Four Lessons in the Obama Campaign’s 2012 Strategy Video

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President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina sent a YouTube message to supporters Monday laying out the strategy for winning in 2012.

Notice anything? Here are four things that stood out to me:

1.  Something new, old tricks. At the start of the video, Messina makes much of the need to build “something new,” something “better, faster and sleeker.” But he doesn’t exactly mean different. This video message, for instance, pretending to lay out “strategy,” while actually trying to rally supporters, is almost a carbon copy of an Obama campaign technique from 2008. Here is David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, laying out the “strategy” at the start of the general election in 2008.


The themes are the same, even if the lighting was once worse.

2. The missing slide. In 2008, Plouffe almost always returned to a single slide when he delivered his YouTube strategy briefings, which became weekly events in the fall. The slide showed the so-called enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, which boded well for Obama at the time. Here is the slide from the first briefing Plouffe gave in June.

In place of this slide, Messina offers a warning, all but admitting that the enthusiasm pendulum may swing the other way in 2012. “This is not 2008,” he says. “Republicans are going to be fired up to take on President Obama.” In 2010, the enthusiasm gap swung heavily in Republicans favor, with Gallup recording the highest midterm advantage for the GOP since 1994.

3. High dweeb factor. You notice that computer there. Nice bit of Steve Jobs product placement? Or just an attempt to show how hip Washington bureaucrats become when they rent office space in Chicago. Messina seems to embrace the dorkiness of his task. He speaks of his own passion exactly once in the video, when he talks about metrics. “This is the thing I am passionate about,” he says. “This campaign has to be metric driven. We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign.” They may need to start with a new map. The one behind him reads “2008 Election Outlook.” In other words, old metrics.

4. The big bad money feint. A central feature of all movement building is to create an outsider identity, a self-image of an insurgent force trying to take down a bigger, richer, more institutional other. The Obama campaign kept this spirit going through much of 2008, even as it raised about two dollars for every dollar the McCain campaign raised, and ignored decades of campaign finance reform efforts by opting out of public financing. (Among wealthy donors, who gave $1,000 or more, Obama raised about $50 million more than McCain.) Once again, the Messina is trying to paint the Obama campaign as little red riding hood facing the big bad wolf of Republican cash. The problem is that the current evidence does not support this. It may be that one Republican outside group plans to raise $120 million, but that is a pittance compared to the Obama campaign’s $1 billion goal, not counting whatever money is raised by outside Democratic groups. The simple fact is that Barack Obama is the only candidate in the race raising so much money so aggressively so early. He is the big dog. Messina may want to play scared, but on the money front there is not yet much to be worried about.