Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

Obama Should Do More Big Rallies, Not Less

No one has been more of a hand-wringer than I have (well, okay, maybe Slinkerwink). My position remains the same: Obama’s campaign is great at the grass-roots level, not good at the media, messaging, or press strategy level. They haven’t developed a consistent line of attack against McCain and indeed, on that level, much of the summer was a lost opportunity.

However, contrary to the NYTimes article with his “allies” giving him advice on how to speak about economics, Obama hasn’t lacked for specifics at all. In fact, Obama’s policy book is “War and Peace” compared to the short story that McCain provides. The notion that “hope” is substance-free and must be backed with specifics is so January/February that it makes me wonder whether these people are caught in a time warp. This really caught my eye:

Gov. Phil Bredesen, Democrat of Tennessee: “Instead of giving big speeches at big stadiums, he needs to give straight-up 10-word answers to people at Wal-Mart about how he would improve their lives.”

Now, I don’t disagree that Obama needs to shorten his delivery and connect more with voters. But in terms of a campaign strategy, I strongly disagree that he needs LESS big rallies and more campaigning at Wal-Mart. By the way, Governor Bredesen, thank you for negatively pre-spinning your party nominee’s acceptance speech. Also, tell us about all the other big stadium speeches Obama’s been giving these last few weeks? Oh yeah, there haven’t been any.

Michael Crowley even gets in the act with this gem:

In light of the apparent traction Republicans got with their ‘Celebrity’ meme you have to wonder if the Obama team is reconsidering the wisdom of this move. I would recommend any possible stagecraft to minimize the event’s scale.

I will say it: for someone who clearly is an Obama supporter, that piece of advice by Crowley may rank as the worst I have ever seen this entire campaign cycle. Change Obama’s strength because the Republicans will attack it? What wouldn’t the Republicans attack?

There are less than three months until the election. One of Obama’s greatest strengths IS that he is an inspirational speaker who can motivate the masses (an essential quality in a President). Motivating crowds is exactly what he’s going to have to do now, as he turns towards rallying the base, recruiting armies of volunteers, and mobilizing the enthusiasm for this election.

The Republicans will attack Obama’s big speeches as just “celebrity?” Good. Let them. In the meantime, Obama, be yourself, embrace your ability to move big crowds, and get back to that inspirational leader we saw in the spring. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. And, by the way, there’s no reason you can’t give concise policy specifics in that forum.

Alternate it with smaller town-halls if you want, but don’t let something happen again like it did in Reno yesterday: Obama held an invite-only speech with 250 people, despite the fact that thousands called the office eager to see him.

Washoe County Democratic chairman Chris Wicker said party headquarters was inundated with calls from those who wanted access.

“I have to be straightforward on this,” he said, nodding when asked if Democrats were angry. “People are so excited about Barack Obama that they really want to see him in person. But knowing Nevada is a battleground state, I know that he will be back in Reno and he’ll put on a larger event for people to see him in person.”

Wicker said Obama wanted to have a “real conversation” with people, rather than give a speech before thousands. Wicker added that he didn’t think that allowing McCain supporters in the event would “add to the conversation because these are concerns shared by everybody.”

But he acknowledged the decision may have cost Obama an opportunity to persuade undecided voters by not inviting them to the event.

See that? Democrats were actually made angry because Obama decided on this “small event strategy.” Why not include them and make them more enthusiastic? Between the convention and the debates and the debate prep, there isn’t going to be that much time to rally the base this fall. This notion that you have to have smaller events should be tossed out the window.

Yes, Obama is a great speaker. Yes, he can draw a crowd. Yes, that gets him lots of attention. That’s a good thing. Obama needs to expose his message to more people, not less. Go after your strength and take the Republicans head on. Don’t defensively alter your event-types because the Republicans call you a “celebrity.” People want hope and want inspiration.

So, I hope Barack Obama ignores all the pundits and the same dead-enders who were attacking Obama for being “all-hope-no-substance” in the primaries, and I especially hope he ignores John McCain and the Republicans. And I hope he starts having those big rallies again, starts firing up the troops and getting the core demographics (especially the youth) excited again.

I say: more big rallies, not less.


August 18, 2008 - Posted by | Battleground States, Media Strategy, Uncategorized | , , ,


  1. The bigger the better. Dwarf McCain with the size and spectacle of his rallies. Make McCain look like a dottering old fossil running for vice chair of his condo board.

    Comment by silver heron | August 18, 2008 | Reply

  2. The only stagecraft should be Obama having events that highlight where he’s weak. If he could, he should have an event every day at a nursing home highlighting McCain’s position on Social Security. There are clear differentiators between the two candidates on this position, personalizes the attack, and also helps Obama strengthen his position in a demographic where he’s underperforming.

    Comment by Claiborne Hill | August 18, 2008 | Reply

  3. As someone who has seen Obama live at both a large and a small event, I am mixed about this. I think he really excels in a more personal setting, and was much better in the town hall meeting than at the speech.

    However, I know there were several thousands of people who wanted to go the smaller event, and were not happy that they weren’t able to.

    Post convention, I hope that Obama makes a compromise, doing at least 1 small and 1 large event a day, so that he can fill people’s desires to see him speak live, and also have the more personal event for the cameras.

    Comment by smashartist | August 18, 2008 | Reply

  4. Smash, I think that’s a reasonable compromise.

    Comment by dansac | August 18, 2008 | Reply

  5. Obama has more grit and greater integrity than McCain could ever have. Obama is the hope and the leader we’ve been waiting for. Please vote for Obama! Visit WHYOBAMA08.ORG!

    Comment by G Green | August 18, 2008 | Reply

  6. Apart from the view that Obama should shorten his delivery and connect more with voters (a ridiculous comment in my opinion) i do however agree with the view and advice given by this article. Yes, Obama is an oustanding oratore in big rallies as well as being very effective, approchable and often entrataining in smaller crowds so he should show both of his strenghts regardless of the cheap attacks by the Republicans. After the convention it’s quite laughable for McCain camp to use their mantra ‘a celebrity with not substance’. Of course is a celebrity thanks to his political substance, vision and message – as well as charisma! Dear Sen. McCain the politics of envy are the most pathetic ones…

    Comment by Yasmin | September 2, 2008 | Reply

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