We are going to win this thing the (new) old-fashioned way

May 5th, President Obama gave (basically identical) speeches in the swing states of Ohio and Virginia, officially providing the “campaign kickoff” for his re-election effort. The opening statement is interesting for how it frames the campaign, as well as for the substantial ask–

I want to thank so many of our Neighborhood Team Leaders for being here today.  You guys will be the backbone of this campaign.  And I want the rest of you to join a team or become a leader yourself, because we are going to win this thing the old-fashioned way — door by door, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood.

This campaign is about people (that’s part of the framing). He wants you to join the Obama army (that’s also a substantial ask, because the campaign needs help to get out the vote). And if you join, you will be asked to walk door to door to talk to voters, make calls, organize your neighborhood etc.

That may sound old-fashioned, as the President suggests, but there is a twist to it. Field operations and volunteer efforts these days are completely intertwined with a whole range of digital tools that are anything but old-fashioned.

So you’ll also be asked to enter data into VoteBuilder, the Democratic Party’s digital voter file, whether you have a smart phone to keep in touch with the campaign, to do distributed phone banking from home via an online integrated platform, and to lend data and profile updates from your social networking profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc) to the campaign.

This is the (new) old-fashioned way honed to perfection in 2008 and refined ever since rather than the (old) old-fashioned way, blending traditional organizing with various new digital tools appropriated from corporate marketing or in some cases developed for the campaign. Romney’s campaign will be working along the same lines, as they too will be worried about turnout amongst traditional Republican base voters.

I’d love to be on the ground to follow these campaigns as they are operating “between door-to-door and databases” (an earlier working title for my book Ground Wars). Ten months with two congressional campaigns in 2008 was absolutely fascinating, and to spend just a few with a Presidential campaign working with the same tactics on a much larger scale would be a blast.

That’ll have to wait for some later election, however, as I’m bound in Europe working on other stuff… Till then, I’ll stalk the campaigns via coverage from the usual sources, I’ve grown particularly fond of the Financial Times‘ Richard McGregor, who reports a lot from the ground and pays attention to campaign mechanics like few other journalists, and of course continue to follow Sasha Issenberg’s great work at Slate.com and various stuff from TechPresident to keep up on the technology side of things.

My book, Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns, deals with how American political campaigns mobilize, organize, and target their field operations, using large numbers of volunteers and paid part-timer workers to contact voters at home at the door or over the phone. It has just been published by Princeton University Press and is available on Amazon.

(cross-posted to Politics in Spires)

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