As other White House hopefuls for the Democratic nomination scramble to attend every major event in key primary states, Obama picks and chooses.
And while Democratic candidates court their liberal base, Obama has not been afraid to offend influential constituents in the Democratic Party.
Some have labeled Obama’s campaign as error-prone; others simply call it unconventional.
Obama will be the only Democratic presidential candidate who doesn’t attend at least one of two major state Democratic functions in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire this Saturday.
While half the candidates will spend time in both places, flying out from the New Hampshire Democratic Convention in the morning to join the rest of the field to help the Iowa Democratic Party raise money it needs to host its caucuses, Obama’s campaign has cited a scheduling conflict.
Scheduling conflicts are a roadblock every candidate must face, but Obama has run into more than a few in the early going, particularly when they involve early-voting states.
In an e-mail to The Hill, Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated, “Barack Obama spent last weekend in New Hampshire on his sixth trip since February to the state where he traveled on an RV with his wife and daughters and was greeted by a crowd of more than 5,000 people at the final event in Hanover. He spent Monday night meeting with Veterans in Iowa on his 9th trip to the state since February and then introduced his healthcare plan at the University of Iowa [yesterday] morning.”
For the most part, Obama is setting his schedule instead of letting so-called must-attend events dictate his itinerary.
In February, the senator missed the first Democratic presidential forum in Carson City, Nev. In March, the South Carolina Democratic Party hosted a kickoff event in Washington that Obama opted to skip.
And last Friday, Obama was the only candidate not to show up for a forum hosted by officers of the International Association of Fire Fighters in New Hampshire.
A source with the firefighters said many in the group were thoroughly disappointed the senator called in by phone and then even more so when the senator blamed his staff for the conflict. At one point, the source said, Obama could be heard admonishing a staff member for making noise while he was on the call.
South Carolina Democrats, meanwhile, said they aren’t angry that the senator was a no-show for their high-profile function.
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) showed up for the kickoff event, while every other Democratic candidate — except Obama — contributed money to the $150,000 fundraiser.
At the time in early March, Obama operative Steve Hildebrand told then-South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin that the campaign was being forced to decide between “want to” expenses and “have to” expenses.
Obama subsequently jolted the political world weeks later when his campaign reported the senator had raised $25 million in the first quarter.
Unlike New Hampshire’s race, Iowa’s and South Carolina’s contests are funded by the individual parties, not the states.
Thus, party fundraisers like the Hall of Fame Awards Dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this weekend are crucial to building
the resources for a day that is estimated to cost $1 million.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan said Saturday’s dinner and the party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in November are the only two big events the party will host to raise money for the storied caucuses.
Brennan said he understands the demands of the campaign trail, and he is not upset with Obama or his campaign. But he did say that some party members are “disappointed,” and the dinner is a “great opportunity” for candidates to talk to a lot of likely caucus-goers in one stop.
When he does show up, Obama has shown that he gets people’s attention. Before big crowds, he has thrown verbal jabs at traditional Democratic voters by startling Jewish voters with comments in Iowa and irking automakers in Detroit.
More recently, Obama missed two labor events in the last couple of weeks and attracted criticism in the blogosphere for his hostile takeover of a MySpace page.
Yet, most of these voting factions have publicly said they hold no grudge against the senator.
One notable exception is Joe Anthony, who ran the popular pro-Obama MySpace page until it was seized by the senator’s campaign.
Anthony continues to have hard feelings toward the Obama campaign, having withdrawn his support, saying now he hopes former Vice President Al Gore will get in the race.
Many bloggers were furious with Obama’s handling of Anthony’s MySpace page.
“The Obama campaign has a very talented staff, and I think that they probably do ‘get it,’” Anthony said. “What they may not fully understand, and what I hope they’ve learned from this, is that they should do more to embrace the netroots community rather than attempting to control it.”