Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Hidden Stakeholders

There's so much rhetoric about the demographics and symbolism of the Clinton-Obama split in the Democratic electorate (young/old, black/Latino, male/female, rich/poor, vision/experience, change/restoration, etc.) that it's refreshing to read journalism that breaks down what this means, and why campaigns for candidates who don't differ sharply on much really don't seem to like each other.

This Washington Post piece on union organization in Ohio reads in part like typical on-the-campaign-trail stuff, but also notes that while most of the AFL-CIO unions have backed Clinton, Obama's won most of the the splinter group Change To Win, including the Teamsters, the hotel and service workers, and others. Change To Win broke with the AFL-CIO over political and organizational strategy, and has a greater emphasis on grassroots organization and expanding the base of union workers.

Likewise, The Nation has an excellent piece that reads the Clinton/Obama split in the light of Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential campaign and his management to date of the DNC. Since Dean lost in 2004, it wasn't clear whether his message and his strategy was really the wave of the party's future or just a neat new way to raise some money. Likewise, Dean was criticized for devoting DNC funds to organization in all fifty states rather than focusing on a few battlegrounds to build a larger congressional majority.

Well, now Obama is riding Dean's wave, connecting with younger and affluent voters on the web, organizing precinct-by-precinct from the bottom up, and winning delegates by rallying Democrats and independents in heartland states. He's Dean with vastly more charm, more profile, and more discipline. Meanwhile, the Clinton folks are stinging at the fact that they're not only unable to beat back Obama, but may find it difficult to win the war of ideas and resources against a vindicated Dean at the DNC.

It all goes to show you that many stakeholders in the party have a lot more at stake than who's at the top of the ticket -- and why strategists may be quick to attribute whatever happens in this election to the personalities and capabilities of the two people running, and not how they ran. Otherwise they could find themselves marginalized not just for backing the wrong horse, but the wrong direction.

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