Obama's Winning Formula

The torch has been passed. At least it looks that way to me. Here's one reason why.

Hours before the Iowa results were in or known, top officials of Sen. Barack Obama's campaign told me what the final numbers would be: Obama would win by at least seven points and the turnout in the Democratic caucuses would be well above 200,000.

The final figures: eight points and 236,000.

I mention this for one reason: to say that, among other things, the 2008 Iowa caucuses will be remembered as the place where a new generation of superb Democratic organizers made its debut.

Obama rode to victory on a tide of emotion, charisma and desire for change. But mark this: these kids—and most of them are kids—beat the older crowd of traditional operatives at their own game and did it with tech and Internet savvy, brains, fund-raising skills, connections, street smarts and old-fashioned shoe-leather dedication.

History is the accumulation of small, individual acts—and the acts of the Obama kids in Iowa together made history. My sense is that they are poised to make a lot more.

Now, don't forget: these same people, operating out of Washington and Chicago, organized a Net-based fund-raising effort that allowed Obama to outspend Hillary Clinton. But they used that money to good advantage on caucus night.

I have read about or seen with my own eyes this kind of wave before: in the Kennedy campaign of 1960 (all those Harvard guys and Navy guys and younger-generation Irish guys); in the Ronald Reagan's campaign of 1976 and 1980 (the other side, the conservative side, of the Baby Boom); the tough-as-nails Clinton kids (they were kids once) such as Mandy Grunwald, George Stephanopoulos and Paul Begala.

And now, the new crowd.

Last September I sat down with Paul Tewes, a low-key Minnesotan who had been dispatched to Des Moines to assemble Obama's Iowa organization. He marveled at the quality of the young people—mostly recent college grads—who had shown up, called or written about working for him. "You wouldn't believe the resumes I've gotten," he said, pointing to a stack of papers in the corner of his disheveled office. "I've got more Rhodes Scholars than I know what to do with," he said with a shrug.

My thought: oh sure, you've  got smart kids with degrees from fancy colleges. Good academic skills. But what do they know? And will they really do the work when the weather gets cold? Or were they mostly here to hang out with each other for the fun of it?

Well, they had fun, but while they were in Iowa they figured out how the game worked to an astonishing degree. Their methods were a mix of innovation and tradition. They took their cell phones and turned texting into an organizing tool (a technique that was used in Iraq, of all places, two years ago). They drew up precinct-walking maps with more color-coding and record-keeping than any I had ever seen (and I've seen many over the years.) They did more training of precinct captains for the caucuses than any other campaign—and, after they trained them, they trained them again.

And on caucus night, they outsmarted the old hands in garnering the second-alignment votes. In the few places where there were pockets of support for low-ranking candidates, the Obama people generally scooped them up to add to their man's total.

Thursday night, I talked to Tewes. He sounded almost overwhelmed. "This thing is huge," he said. He sounded just a bit surprised.