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Rove On Obama's Ground Game

Karl Rove has an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today about the Obama field organization, which he praises en route to paying himself a huge compliment. It's full of lots of riffs like the following:

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has harnessed the Internet for persuasion, communication and self-directed organization. A Bush campaign secret weapon in 2004 was nearly 7.5 million email addresses of supporters, 1.5 million of them volunteers. Some volunteers ran "virtual precincts," using the Web to register, persuade and organize family and friends around the country. Technology has opened even more possibilities for Mr. Obama today.

Interestingly, Rove flags an organizational hole I haven't heard mentioned yet:

Democrats don't have the same large volunteer pool the GOP does with its Federated GOP Women, College and Young Republicans, and local party committees. In the primaries, Mr. Obama instead moved hordes of volunteers from state to state. It was a brilliant tactic, but Nov. 4 is different. The volunteers adequate for primaries held over five months will simply not be enough to compete in 51 separate elections (all 50 states plus the District of Columbia) all on one day.

I agree that Democrats can't tap the same level of institutionalized grassroots support as the GOP. But my sense was that Obama was signing up more than enough volunteers to do the job. 

That was certainly the impression I got from David Plouffe's presentation in Washington a couple weeks ago. Overall, Plouffe said the campaign already had more than 1 million volunteers, 1.7 million donors, and 5 million e-mail subscribers. That compares pretty favorably with the Bush numbers from 2004, especially since this was as of late June.

Plouffe also talked about all the armies of volunteers he'd deployed to North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia to register African American voters. He talked about the strength of the organization the campaign had left over in small states like Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota. He also seemed high on his organization in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana--both because of the residual effect of the primaries, and because of their proximity to Illinois, which makes it easier to involve home-state suppoters. And I got the impression Obama had large left-over volunteer organizations in closely-contested primary states (and likely general election swing states) like Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The only major holes I can imagine are in Florida and Michigan, but Plouffe seemed on the case there, too. And, indeed, there's been some solid reporting to back that up. If anyone has any evidence to back up Rove's claim, though, I'd love to hear about it. Plouffe's description could obviously be different from the on-the-ground reality in these states.

P.S. Despite my warnings about how the typical pol/flip flopper charge isn't likely to hurt Obama, Rove is very much sticking with it. The second half of his piece is all about Obama's "Nixonian" positioning:

In the primary, Mr. Obama supported pulling out of Iraq within 16 months, called the D.C. gun ban constitutional, backed the subjection of telecom companies to expensive lawsuits for cooperating in the terror surveillance program, opposed welfare reform, pledged to renegotiate Nafta, disavowed free trade and was strongly against the death penalty in all cases. But in the past few weeks, Mr. Obama has reversed course on all of these, discarding fringe liberal views for relentlessly centrist positions. He also flip-flopped on accepting public financing and condemning negative ads from third party groups, like unions.

By taking Nixon's advice, Mr. Obama is assuming such dramatic reversals will somehow avoid voter scrutiny. But people are watching closely, and by setting a world indoor record for jettisoning past positions, Mr. Obama may be risking his reputation for truthfulness. A candidate's credibility, once lost, is very hard to restore, regardless of how fine an organization he has built.

Beyond the strategic problems with pressing this case, it's not even factually accurate. For example, Obama was not "strongly against the death penalty in all cases." See here for details.  

--Noam Scheiber