CHICAGO—Everyone should pay less attention to national polls and focus instead on grass-roots enthusiasm, numbers of campaign contributors, and the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire, say Barack Obama's senior strategists.
In interviews with U.S. News at Obama's national campaign headquarters in Chicago, the strategists argued Monday that Hillary Clinton's lead among Democrats in national polls is ephemeral and based largely on her superior name recognition. They said Obama will win the Democratic nomination with a "sequential state" strategy in which he gradually becomes better known, turns in solid performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, and goes on to do well in the South Carolina and Florida primaries—all in January 2008, according to the current schedule. The Obama team predicts that he will enter the February 5 round of a dozen or more megaprimaries with a huge advantage that will put him on a clear path to victory.
"Momentum drives the process," says Obama communications director Robert Gibbs. The goal isn't to dominate the opinion surveys now, but to win votes starting in January, adds David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist.
Axelrod says he doesn't detect any weakening of the appeal of Obama's message, which is based on healing partisan divisions, trying new approaches, and bringing a new sense of unity and cooperation to Washington. Axelrod told U.S. News, "This guy sees himself as part of something bigger than himself," and he believes the campaign isn't about him but about the public's deep frustration and disappointment with the direction of the country.
Axelrod says Obama's performance is all the more impressive because he hadn't run for president before and is still learning how to be the best candidate he can be. "This show opened up on Broadway with every critic in the front row," Axelrod notes.
The campaign strategist adds that the much-ballyhooed issue of Obama's race—he is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas—isn't new. He dealt with it in his campaigns in Illinois, and became popular with both black and white voters.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, says Obama is enjoying the campaign routine, despite its pressures, and likes meeting voters and is still drawing huge, enthusiastic crowds—an important indicator of his political strength.
Gibbs says the senator has done extraordinarily well in fundraising; Obama has topped Clinton in total money raised this year—$58.5 million to Clinton's $52.5 million. Obama has reported 258,000 individual donors. None of the other candidates in the primaries of either party has reported more than 100,000 donors.