How did Barack Obama win the presidential election in 2008? Was it A.) He had better ideas? B.) The nation was ready for change? Or C.) John McCain/Sarah Palin were so ridiculously unqualified that a hot ham sandwich could have beaten them? The answer is all of the above, with one additional caveat. The real reason for Obama’s victory in 2008 was the vastly more organized and enthusiastic ground game he had compared to McCain.
Obama/Joe Biden had three times as many paid staffers as McCain/Palin and those staffers were the key to turning purple states like Ohio, Missouri and Indiana into light blues. Right now the Republicans are launching an D-Day-like offensive to overpower Obama’s ground game and if the last year is any indicator Obama’s got a lot of recruiting to do.
I am one of the few columnists out there that refuses to say the two Democratic losses yesterday were a bad sign for Obama’s chances in 2012. Special elections are too unique and to local politics to draw some huge meta-political lesson about the state of the sitting president. However, the larger story hidden beneath the hand wringing is that labor unions sat out the New York race and volunteers were fairly anemic in Nevada as well. The success of progressive organizations in recalls, issue campaigns and special elections this year have been mixed at best.
Earlier this year Democrats pulled off an upset by winning a special election in upstate New York, but lost a heavily blue district yesterday just outside of New York City. Wisconsin voters failed to make its own changes in that category while the Republican state senate margin has been narrowed to 17-16. They seemed to be out of steam for a Scott Walker recall in 2012. “We Are Ohio” has done so well in it’s resistance to John Kasich’s attacks on unions that the governor is pleading to avoid a recall vote in November, but the state’s new anti-Democratic voting laws are likely to go through. In the best case scenarios, voters are locally excited but in many cases like yesterday, union leaders are specifically sitting out election contests due to their displeasure with Obama. President Obama cannot win re-election next year without a massive surge of volunteers to combat the anger and the legislative shenanigans of Republicans across America.
After the GOP sweep of 2010 Republican state legislatures have been working overtime make voting more difficult, especially for likely Democratic voters. Shortening early voting times, allowing polls workers to be obstructionist, and requiring photo identification in locales where it was never a necessity to vote before. A lot of voters are going to hit the polls next year and be surprised that they are being turned away and the only way to counter that is with an effective ground game in all 50 states. A ground game that thus far seems pretty demoralized.
The saddest part about all of this is that as awful as things look for the President he is still beating his two most likely challengers Mitt Romney and Rick Perry by anywhere from 5 to 10 points nationally. However those numbers won’t mean anything if Obama cannot get his base out to volunteer, knock on doors and put up signs let alone get to the voting booth in 2012.