Inside/Outside

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"Inside/Outside"

Christopher Maag does an interesting piece for Time magazine on the contrast between the Clinton campaign organization in Ohio — dominated by the patronage networks of state and local officials — and the Obama organization, which is an impressive quasi-spontaneous grassroots phenomenon carefully cultivated by the Obama campaign. The basic frame of the piece is that Obama’s approach is better, but since the voting’s not done yet, Maag’s careful to include a hedge:

“I only started calling my people last week,” said State Senator Dale Miller, a Democratic stalwart on Cleveland’s west side. “In retrospect, if I had started a week or two earlier, we would be better off now.”

Miller’s organization remains formidable, however. He spent the last few months calling hundreds of supporters, asking them to volunteer for Clinton and tracking those who seemed responsive. He visited every neighborhood Democratic club in his district at least once, filling his clipboard with new volunteers. “The people I know may not be huge in number, but they are the people who are the most active in their neighborhoods,” says Miller.

Clearly, I think, either approach could work. But what I think is interesting is the different implications for governing. If a President Clinton wants to pressure some Ohio members of congress into casting a tough vote they don’t really want to cast, she has a lot of tools at her disposal for bringing them to heel. One thing she can’t do, however, is generate pressure based on her local political organization in Ohio. After all, it’s not her organization, it belongs to the state and local elected officials and she just borrows it from them. Obama, by contrast, may have that option. And what’s more, it’s a technique that can work “behind enemies lines” as it were, against Republican members of congress whose districts don’t include any entrenched incumbent Democrats with their own organizations.

Will Obama in fact find a way to extend his campaign tools to the art of governing and political pressure? There’s no way to tell. But he might. And much like his approach to campaign, it’d be a huge game-changer. On some level, after all, it’s sort of irrelevant whether or not Obama’s outsider organizing methods are actually superior. He didn’t have the option of being the establishment candidate. What we know is that his organizing methods were effective enough and, at the end of the day, much more effective than the organizing methods of any previous presidential candidate.

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