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September 27, 2007

Obama's Sleepy Campaign

Noam Scheiber suggests that "the thinking in the Obama camp seems to rest on two assumptions. The first is that the press will do the work of deciphering his overly-subtle jabs at Clinton. The second is that Edwards, in moving aggressively to take on Clinton, will drive up his own negatives in addition to hers."

This sounds a bit weird, but it's basically what the Kerry campaign did in 2004. I'm pretty sure the strategy was explained in Shrum's book (though I don't have the cite in front of me), but the Kerry camaign basically held its fire all through the fall, letting Gephardt and Dena maul each other in Iowa. Supporters and strategists attacked them for their apparent lethargy even in the face of a seeming electoral deficit. But Shrum's thinking was that they were everyone's second choice, would lose that distinction if they went strongly negative, and so the only way they could win was to bide their time and let the other's destroy each other. When asked, internally, what would happen if Gephardt and Dean didn't cooperate Shrum's reported answer was that the Kerry campaign would lose. That seems to be the thinking of the Obama campaign, too.

September 27, 2007 | Permalink


About half the time I think Obama's in the 08 contest with some other objective than the Presidency.

A warmup for Governor of Illinois (hence the kow-towing to the southern Illinois coal biz as an energy source)?

I admit that his positions have to be carefully crafted, given the race factor, his age/experience, and his working style. But the result is so careful and uninspiring on too many issues. His over-arching message of being a different kind of reformer has not gained purchase, and he seems stuck in a campaign strategy that doesn't fit the circumstances, IMO.

I may well be surprised by him having a strong showing in Iowa or NH, but I doubt it now. In his case, being a US Senator is a liability, not a strength. Frankly, for me, disappointment is growing, not enthusiasm.

He'll likely be a good governor, and will try for the Presidency again in 4, 8 or 12 years (more likely the later chances).

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 27, 2007 12:19:47 PM

Naw Jim, I think he's running for real, he's just looking past getting good headlines next weekend and at consolidating long-term support.

Posted by: mop | Sep 27, 2007 12:48:30 PM

This is a bit too wonkish for me.

Before you call a campaign "sleepy", please have a look at their operation on the ground.

@JimPortlandOR: on the possibility of Obama gearing up to run for governor: it's far more like Al Gore will declare for President than Obama for Governor.

Posted by: leo | Sep 27, 2007 12:50:01 PM

leo: I didn't mean to imply that Obama would run for IL Gov soon. The next election is in 2010, right? Or did you mean that Obama doesn't want to be Gov or that he couldn't be elected?

Being a Governor would be the perfect experience slot for Obama for his (next) run at the Presidency. Executive experience, freedom from the gulag of the Senate where lots of nasty voting compromises have to be done on the record, and more years of national exposure, would all be positives for Barak.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 27, 2007 1:16:00 PM

Well, it's still very early, but it seems that Edwards (a) is not attacking HRC in the same way Dean was attacking the world, (b) does not have the huge Ground Game Gap that Dean suffered from, and (c) is a more sympathetic messenger for a Midwestern audience.

Also Edwards isn't running any ads, so we don't know if everyone thinks he is too negative or not.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 27, 2007 2:21:53 PM

But Clinton doesn't really need to respond to Edwards's snips, she can pretty much roll right over them. There's no way she's going to get into a fight with Edwards if Edwards takes the first shot.

Posted by: afertig | Sep 27, 2007 2:31:35 PM

I think JimPortlandOR is right,

Obama seems to be fishing in different waters. I think he is recalibrating his position and thinking about future moves...and I do think he's sharp enough to figure neither Hill & Bill or Edwards would want him in the VP spot.

In the Hill & Bill nomination, their are quite a few negatives:

1] Who would want to Hill's number two man...I mean can anybody see Bill [the comeback kid] sharing the spotlight...I'll believe when I see it.

2] The Demographics are wrong, Hill's base is white woman...and that base would go for a Afro-American male in the VP slot, but Obama has a shaky hold on what should be his base and his base. And Obama's base is not as likely to be enamored by Obama taking second place to the wife of former president tagged to a husband who will be showing Obama up from day one. I mean, it does seem pretty humilating, I can't see black folks being thrilled with that one.

With Edwards their is one single negative:

Edwards can't get the tiny, but important, progressive [relatively] white male vote in the border states with Obama. One reason is race, but the other is that Obama's rhetoric has been calibrated to reassure middle-class whites and that is out of tune with Edwards song and won't play well under the hot lights.

