Archive for ‘David Plouffe’

December 13, 2008

What the Obama campaign can teach the Republican Party

Lloyd Grove has an interview with Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, some of which is happy horseshit, but some of which is very interesting. Consider this exchange about campaign salaries:

L.G.: How did you discipline salaries and compensation? Because traditionally, if you look at, say, Mark Penn [Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist], I don’t know how much Mark was pocketing but you see that they had outstanding bills approaching $10 million to him.
D.P.: People on the campaign could not make more than a certain amount — $12,000 a month. There were salary bands, so there wasn’t a lot of eventfulness about what people got paid. If you were a deputy you got paid X, if you were an assistant, you got paid Y. We were very aggressive with our consultants in terms of their piece. From a fiscal management standpoint, Obama was very clear that he did not want to end up with a debt in the primary or the general, so we just planned accordingly. We didn’t spend beyond our means.
L.G.: So the highest salary on the campaign was $12,000 a month?
D.P.: Pre-tax, yeah. In other campaigns, they can make a lot more than that, and people working in Senate races and governor’s races made a lot more than that.
L.G.: You’ve made more than that.
D.P.: No doubt, it was a financial sacrifice for many on the campaign, but I think it helped. There wasn’t any drama around compensation.
L.G.: What about percentages of ad buys?
D.P.: We had a cap, an aggressive arrangement –
L.G.: What did you cap it at?
D.P.: Well below industry standards.
L.G.: Because arguably, somebody could still get a very handsome fee. Say for the sake of argument, you spent $350 million on advertising. Even a niggling 1 percent of that is $3.5 million.
D.P.: That’s why you have caps, so that people can’t make more than a certain amount. So that if your spending does increase, their profits don’t increase.
L.G.: What was the cap on that?
D.P.: I can’t remember — it differed by firm based on what they were doing. But we made sure to protect ourselves. That ended up being, I think, wise, because we obviously raised a lot of money but the firms did not make more. My view of this is that working on a presidential campaign is obviously arduous but it’s a unique opportunity. My view is you shouldn’t have to pay market rate for people’s services. And that’s the general approach, and it seems to have worked out well.

This extraordinarily thrifty approach — $144,000 as top annual salary in a presidential campaign! — is something that GOP candidates ought to learn to emulate. Otherwise promising Republican campaigns are routinely bled dry by overspending.

One particularly memorable episode: In late 2006, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore decided to run for president. He made some contacts in Iowa and New Hampshire, got a little bit of cash together, did a solid YouTube video rollout, got some press for slamming “Rudy McRomney” at CPAC. Then, less than two weeks later, it was announced that Gilmore had hired three top campaign consultants plus a deputy campaign manager, and leased the entire 12th floor of an office building in the Virginia suburbs of DC. Four months later, Gilmore was out of the race and, it was learned, his campaign was more than $67,000 in debt: The campaign had raised $182,000 in three months but apparently spent about $250,000 during that time period.

Now, I’m not saying that Gilmore was ever a likely contender, but he could have stayed in the game a few more months if he hadn’t let himself be talked into that “Big Dog” style of campaign. Why does a paid staff of four need the entire 12th floor?

That kind of stuff doesn’t just happen to little guys. Remember that John McCain was basically broke by late summer 2007 — his campaign burned through $20 million in the first six months of 2007. It appears obvious that Republican campaign operatives, collectively, have developed some very bad habits. The Republican Party raised $900 million in the 2008 cycle, and what do they have to show for it?

September 17, 2008

Video: Plouffe’s strategy update

The Hyping of Hope continues:

Politics as multi-tiered marketing. Success as a non-falsifiable theory. No matter what happens, every event is more evidence to justify the belief of the True Believer, because belief is necessary to … excuse me, what is the real objective here?

“We’re winning — send more money! McCain is attacking — send more money! We’ve registered X-number of new Democrats — send more money!”

Need I point out that David Plouffe is a professional political operative, and that fund-raising ability is a primary qualification in his chosen career field? See, whether Obama wins or loses, Plouffe will still walk away with the career credential of being a world-class fund-raiser.

You know, I was taught that a journalist was first and foremost a skeptic. Why is the political press corps nowadays packed full of credulous suckers?

September 8, 2008

Shaking their confidence daily

“Oh, Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart.
You’re shaking my confidence daily …”

— Simon & Garfunkel, 1970

If the choice of Sarah Palin as GOP running mate has done nothing else, it’s shaken the confidence of Democrats, and that’s important.

