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« Midday Open Thread | Main | The Unprecedented Election »
November 08, 2012

"Devastating:" Jim Geraghty's Depressing Take

I'm not saying he's depressing. I'm saying the results are depressing, so any analysis will be depressing.

The American people voted Tuesday; reality votes in the weeks and months to come. The markets will take into account the fact that we’re likely to see similar gridlock in Congress for at least the next two years. The fiscal cliff and sequestration will have to be dealt with in one way or the other. Those who set the national credit rating will have to contemplate whether the outlook warrants another downgrade. The ticking time bomb of our entitlement programs will show less and less time before detonation. Taxes are probably going to go up.

Oh, and the world, full of those seeking a weaker America, may become a more dangerous place. You may see those hostile to our values testing their luck.


Republicans need to confront the fact that because of demographics and a party infrastructure that has gotten very, very good at bringing out the vote in presidential years, Democrats are going to be very, very tough every four years. One of the strange aspects of this year is that I would have argued that Obama wasn’t all that charming. His favorable numbers dipped. He was dismissive in that first debate, snarky and combative in the second, constantly saying things that his campaign had to explain — “you didn’t build that,” “the private sector is doing fine,” “Romnesia,” “voting is the best revenge” . . . and he still won.

Ari Fleischer points out the silver lining is that so far, Romney is winning independents. That’s not a silver lining, that’s worse news: Democrats don’t really need independents anymore.

If there is some good news, it's that there are early indications that our GOTV effort in Ohio was bad. I say that's good news because, if true, it indicates a mechanical problem that can be fixed.

There's also this: Obama's team targeted non-voters in a sophisticated system called NARWHAL which seems to have worked. Why is that good news? Because any technological advantage will be quickly ripped off, imitated, pirated.

The real campaign is startlingly simple: it is the Obama team's fanatical pursuit, behind the scenes, diagram by diagram, plan by plan, of what politicos call the "base vote." These are the Democratic leaners who will be deciding not between Obama and Romney, but between voting for Obama and not voting at all. Starting in the spring, the Obama campaign launched elaborate efforts to reach the different communities of such base-voters in every key state: African-Americans, Latinos, women, gay men and women—each is now getting bombarded with tailor-made messaging and organizing. A barbershop and beauty shop program for black voters, for example; visibility at Pride events for LGBT voters; Spanish-language radio ads for Latinos. As a strategy, it's a rabbit-from-the hat kind of move, trying to pull votes out of nowhere. During the long, lean months of summer, when anxious Dems were fretting about a reelect stuck in low gear, during the sudden reversal in the early fall when all of us were focusing on Romney's aimlessness and Obama's seeming invulnerability, and now again with everything tied up, this, just this, is what consumes the strategists in Chicago. Just the base vote. (Even a catastrophic super-storm hasn't altered their plans: "As we continue our daily updates on the state of the ground game, we want to turn attention to the African American vote," read a memo from the campaign, as much of the Eastern Seaboard remained without power.)

So forget what you know about undecided voters. Forget about the oldster white guy, sitting at the counter at the Taste-T Café, reading aloud from a story about the budget deficit and still making up his mind about which candidate suits him better. The oldster is going to vote for Romney, okay? Forget, too, his daughter, the soccer mom—wait, make that the waitress mom—gripping the wheel of her minivan as she hears on the radio that another Republican candidate has semi-condoned rape. She is going for Obama. The issue is her college-age son, at this moment snoozing in an upper bunk at State U. Young Zach likes Obama. So do his buddies. They appreciate that they can stay on their parents' health care plans until they're 26 if they need to. They like that the wars are ending. They're indifferent to Romney, at best, because the guy seems like—the president's words, now—"a bullshitter." The only question is, are Zach and his buddies even going to bother to vote?

When I first read about NARWHAL, I was very skeptical. I thought it was the campaign spinning some Secret Magic Button that would allow them to win in the face of 8% unemployment. I'm not skeptical now.

On Jan. 22, a young woman in a socially conservative corner of southwestern Ohio received a blast email from Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama. Years earlier, the young woman had registered for updates on Obama’s website, completing a form that asked for her email address and ZIP code. For a while, the emails she received from Obama and his Organizing for America apparatus were appeals to give money and sign petitions, and she responded to one that required that she provide her name. The emails kept on coming, rarely with anything an Obama supporter could disagree with, and certainly not the type of hard-edged political message that could scare one away.

But Cutter’s note was different. She boasted of a new administration rule that would require insurance plans to fully cover contraception as part of the president’s health care reform law, and encouraged her recipients to see the policy as reason to rally around Obama’s re-election. “Think about how different that is from what the candidates on the other side would do,” Cutter wrote. “Our opponents have been waging a war on women’s health—attempting to defund Planned Parenthood, overturn Roe v. Wade, and everything in between.”

It was a message that sat well with the young Ohioan who received it. She was single, liberal, sensitive to medical costs—but she had never told the campaign any of those things, and the one piece of information she had provided (her ZIP code) could easily mark her as the type of traditionalist Midwestern woman who would recoil at efforts to liberalize access to birth control. Indeed, she found it hard to believe that many other residents of her ZIP code would look as favorably upon a rallying cry to defend Planned Parenthood as she did.

Those who have worked with Obama’s data say that it is an email that would have never been sent in 2008. The campaign knew very little about the 13 million people who had registered for online updates, not even their age or gender or party registration. Without the ability to filter its recipients based on those criteria, the campaign stuck to safe topics for email blasts and reserved its sharp-edged messages for individual delivery by direct mail or phone call. In those channels, the campaign could be certain of the political identities of those it was reaching, because the recipients had been profiled based on hundreds of personal characteristics—enough to guarantee that each message was aimed at a receptive audience.

This year, however, as part of a project code-named Narwhal, Obama’s team is working to link once completely separate repositories of information so that every fact gathered about a voter is available to every arm of the campaign. Such information-sharing would allow the person who crafts a provocative email about contraception to send it only to women with whom canvassers have personally discussed reproductive views or whom data-mining targeters have pinpointed as likely to be friendly to Obama’s views on the issue.

It's creepy, and it seems like it should be illegal, but apparently it worked. It turned out a few million non-voters, turned them into Obama voters, and turned the election in Obama's favor.

Obama did lose ten million voters (actually, probably less, when all votes are tallied). But he turned out people who'd never voted before, or voted rarely, by figuring out just what provocative, scare 'em message to send individual non-voters.

One thing that strikes me is that Obama is, has been, and will continue to make more or less naked racial/gender appeals to his voters. The sort of appeals that Republicans are not allowed to make.

This appeal -- appeal to one's tribe -- is powerful. It's also racist, and divisive, and promotes an Us vs. Them mentality... all those things which are terrible if a Republican even hints at it.

But for Obama and the Democrats, it's Game On. They can sow the seeds of Hate -- always a strong motivating emotion in an election -- without any embarrassment and without being called on it by anyone.

digg this
posted by Ace at 01:10 PM

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