Murdoch's agent provocateurs...in combination with Hill & Bill's friends in the press have made Obama into a contender in order to blunt a challenge by Edwards to Hillary...and it has worked to perfection. Obama has effectively split the Anti-Hill & Bill forces. And while I depise Hill & Bill for their destruction of the progressive movement within the Democratic party, I do respect the cold Machivellian manner with which the princess plays the royal court.

With Murdoch, the dark prince at her side, look for a ruthlessne Queen upon her coronation, one who will put aside her thoughts of revenge for the thirst of power.

Welcome to medieval America...oh...just one question...doesn't the dark prince always betray the Queen?

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 27, 2007 2:39:40 PM

Jim, why would Obama need any hidden motive for "kow-towing to the southern Illinois coal biz" other than the obvious one that he's a senator from Illinois? Are senators somehow immune to the appeal of the pandering boondoggles that governors embrace?

Posted by: KCinDC | Sep 27, 2007 2:47:58 PM

First, it ain't over till it's over. Amazing how any of the top three candidates, and even some of the second tier ones, are being written off at this stage of the game. Clinton is the frontrunner but Obama has a good chance of winning, and Edwards has a decent one.

Second, I agree Obama should look to the governor mansion if he loses the presidential race. The Senate is a hellhole.

Third, whoever suggested Clinton built up Obama as a Machiavellian move to blunt Edwards is totally wrong. Clinton would have crushed Edwards like a bug if Obama hadn't been in the race. Obama gets lots of press because he's a superstar, it has nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch nor does Murdoch have the power to do that if he wanted to. And let's face it, the media has been running bullshit narratives about Obama all summer, aided and abetted by the Clinton campaign.

Posted by: Korha | Sep 27, 2007 4:31:14 PM

A crucial point about the Kerry calculus in 2004.

The common thinking was that:

- Neither Dean nor Gephardt were particularly viable candidacies for the nomination.
- Even though both Kerry and Edwards were lagging in the polls, Edwards was ultimately Kerry's greatest rival.

Thus, the theory was not founded on a desire to let Dean and Geppy do the dirty work, allowing Kerry to slip through.

Instead, the theory was that if the Kerry camp attacked the campaigns ahead of them - Dean and/or Geppy - the effect would be to allow Edwards to get the nomination unmolested.

Or in other words, the Kerry decision to not get involved in attacking Dean was all about keeping their eyes on the ultimate prize of their standing vis-a-vis Edwards.


Of course, since the frontrunner this year is nominatable, all the calculus is different. Best as I can tell, Obama's reluctance to engage has much less to do with winning the nomination in '08 than it does with preserving his approval ratings for post-'08 political life.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 27, 2007 5:17:37 PM


So your saying Rupert Murdoch is being played for sucker by Hill & Bill?

...we'll see.

You're implying though, who Rupert Murdoch supports Hill & Bill wants to burn money on media buys by Hill & Bill that support his few remaining competitors?


The Media built Obama. And who owns the US political media, Rupert Murdoch or Liberals?

MSM doesn't do a thing without checking with corporate headquarters first.

History please, Obama was the guy who was a state senator who beat...wait for it...Alan Keyes.

Alan Keyes...that is not a very strong spring board.

Obama had not served 6 mos as a US senator before he set his sights on the White House.

To be fair, he's accomplished far more than his original plan...the question is how can he capitalize on his national recognition gains without pissing off the DNC and the people who bought into his lofty rhetoric. Notice he doesn't really hit the Hill & Bill on being insiders, on being tools of corporate America, he knows once Hill & Bill are on track, he's as good as yesterday's newspaper. Obama needs to secure promises before that...and he knows it.

In this little game Edwards is toast. So too the cause of progressive politics, drowned in a sea of DINO's insatiable egos and corporate interests.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 27, 2007 5:22:00 PM

"In this little game Edwards is toast. So too the cause of progressive politics, drowned in a sea of DINO's insatiable egos and corporate interests."

While careerist Dems and corporate interests may certainly prefer that outcome, the good folks of Iowa will be the controlling legal authority on that matter.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 27, 2007 5:27:42 PM

"So your saying Rupert Murdoch is being played for sucker by Hill & Bill?"

I implied no such thing. However, for the record, I think their relationship is strategic and mutually beneficial.

