First, from a focus group done by a republican consultant in an Upper Midwestern state, described in Ben Smith’s blog:
54 year-old white male, voted Kerry ’04, Bush ’00, Dole ’96, hunter, NASCAR fan…hard for Obama said: “I’m gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He’s gonna be a bad president. But I won’t ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President.”
The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. “Well, I don’t know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I’m sick of paying for health insurance at work and that’s why I’m supporting Barack.”
This is how badly the Republican brand is damaged by Bush. Obama is starting to get some votes from racists (link to story of a 95-year old grandfather who urged his grandson to “Make sure you vote for that colored boy”), from people who think he is Muslim, and from people who think he is going to be a bad president. That’s how low the bar has been set.
So, this is already looking really, really bad for McCain.
Now, the next thing, what most distinguishes the Obama campaign is not the speeches (although they are great) or his own remarkable story, or even the disgust that people feel toward Bush, is the community organizing that he has done. A New Yorker writer (I forget who) described seeing Obama speak and feeling inspired and uplifted, but coming out and not really having a great idea of why, or what Obaam said to make him feel that way. What the Obama campaign has done is channel that inspiration into a coherent and sophisticated political machine. What that means is that not only are there record number of donors, but also that there are record number of volunteers, and that the time of these volunteers is used efficiently and effectively.
What does this mean? When someone volunteers to canvass a neighborhood or make phone calls, they could be total strangers to the callers on the other end, but the Obama campaign matches demographics and other variables to try to get a best match between the volunteer and the people they are talking to. The voter registration effort is run like a swiss watch.
All this occurs under the radar, because it has a relatively minimal effect on national tracking polls. And of course the story may become that people were so nervous about the economy that they overwhelmingly chose their pocketbooks over their misgivings about Obama. But I think the real story is that Obama actually backs up his words with deeds. And so far, those deeds have been how he organizes his campaign. And it is done with very careful attention to the bottom-up effects of voter registration, voter turnout and neighbor to neighbor interactions.