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Obama's Unsung Hero Still in Campaign Mode

March 26, 2009

by Emily Meinhardt
Obama's Unsung Hero Still in Campaign Mode

Pomona College brought former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to Big Bridges on Wednesday evening. The most notable aspect of the talk? The uproar and disapproval from Pomona students when 3 out of the 4 students from the Q&A session were CMCers.* The rest of the evening sounded like a professorial lecture, as Plouffe paged through the Obama campaign playbook with particular insight into the decision making process and on analysis of some final numbers.

He credited the campaign's success to consistency--consistency both in messaging and in strategy. Plouffe explained that the campaign determined message and strategy very early on and stuck to their original plan all the way to Inauguration Day, so time was spent on flawless execution, not endless reexamination. This is why Obama sounded like he was saying the same thing all the time--he was (hope, change, energy, hope, change, health care, hope, change, education...).

Talking about the high risk moments of the campaign, Plouffe admitted that they kept getting lucky. In some of the campaign's high-wire acts, even the smallest mishap could have eclipsed any positive momentum the campaign had going for it: it could have rained during Obama's outdoor acceptance speech in Denver. Then why take such risks?  Plouffe's justification: "Obama is not one to follow the conventional playbook."  Sounds like Plouffe is still sticking to the campaign messaging.

Plouffe did have a number of impressive facts and figures up his sleeve, sharing that after retirees, students were the biggest donors to the campaign. He unsurprisingly dismissed the importance of polls ("a deeply flawed way of measuring and election"), saying that he favored the metrics from within the campaign, like how many people the campaign registered to vote or how many doors Obama volunteers knocked on. Plouffe seemed to look at the election more as a general managing troops than a politician courting voters.

There were some fireworks, too. One of the truly memorable one-liners from the evening came when Plouffe took aim at John McCain. He accused the former republican nominee of a "truly remarkable feat of political malpractice," arguing that McCain squandered his time between securing the Republican nomination (March 2008) and when Obama defeated Clinton as the nominee (June 2008) to rework his messaging on energy, health care, and education.

Plouffe steered clear of other controversial areas. Not once did Plouffe mention race or the hallmark of America's first black president. Plouffe also avoided talking about Obama's current policies, even though Plouffe is currently overseeing the launch of Organizing for America, Obama's campaign-turned-organization for the mobilization of grassroots support for the president's agenda.

Plouffe ended the evening by saying that the 2008 campaign should be put on the shelf and that everything he just talked about would be irrelevant by the next presidential election. Irrelevant? Well, I guess thanks for your time, Mr. Plouffe.

*For the record, the Democrats of the Claremont Colleges, a 5C organization, put out an open call for questions last week.

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