Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

MON, 3-17-08

SANTA FE - something strange is happening in the current presidential primary and it appears the Barack Obama campaign is largely responsible. According to an Associated Press article, voter turnouts for primaries and caucuses in most states are bigger than they have been in 40 years.
New Mexico hasn't been the only state to experience serious ballot shortages and not enough poll workers. In some states with electronic voter databases, computers crashed from overload. California counted ballots for longer than New Mexico, but once again, we took center stage because our election was too close to call until the last ballots were counted.
It is now coming to light that some big states that voted weeks ago are still counting ballots that could change the Democratic delegate count. It won't change who won he state, as it did in New Mexico, but the difference of one or two national convention delegates has become significant.
Much of the record turnout appeared to be due to the presence of the first woman and first black candidate with a chance of actually winning. The turnout for Hillary Clinton wasn't unexpected. She was the presumptive winner before the season started.
The big surprise came from the huge Obama turnouts for primary elections, and especially caucuses. He has done something to get large numbers of voters to the polls who never have voted before.
Most pundits have attributed that turnout to Obama's message of hope that has resonated with a public grown tired of negativity. And to some extent, they must be correct.
But there's an even bigger reason. Obama was a community organizer in Chicago, the cradle of modern community organizing. It has long been known that the principles of community organizing can be applied to political organizing.
Those applications began to be perfected by Chicago theoretician Saul Alinsky in the 1960s. Obama has now taken those applications farther than anyone else and added his own touches to make his political organizing the most successful ever.
Reports indicate that a recent Hillary Clinton campaign expense filing revealed spending of $5 million a month on a handful of top consultants. Obama is raising and spending more than Clinton, so it may be that he is spending a somewhat equal amount on thousands of organizers throughout the country.
These organizers are motivating people who never have participated in the political process, getting them to the polls, training them in the unique caucus procedures of each state and creating a multitude of volunteers such as no campaign has ever seen. And they are helping him raise big money.
If this sounds easy, it isn't. I was involved with advising college students, back in the late '60s, on organizing to secure the 18-year-old vote. A significant part of that movement began in New Mexico, then spread to the national level.
The dream was that the organizing techniques used to achieve the constitutional amendment could then be used to turn out the young vote and seriously affect national politics. It produced some believers. Hollywood movies were made about the under-30 generation taking over the world.
But it didn't happen. Young voters have continued to have the lowest turnout. Obama now appears to have mobilized that group, and others with low turnout, like no one else ever has.
If anyone could be in the position to do it, Obama fits the bill. He is highly intelligent and very firmly grounded in the aspects of organizing. He has tweaked the old Alinsky model to use hope, instead of despair, as his message.
He has accomplished that with a promise of change. All candidates, even back when Democratic and Republican fields were full, added change to their platforms.
In case this sounds as though I've become an Obama supporter. I haven't. Perhaps it's a generational thing or that I've heard messages of hope and change too many times. I relate best to John McCain, my elder by a year, but I haven't made up my mind. There still is plenty of time.

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