In recent weeks, Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod has met with major contributors at the campaign’s Chicago headquarters and in private homes to allay concerns about his candidate’s lack of movement in the national polls. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe has presided over conference calls to calm down jittery bundlers. The candidate himself has even gotten on the phone with groups of big donors to assure them that the campaign is on the right track.
“They were spending time trying to make all of us confident that there is a strategy,” said one major donor to Mr. Obama, who attended a meeting of the campaign’s finance team at the Chicago headquarters about a month ago. “And I remember David [Axelrod] saying that he thought Barack was positioned well. And all of a sudden it’s turning into October, and I’m not sure I see a strategy. And if it is being implemented—I’m not sure I see it being implemented so effectively.
“Is it frustrating? Highly,” said the donor. “National polls do matter, number one. They say don’t worry, don’t worry, we’re positioned well. Well, what does that mean?”
It’s not just the donors who are vexed by the campaign’s cavalier attitude in reaction to the pummeling they are taking from Mrs. Clinton.
When asked about Mr. Obama’s low national poll numbers, one of his most prominent African-American supporters, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said, “They matter.”
In an interview on Sept. 27 at Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative in Manhattan, Mr. Jackson, a former presidential candidate and Obama backer, said the rest of the country would ultimately influence Iowa and New Hampshire voters, “because those states are in the nation.”
“Even on a local level, people start looking at which way is the country going, you know?” Mr. Jackson said. “It’s like boxing—you keep waiting for the big knockout punch, but while you’ve waited for the big knockout punch you’ve lost so many points. And that one big one might not be coming.
“My support has not wavered for him,” added Mr. Jackson. “But my approach for getting the nation’s attention would be different.”
As Mrs. Clinton’s lead hardens around the country—she is now in front by double digits in national polls and has comfortable leads in many of the early voting primary states—Mr. Obama’s chief advisers calmly say everything is going as planned. But the patience of some supporters is wearing thin.
Nearly every day, they watch as the once-fawning national media begins to portray the Obama candidacy as a fascinating-but-temporary diversion from the inexorability of the Clinton juggernaut.
The coverage seemed to take a hard turn in the last week of September, when the front page of The New York Times asserted that “Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has consolidated her early lead in the Democratic presidential contest,” and one day later Dan Balz wrote on The Washington Post’s Web site that Mrs. Clinton “now sits atop the Democratic field, in a tier by herself.” That narrative will only become more ingrained after the Clinton campaign’s announcement on Oct. 2 that they had raised about $3 million more this quarter for the primaries.
At the same time, Mr. Obama has limited response options. He has cast himself as the champion of a new kind of politics, opening him up to charges of hypocrisy if he were to attack Mrs. Clinton too directly. There is also the not-insignificant matter of Mr. Obama’s race, which—some of his staunchest supporters say privately—is more likely to count against him the moment he stops being seen as a conciliator.
Mr. Obama’s senior advisers say it still is early, and that the state of play nationally is far less important than what’s happening in Iowa, where they have an extensive grass-roots operation, nearly $3 million of television advertising and even, according to a Newsweek poll released on Saturday, a slight lead among likely caucus-goers.
On Oct. 1, the campaign reported another strong quarterly fund-raising result, with 93,000 new donors, another $19 million of primary money and a total of at least $74.9 million of primary funds raised. (Although that number was dwarfed the next day by Mrs. Clinton’s $22 million.)
In a phone interview, deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand said that Mr. Obama’s money, combined with the dramatic compression of the primary calendar, would allow him—alone among the other contenders—to remain a viable challenger to Mrs. Clinton.
“On the Democratic side, there are only going to be two candidates who will have the funds to compete in 25 states in 30 days, and that’s Hillary and Barack,” he said.