An example I cited today at AmSpecBlog is Nate Silver’s sudden realization that perhaps Obama was counting too much on the “enthusiasm gap”:

It seems plausible to me that some segment of conservative Republican voters had effectively been in hiding from the pollsters, either embarrassed by the performance of George W. Bush (and therefore disengaged from politics), or embarrassed to disclose to pollsters that they support him. Suddenly, with the selection of Palin, there has been a jolt of energy within this group, a release of pent-up frustrations, and they are coming out of the woodwork. If this is the case, then perhaps the partisan composition of the electorate had never shifted as much from 2004 as it has appeared to; rather, the conservatives were either reluctant to identify themselves as Republican, or reluctant to take a pollster’s calls in the first place. (Emphasis added.)

Silver’s observation is crucial for several reasons, but what I wish to emphasis here is that one of the most obvious of political facts — the general long-term stability of partisan identification — seems never to have previously crossed Silver’s mind.

Silver, like a great many other progressive Democrats, seems to have bought whole-hog into the marketing hype about Obama. He’s a “map-changer” who will finally vindicate David Sirota’s “50-state strategy,” etc.

This hype was easier to believe because Obama defeated the once-inevitable Hillary. Yet as the Clinton campaign repeatedly tried to point out:

  • Obama’s advantage in the delegate count was wholly a function of his superior performance in caucuses;
  • Hillary performed better in big swing-state primaries like Ohio and Pennsylvania; and
  • In the end, Obama still failed to win a nominating majority among pledged delegates and only clinched the nomination because of a super-delegate shift in his favor.

And something the Clinton campaign didn’t point out, for obvious reasons, was their own stunning incompetence.

Obama’s triumphant march to the nomination, in other words, was less impressive than it seemed to his enthusiastic supporters. It was this triumphant narrative — the idea of Obama’s inevitability created by his defeat of Hillary — that David Plouffe so carefully exploited with his June presentation to the Washington press corps. “Surgical precision!” exclaimed Eleanor Clift (no fool like an old fool).

Obama’s inevitability narrative was closely intertwined with the (carefully cultivated) reputation of Plouffe and David Axelrod as political geniuses who had somehow discovered a magic formula for Democratic victory that other strategists overlooked.

How overrated was the Plouffe-Axelrod genius factor? A few weeks ago, Team Obama posted a page with the title, “The Next Cheney,” featuring oppo-research material on nine potential running-mate choices for McCain. In addition to the short-list names everyone knew — Pawlenty, Ridge, Jindal, Romney — Team Obama’s roster also included such long shots as Carly Fiorina and FedEx CEO Fred Smith.

Guess who wasn’t on that list? Sarah Palin.

In other words, the putative political geniuses Plouffe and Axelrod utterly failed to anticipate McCain’s pick of Palin, and thus failed to prepare their supporters to challenge the GOP running mate. This might explain why Democrats had to resort to spreading scurrilous rumors, eh?

Maverick completely outsmarted the Team Obama brain trust, miraculously ignited the GOP base, and now — with just eight weeks until Election Day — Nate Silver is beginning to realize that, despite the 2006 meltdown and “Bush fatigue,” the underlying partisan alignment has changed very little since 2004.

The Democrats’ desperate quest for a gaffe or a scandal that will destroy Palin shows the attendant risk of the Plouffe-Axelrod technique of stoking expectations — hyping Hope, as it were — to fuel a campaign built chiefly on enthusiasm. Once that bubble was pierced, the deflation was sure to be swift, and the sudden poll swing toward the GOP ticket was predictable.

What next? Unless there is some big scandalous revelation, or Palin flops in her ABC interview this week, the McCain-Palin momentum should result in a growing poll advantage over the next several days.

How will Democrats react as they see the GOP ticket move even further ahead, with no immediate prospects of a reversal? Check out this HuffPo lunatic’s panic and rage, and expect to see a lot more of it in coming days. In the short term, most of this fear and loathing will be directed toward the usual bogeymen — Fox News, Republicans, etc. But if the current poll trend continues into next week, the rage will be turned toward Plouffe and Axelrod, as the smarter Democrats start to realize they’ve been conned into believing a narrative that was always more about perception than reality.

UPDATE: Just in case some of y’all are too young to remember, here’s the song, “Cecilia”:

My older brother had this album when I was about 10, and I always loved the combination of syncopated percussion and soaring harmonies on this song, a classic example of Paul Simon’s pop songcraft.