"The Media built Obama. And who owns the US political media, Rupert Murdoch or Liberals?"

Uh... the media is much bigger than Rupert Murdoch. He's a big player, but just one guy. Fox News and a couple tabloids (and the WSJ now I guess) do not make up the political press, and especially not the liberal political press.

And if by "Rupert Murdoch," you somehow mean the "Corporate MSM" in general, you're still wrong. Obama is covered a lot because his personality, biography and message generates buzz and interest, which in turn sells newspapers, translates into higher ratings, etc. No doubt the Obama phenomenon is partly a media creation, though for reasons that have little to do with political maneuvering and much to do with money. However, outraising Hillary bitching Clinton in the first two quarters of an insurgent campaign means that there is a core support for his candidacy that runs much deeper than any media narrative.

And I repeat, Clinton would have already crushed Edwards like a bug if Obama had not been in the race. Anyway you slice it, Obama in the race = bad for Clinton.

"Obama had not served 6 mos as a US senator before he set his sights on the White House."

Obama has had his sights set on the White House probably since he was a little kid. If you mean actually preparing for a run, though, that definitely didn't happen before summer '06 at the earliest, solidifying with his book tour for The Audacity of Hope.

Posted by: Korha | Sep 27, 2007 5:50:15 PM

"Of course, since the frontrunner this year is nominatable, all the calculus is different. Best as I can tell, Obama's reluctance to engage has much less to do with winning the nomination in '08 than it does with preserving his approval ratings for post-'08 political life."

Yes. Also, he's pledged to run a clean campaign, so if he attacks Clinton now the attack will almost certainly fail and look like a sign of desperation, which in fact it would be. So it just doesn't make sense for him to go negative either for the primary, or for his future political career. In my view, what he really needs to do is keep his cool and work on countering the bullshit MSM narratives that have been floating around about his supposed "inexperience" (as opposed to Hillary Clinton's "experience"). If he succeeds in doing that he has a very good chance of getting the nomination and then winning the White House.

Posted by: Korha | Sep 27, 2007 5:57:17 PM

Okay Korha,

......I'll grant you: "Rupert Murdoch. He's a big player, but just one guy."

Sure, nothing misleading there.

.......And I'll grant you: "And if by "Rupert Murdoch," you somehow mean the "Corporate MSM" in general, you're still wrong."

Why not, Faux News doesn't influence CNN

.......And I'll grant you: " If he [Obama succeeds [keep his cool] in doing that he has a very good chance of getting the nomination and then winning the White House."

You betcha...

...and while I'm at it

I'll grant you "a pony', all naives deserve a pony...whatever their age.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 27, 2007 7:25:23 PM

i think joe biden sounded more knowledgeable, experienced and grounded than any of the other candidates in the debate last night.
....and i trust him much more than hillary.
last night, he inspired a lot more confidence than the others. the more i see of clinton, edwards and obama, the less enthusiastic i feel.

i find hillary's evasiveness, hawkishness, indedbtedness through fundraising and bill clinton's icky, disingenuous charm really disturbing.
no humility, but lots of "dealing" over there at team clinton.

i lament that when al gore decided not to run this time, it was a terrible loss for the country.

Posted by: jacqueline | Sep 27, 2007 8:23:52 PM


I did not see the debate.

I agree with much of what you said, particularly about Clinton [icky] and Al Gore [true blue]

...but Biden [ugh] has/is a pro-war guy and a tool for credit card industry.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 27, 2007 11:09:06 PM

s brennan...

thanks for your comment.
i dont know much about biden...mostly i remember his incident of plagiarism and health issues of years ago.
....last night, he seemed grounded and more experienced than the other candidates,and so i paid more attention to him. hence, my uneducated comment.
once again, i confess my lack of knowledge. this time regarding joe biden.
i will learn more.
....it is shocking that almost everyone on the stage last night spoke of a protracted war and presence in iraq, and hillary seemed more hawkish than the others.

everytime i see the debates, i think, hillary is the frontrunner. she made great and arrogant mistakes with health care in her husband's administration..she voted for the war..and now, she voted yesterday on the measure about iraq. and last night, she spoke of a long and protracted presence in iraq, although she hardly committed to much of anything last night.
so what is wrong again with dennis kucinich?
....also, how can she run for president when she and her husband are so involved in fundraising in the private sector?
isnt there a real conflict of interest there?
isnt that somewhat dangerous if she became president?
it looks to me like having hillary and bill together in the white house will be a strange dovetailing, and for lack of a better word, a very politically incestuous situation.
...i imagine there will be much influence peddling and scandals afoot.

