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The View From Plouffe's Office

I had a chance to catch a discussion this afternoon with Obama campaign manager David Plouffe and communications director Dan Pfeiffer, hosted by the generous folks at Time. A few interesting tidbits:

Most of the world sees tomorrow night's speech as Obama's big coming out. Plouffe and the Obama campaign see it as an organizing event on steroids. Plouffe stressed that there would be 60,000 voters who aren't donors or delegates in the audience tomorrow, roughly half of them from Colorado. The hope is to collect their e-mail addresses and phone numbers and integrate them into the campaign's Colorado ground organization. "We don't think about national polls," Plouffe said over and over. "We think about states."  

Plouffe wasn't kidding about that last point. Later in the discussion, he talked about how Jim Leach, the former Republican Congressman from Iowa who spoke Monday night, wasn't carried on most networks or really talked about at the convention. "But, boy, the coverage he got in Iowa was voluminous," Plouffe said. He made a similar point about Brian Schweitzer in Montana, though Schweitzer obviously generated a bit of buzz in the national press.

Asked repeatedly about the success of the recent McCain attacks, Plouffe conceded that they'd had an effect. In particular, he said they'd helped McCain consolidate his base. But he argued that the progress had come at a real cost for McCain with women, among whom Obama has opened up a 15 point lead in several key states. The point was that McCain was getting more of the voters he should get, but not expanding his universe of gettable voters.

Relatedly, Plouffe argued that the campaign was in a much better position to define McCain than it was two months ago. Back then, he said, voters accepted that McCain would mean more of the same, policy-wise. But they rejected the idea of McCain as a practitioner of scorched-earth politics, and the idea of McCain as remote from their problems. No more, Plouffe said. Swing voters are now receptive to both points. (Plouffe said the campaign talks to 10,000 voters every night.)

Plouffe seemed pretty eager--or as eager as the famously even-keel manager gets--at the prospect of running against a McCain-Romney ticket. He may be at ease talking about the economy, Plouffe said, "but they're really doubling down on 'out of touch.'" Plouffe also bemusedly referred to Romney as an expert on "Cayman Island tax shelters."

Finally, Pfeiffer made a great point about the significance of McCain's housing gaffe. The gist: Before the gaffe, people saw McCain's policies as a continuation of Bush, but they didn't really understand why McCain would support them. The housing gaffe helped them connect the dots: It's because McCain's out of touch.

--Noam Scheiber