The Obama campaign is a state-of-the-art combination of aura and organization. The band is fronted by a glamorous lead singer who lures the crowds but is backed by roadies who pay meticulous attention to digital, Net-based and street-level detail.
So while the candidate is making headlines worldwide, his campaign planners back in the Loop in Chicago are busy with the less glitzy work but no less important work: planning innovative ways to use the August convention in Denver as a grass-roots organizing tool.
One part of the plan is to boost the campaign in Colorado. For the first time in decades, the Democrats are meeting in a true Electoral College swing state, and the Obama campaign wants to make the most of a rare opportunity. "One one level, the convention is all about Colorado," said a top Democratic Party official, who did not wanted to be quoted commenting on what is technically a separate operation. They have a challenge in front of them: a new Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters has John McCain leading Obama in Colorado by 2 points (46 percent to 44 percent); a month ago, Obama led 49 percent to 44 percent.
Colorado's status—and Obama's love of rock-star settings—is the reason why Obama will use the city's football stadium as the site for his acceptance of the nomination on the convention's last night. An estimated 80,000 will attend, and the campaign is using the scramble for tickets as a way to harvest names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers for Coloradoans who might not otherwise get involved. "They could ID an extra twenty or thirty thousand people," the official said. "If they are willing to come out and see him, they might be willing to make calls for him."
There will be a parallel, focused effort aimed at the delegates. Rather than view them merely as personages to be wined and dined, the Obama campaign wants to use their presence in Denver as a training opportunity—to teach organizing for in the fall.
This would seem to be another obvious idea, but, in fact, it hasn't been done to any great extent before. Delegates tend to be treated as accidentally prominent game-show winners, there for one purpose only: to vote the way the primary and caucus voters told them to. It's emblematic of the Obama approach that his campaign wants them to be and do more.
Many of Obama's own delegates already knew the key people and methods of Obama's Facebook-founded campaign, but the vast collection of Hillary Clinton delegates who will be in Denver don't. While they munch on brightly hued vegetables (the party has famously insisted that caterers supply a range of green, red and yellow food), they will learn.
If the idea of a convention as an organizing workshop sounds like work rather than fun, then you don't know the Obama campaign. The whole idea is that networking is fun; that the network is the symbol of who Obama is and what he wants the country and its politics to be. It is very 21st century, and very much the anthem of the band now touring Europe.