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...a sweatshop of moxie

Friday, October 10, 2008


The Nairobi Star recently reported on the Obama offices here in the State of Florida. Kenyan reporter, Maina Kiai, not only allowed readers an insider's peak at the goings on here (something no Miami Herald reporter has done, to the best of my knowledge) but also revealed the clever tactic allowing the Obama campaign to field negative questions.

The tactic is...under react.

Nothing is a big deal...Americans don't want to hear about it...This is a distraction...Move along, nothing to see...

I had noticed that attitude from commenters on various blogs, but now I realise it's a little more of a concerted approach which is only possible when media fail to report certain stories. If they are not going to make a big deal of anything, why should Team Obama?

Inside Obama's Florida Operation

Florida is an important election state; and Kenyans will understand why. It is the state that caused a 36 day delay before the announcement of presidential election results in 2000, as challenges were mounted against the election results. (Oh I wish my friend Sam Kivuitu had remembered this and delayed his announcement in December last year until he was sure, and had convinced us that he was announcing the correct results.)

Eventually George Bush was given the state with a margin of just over 500 votes against Al Gore, though controversy still rages on the validity and credibility of this result, especially since the official in charge of the elections was clearly partisan in favor of the Republican Party. In 2004, the gap between Bush and John Kerry was about 2 percentage points. This is a crucial swing state and elections go the way Florida goes.

It is a critical state for both Obama and McCain, and in fact McCain has no chance of winning the election if he loses Florida. So this week I am visiting the state to get a better insight on what Obama and his team are doing to win the state. The headquarters are located in Tampa Bay, a medium size city that is in the heart of the territory that is most contested, and after strenuous efforts I managed to get invited to visit and learn about the operations there. As I enter the bland brick building I am shocked that there is no security at the door, and I briefly wonder if I am at the right place as what I am used to in Kenya is walls, security and sense of importance in these sorts of operations…

Inside the headquarters, the passion and dedication of the staff is electric. There are people at computers, on the phone and discussing issues all around. It’s a mostly younger staff though there are some people over the age of 40. I am struck by the easy camaraderie, lack of ego and hierarchy, as people work towards the common goal of getting Obama elected. There are posters and signs all over the building with reminders of what needs to be done and quotes from Barack Obama’s speeches. There are televisions on 24 hours following the news and events. One guy has his computer monitor set up with a count-down clock to the election date, set to the second. Its open plan set up makes it easy for staff to talk and check with other as they work. All seem to have a plan and agenda and there is not much frivolous chatting. These are people on a mission. And there are less than 30 days left to achieve that mission.

The State Campaign Director, Steven Schale, is an easy going fellow with a southern drawl. He had never been in a presidential campaign before but he is clearly enjoying this task now and has created a multi-racial, multi-gender staff that speaks very highly of him. He stresses that the values of the campaign team draw from Barack Obama’s own values of calm, thoughtful, low ego and refusal to get stressed. His door sign states “UNDER REACT” in big letters, which he tells me is from Barack’s own credo of no panic. Steven has a staff in the state of more than 400 people, most of them in the field doing coordination of volunteers and about 15,000 volunteers drawn from Florida but also a substantial number from other regions that are either solidly Obama so they don’t need much attention, or that are solid pro-McCain so there is no need to mount strong challenges there.

The team is focused, as are all the teams in other states, on grassroots mobilization and empowerment drawn from Obama’s experience as a community organizer in Chicago. This is a campaign that spends a great deal of time, energy and resources on door to door visits to people, as well as on the phone to voters, rather than what had become the norm of advertizing in “air wars.” [...]

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