The long campaign

I'm going to go out on a limb and claim that insofar as Obama really is running a different kind of campaign, a long primary season is likely to help rather than hurt him in the general election. Naturally, I'm going to insist on a narrow reading of what might count as a different kind of campaign.

A shallow way of describing the Obama difference is to say that he is running a campaign in which you don't say mean things about your opponent. A better description would contrast Obama's strategy of enlarging the electorate with the Clinton strategy of zeroing in on the median voter. The most accurate description, from my point of view, would be to say that Obama is running an organizing campaign.

If that description is right, then the implication is that Obama's chances of victory are strongly tied to the strength of his organization on the ground. This is where the long campaign comes in. In a normal year, we wouldn't see competitive primaries in Indiana or North Carolina today, nor would we have seen most of the contests that have occurred over the last few months. In each state, having a contested election has given the Obama campaign a opportunity to set up offices, recruit volunteers, iron out wrinkles, identify voters, and establish inroads into local social networks.

Those are serious advantages for an organizing campaign, and the upshot of the long campaign may be that the Democrats in 2008 find themselves in position to make Dean's fifty state strategy from 2006 look like small potatoes.

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