was second only to the Obama group, but it completely collapsed after McCain clinched the nomination. This is important because, if Paul racks up the kind of numbers in Indiana that he did in Pennsylvania (16%), I can pretty much guarantee that it's not because of Paul organizing on the ground; it's genuine dissatisfaction with McCain among Republicans.

That's all I've got for the moment -- I may post further updates if anything important happens, but since it's the end of term for me I'll probably be pretty busy over the next two weeks or so.




Blogger Ahistoricality on 4/25/2008 6:15 PM:

Interesting. Confirms some of what we already knew, for sure.

I'm sure there's more to it than this, but it really seems like the Clinton campaign decided to run a "national" campaign that really ignored a lot of the regionality and demographic diversity of the Democratic constituency.


Blogger Unknown on 4/25/2008 6:46 PM:

Absolutely -- the only reason Clinton has lost this thing, despite a picture-perfect campaign from Obama, is because of Mark Penn's "big states" strategy, which deemphasized field organizing in favor of more standard urban GOTV. Obama's won largely on the strength of his showing in caucus states, where Clinton essentially didn't organize at all. When people look back on this campaign, they'll look at that choice as Clinton's biggest mistake, akin to Wesley Clark pulling out of Iowa in 2004.


Blogger ari on 4/26/2008 12:26 AM:

Fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to put this up. I really appreciate the front-line perspective.


Blogger Unknown on 4/26/2008 1:06 AM:

Ari, no problem! Thanks for reading.


Blogger idiosynchronic on 4/26/2008 2:08 PM:

Mark Penn's "big states" strategy, which deemphasized field organizing in favor of more standard urban GOTV. Obama's won largely on the strength of his showing in caucus states, where Clinton essentially didn't organize at all.

I'd have to agree - comparing what I saw in Iowa and comparing to the subsequent months this spring in the other states. Clinton's strength has depended on self-motivating individual party mainliners & moderates and her active recruitment of them, her Leading Candidate status, women whom desperately want to see a woman in the White House, and a smattering other groups drawn to the campaign. Obama's campaign has actively recruited and organized everyone they contact, which is much different than drawing volunteers and organizing and focuing as a leadership down campaign.

Indiana is the Midwest - just barely. There are 3 bands - Chicagoland, the pseudoplains of Central Indiana, and then Little Kantucky south of the line along Terre Haute-Bloomington-Cincinatti.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 4/27/2008 4:50 PM:

Signs of life from the Clinton campaign "ground game", at least according to WaPo.