A couple of days back, our own Valerie Bauerlein and her associates with the WSJ had a piece that described rather well what was different about Barack Obama’s campaign in South Carolina. And no, I don’t mean that he’s been more inspiring or any of that stuff you’re tired of hearing me say.
I refer to his tactics — or perhaps, given the scale of what’s at stake, I should say his strategy. An excerpt:
In early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, campaigns use rallies and personal appearances to get votes. Now, the nominating races have moved to bigger states, including much of the South. Candidates here rely on endorsements from powerful politicians and preachers. It is a tradition that has evolved since the 1960s to garner support among poor blacks who look to their preachers for both spiritual and political guidance. And it is the way Mrs. Clinton, like countless Democratic politicians before her, is running her campaign in South Carolina.
Mr. Obama, in contrast, is trying something many observers say has never been done here: He is circumventing entrenched local leadership and building a political machine from scratch. His staff consists largely of community organizers — many from out of state or with no political experience — who are assembling an army of volunteers. It is a strategy often used by labor organizations and in neighborhood and town politics…
"If he pulls this off — and I think he will — Barack Obama’s organization will be studied and replicated in this state for many years to come," says Inez Tenenbaum, a former South Carolina superintendent of education who has run four statewide races in the past decade. She is one of the few prominent state Democrats backing Mr. Obama.
When I originally read that story (I actually referred to it back here), the strategy part didn’t strike me, possibly because it seemed self-evident. But after a colleague called my attention to it again, I realized it was probably worth sharing.
There’s little question Sen. Clinton has taken the traditional approach, lining up (and listening to advice from) such longtime party stalwarts as, well, as Don Fowler, and getting the Darrell Jacksons of the world on the payroll.
Meanwhile, Obama has built this huge, very young, staff — as I’ve noted, the children of people I’ve known in Democratic circles for decades, rather than the parents — that has gone straight to the people, rather than the usual gate-keepers.
Could this be the model for a new kind of politics in South Carolina? Maybe — if Obama gets the nomination. If he doesn’t, it will likely be discarded as the innovation that didn’t work — even though, in South Carolina, it has worked thus far.