In late January the Sac Bee had a piece boasting Obama’s Basic Training in California. Trainees were told to “share personal conversion stories with voters – not policy views.” In something reminiscent of my post on the cult like “movement” that Obama has grown, the Sac Bee reports that volunteers were told to work on their stories of “how they came to Obama” and “say it in the mirror… Get it down.”
But while Team Obama was working hard to “reclaim “values” politics from the Republican Party” here in California, Team Clinton was working the ground game that really paid off… Hillary Clinton had an Ace in her pocket: “Averell “Ace” Smith, Clinton‘s California campaign manager, directed a statewide army of volunteers with cell phones dialing furiously for voters,” that included the “Dunkin’ Donuts Democrats.”
That’s right, Ace was working a game in California that “no one has ever done.” As a matter of fact, “last Sunday, on the same day Sen. Barack Obama marshaled glitzy supporters like Oprah Winfrey, Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy to rev up a UCLA crowd for a surge to victory in California, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton quietly enlisted a far less glamorous team to reach voters in the nation’s most populous state.” And reach they did. Under the direction of Ace Smith, “a statewide army of volunteers with cell phones dialing furiously for voters.”
The team made 2 million calls over the final weekend of the campaign – and a million more from 5 to 8 p.m. on Super Tuesday alone – to reach the absentee voters, women and Latinos who had been identified as likely Clinton supporters in the Democratic primary.
“We did something that, to my knowledge, no one has ever done,” Smith said Wednesday. “We talked to every one of those people we knew were Hillary supporters – and we made sure they cast their ballot.”
The unprecedented scope of the effort blunted Obama’s surge and brought Clinton a 10-point win in California.
Dan Newman, a Democratic strategist not affiliated with either the Obama or Clinton campaign said, “California is too big, too expensive and too unwieldy to run a ‘movement campaign,'” like the one Obama was mounting, “You need something that’s efficient, surgical and targeted – and that’s the stuff that Ace perfected.”
The precision of Clinton‘s effort, and its unusual emphasis on the increasing number of mail-in voters, suggests a potential model for what successful presidential efforts will look like in diverse, voter-rich states holding primaries over the next two-plus months.
“California is a template for what the campaign can do in the big three states on the horizon – Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio,” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, a former spokesman in the Bill Clinton White House. “If you can put together that coalition – working class, Latinos and women – that is a winning hand in all three states. That is a coalition that cannot be beaten.”
The single biggest factor of the Clinton victory in California may have been Smith’s insistence that the primary was not a one-day event but a month-long drive beginning Jan. 7, the first day of early voting.
Starting then, he monitored returns from an estimated 1.8 million absentee Democratic voters in the state’s 58 counties every single day. Smith kept track of who had returned ballots, who had not and who still need to be contacted so the campaign could make its case.
“Ace literally knew every single person in California that the Clintoncampaign viewed as their supporters – and over months, talked to them, sometimes over and over,” said Peter Ragone, a Clinton campaign aide. “It was literally person-to-person contact on an enormous scale every night.”
And while Ace was working his magic, “Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton also worked to underscore an economic message that resonated with working-class Democrats in events such as the ex-president’s visit last month to an Oakland barbecue restaurant, where he heard from people who were falling behind on their home mortgages.”
“Take a look at the colorcode on the map in terms of how votes broke down outside of places like San Francisco and Marin,” Lehane said. Obama won many of the highly educated, upscale “Starbucks latte Democrats,” he said, but Clinton was more successful with the “Dunkin’ Donuts Democrats.”
The double-digit margin of Clinton‘s victory came as a surprise to most pollsters, who believed Obama had surged into a near-dead heat by election day.
The final Field Poll, completed Friday, gave Clintona lead of 36 percent to 34 percent, with 18 percent undecided. But the actual election day turnout was very different from what was predicted, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll.
Exit polls conducted for the television networks found that 29 percent of Tuesday’s polling place voters in the Democratic primary were Latino, well above the expected 20 percent. Black voters, on the other hand, accounted for 6 percent of the election day turnout, half what the Field Poll expected.
While the exit polls don’t include the millions of absentee voters, the numbers still are eye-opening, DiCamillo said.
“That is just a huge turnout for Latino voters, who strongly backed Clinton,” he said. “On Obama’s side, the African American voters who were going to show up and make a difference, didn’t.”
DiCamillo said the final Field Poll showed that 20 percent of women were undecided, but when election day arrived, they voted for Clinton.
“When voters come in conflicted, women tend to vote their gender,” he said. “We saw it in New Hampshire, and we saw it again here.”
Obama also failed to pile up the strong Bay Area numbers he needed to offset Clinton‘s strength in Southern California.
And what does Clinton’s California win really say, that “winning California is the best indicator about whether you can win nationwide.”
The California win bodes well for Clinton as she moves on to the next states on the presidential primary calendar, Clinton campaign aide Ragone said.
“California is the only state effort that is akin to running a national campaign, because we are America,” he said. “We have rural, urban, agriculture, every ethnic group, huge media markets.
“It’s a nation state,” he said. “And winning California is the best indicator about whether you can win nationwide.”
That’s right, Hillary Clinton’s win in California shows that she’s got the stuff to win nationwide. Because a “movement” is not a winning force, a team is. Hillary Clinton doesn’t ask you to join her movement, she says: “Join Our Team.”