Dan Payne

Obama's keys to victory

Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Payne
February 21, 2008

BARACK OBAMA has now won 10 straight contests, and Hillary Clinton is learning the meaning of hope. She desperately needs a change to win Ohio, a state with demographics close to Wisconsin's, only with more black voters. As we wait for Ohio and Texas on March 4, let's review how Obama is beating the Democratic system.

The messenger is the message. He started his campaign at the beginning, telling his unique life story. Obama was born to a white teenage mother, and his African father left when he was 2; he was raised by his grandparents, inhaled more than cigarettes, was a community organizer in Chicago, graduated from Harvard Law School, wrote a bestseller, practiced law, went from the Illinois Senate to the US Senate to presidential candidate. Clinton's personal story is missing from her campaign.

He's not Clinton. Hillary Clinton remains a 50-50 proposition for Americans. Actually a recent national poll found 48 percent of Americans were favorable to her, and 48 percent were unfavorable. Obama was 59 percent favorable, 32 unfavorable. John McCain: 56 percent favorable, 32 unfavorable. In a general election, Clinton has zero margin for error.

Same theme, same team, same SRO crowds. While the Clinton campaign has changed slogans, managers, and states that matter, Obama has been a model of constancy. He has become so familiar, white people forget he's black.

He hasn't made a major gaffe. All presidential candidates commit gaffes. Mitt Romney was a walking gaffaholic. Clinton, regularly touting her foreign policy experience, said that Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, was running for reelection when he had been reelected three months before. John McCain said we could be in Iraq for 100 years. (Even scarier, he might not think that's a gaffe.) Obama's biggest gaffe was borrowing lines from Deval Patrick, pretty small stuff.

He was against the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton wasn't. McCain won't be able to blur the difference between Obama and himself on the war.

He turned his lack of experience into an asset. Tackling Clinton's experience, he says, "You can't at once argue that you're the master of a broken system in Washington and offer yourself as the person to change it."

Independents prefer him. In Wisconsin, he won six in 10 self-described independents. This matters against McCain, a brand once preferred by independents.

For whites, he's guilt-free. Obama is an African-American politician who doesn't talk about discrimination, thus absolving white people of guilt for the prejudices he undoubtedly faced. Like Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey, he is almost race-less.

He's cool. The "Yes, we can" video features singers and actors lip-synching an Obama speech. Aimed at young people, it has been played more than 3 million times on YouTube.

He's raising a ton online. By investing early in Internet fund-raising, Obama's Web operation has opened a vein, yielding as much as $1 million a day. He now enjoys a 2-to-1 lead over Clinton in cash-on-hand. This gives him a huge strategic edge; he can apply money when, how, and where it's needed.

Field goals count. Obama is cleaning up in caucus states, beating Clinton 11 states to 2. His campaign is well-organized and his supporters are more able and willing to hang out in a church basement for a few hours than Clinton's. Caucus wins add up like field goals.

He's eating her lunch. While cruising at 85 to 90 percent of the black vote, he's stealing Clinton's base. In Wisconsin, he split the votes of white women and working-class voters. After narrowly winning white men in Maryland and Virginia, he won two-thirds of them in Wisconsin. The only age group he lost in Dairyland was over-60 voters.

The magnetism gap. There is stronger magnetism between blacks and Obama than between women and Clinton. As long as she doesn't open up, she will not close this gap.

He electrifies crowds. His rallies are two-way performances. In Texas Tuesday night, he told a roaring crowd of 19,000: "Houston, we have liftoff!" He's a master at using a teleprompter while looking spontaneous. He speaks everyday English. He conveys ideas with confident simplicity: "Out of many, we are one." E pluribus unum, dude.

He's drawing in baby boomers. Now carrying AARP cards, baby boomers recall burning their draft cards, opposing the Vietnam War, marching for civil rights. Obama is younger than the boomers, but he's capturing their idealism, antiwar sentiment, and longing for social justice. He's doing what the boomers believed they were going to do: beat the system.

Dan Payne is a Boston area media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country.

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