Posted by: jacqueline | Sep 28, 2007 12:00:02 AM

sorry...i meant the vote yesterday on iran.

Posted by: jacqueline | Sep 28, 2007 12:03:50 AM

I am really sick of the media, especially those on MSNBC like Chris Matthews, who decide they can be the campaign managers now for the candidates.
it is obvious that barack Obama has his own plans laid out for his campaign. maybe if people would just let this guy run his own campaign and let his own managers and people take care of business, the people could get a sense of the man.
but, because he doesn't go with washington conventional wisdom, they make people think he is an inexperienced naive who is in over his head instead of a very intelligent man with a better understanding of foreign policy than their beloved Hillary.
And because he doesn't take a bat and smash it over Hillary's head, he is being trashed as too soft. as not being serious.
if anything, Obama is not going to do anything when it's expected. He also will make his moves when he is damn well ready to. Sliming him for not doing what the media wants when they want it is not going to do anything. Just because they are bored and want a mudfight doesn't mean the candidates have to oblige.
It is their damn campaign. They are their own people. Let them do their thing when they want to and how they want to.

Posted by: vwcat | Sep 28, 2007 12:48:51 AM

vwcat& Korha,

The sad truth is, the Obama supporters here and elsewhere make emotional arguments.

I do not doubt you folks mean well, but your childish remarks only reinforce the obvious truth that Obama is not ready for prime time.

...in time he will be, but first he has to get his feet wet, if he runs this campaign past the point where he is useful to the DNC and Hill & Bill, he will be consumed in a media blitz that will render him useless in future...

...I think he is just beginning to figure that out.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 28, 2007 1:41:38 AM

"He also will make his moves when he is damn well ready to."

The only problem is that "when he is damn well ready to" seems to be 2016.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 28, 2007 1:49:39 AM

Nobody's dead yet, and the important dates are in January January January. They call these elections "races" for a reason. You can't fire on all cylinders constantly, and it's best to make a push at just the right time before January of 08, not right now. I think it will be pretty close, between the top three. Obama will show he's not the dope people have him pegged as, especially when he gets the chance to spend all that money he's sitting on. I foresee some sort of political "blitzkrieg" around the holidays, in the crucial areas. Oprah's gonna be standing up and raising her voice for him, that alone has me thinking he's in decent shape.

Posted by: Dan B. | Sep 28, 2007 2:10:48 AM

"Obama will show he's not the dope people have him pegged as"

The problem is not that he's a dope, but that he's got priorities other than running a race that would give him much of a chance of actually getting the nomination this cycle.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 28, 2007 4:56:07 AM

I like how anti-Obama folks call him emotional when he's colloquial and diffident when he's direct.

I think this 'Obama's sleepy' line and the 'media hates Obama' line are overblown. From watching the political shows and reading the papers, I always got the sense, from the winter rumors through the early summer, that a big chunk of the talkers, OP-EDers, and reporters too were excited and sometimes outright supportive of Obama. I think most of them like him and want him to win. And because they're such a high-strung group, but don't really know anything about how an election works, any murmur of trouble sends them running, thinking the campaign and world are over. It's easier for them and everyone else to follow the crowd and hew to the prevailing narrative than to simply stake out a position based on firsthand research and serious thought and stick to it. This is where all the 'make-your-move-now(!)' exhortations come from, I'd bet. They make their political choices based on sometimes-good, sometimes-bad instincts and low information, and any indication they might be wrong is enough to make them defensive, doubtful, or wavering.

So don't put stock in their ravings, Obama supporters. Take comfort in knowing that they like Obama, and most people want him to be the real deal and succeed, even the ones who are too cynical to believe it.

And, above all, pay closer attention to what Obama's actually doing, and less to what his campaign and others are saying. The guy has the most well-developed ground game in early, and delegate-rich Super Tuesday states by all accounts. If politics is like everything else, its those nuts and bolts that count, and that's what will win primaries -- not talk about inevitability, or sleepy campaigns, or personality, or Two Americas, or Hope, or Turn the Page, or . . . and definitely not vapid chatter by Chris Matthews and his buddies.

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 28, 2007 2:31:51 PM

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