AUSTIN, Texas — During a panel at the Netroots Nation convention on Saturday afternoon, Barack Obama’s soft-spoken deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, talked about how he hoped that this, his 22nd year working on political campaigns, would be his last one because it offered the opportunity to register “millions and millions of new Democrats, new progressive voters.”
In other words, this would be the election that would provide an enduring Democratic majority.
“We’re never going to have it as good as we have it right now,” said Hildebrand, who wore a grey t-shirt with Obama’s face on it . “So get behind this effort, let your readers know how important this is. We are looking at most likely launching probably what I will hopefully come to appreciate will be a three-day massive voter registration drive on Labor Day weekend after the Democratic convention.”
During a question-and-answer period, David Boyle, who writes on a blog called Obamaism.org from Long Beach, California said “There is a perception he really hasn’t done enough. He’d like to use them but what is he giving back?” Boyle took specific exception with Obama’s vote to pass a government wiretapping program ferociously opposed by liberal bloggers.
”None of these candidates are going to be perfect for everybody’s agenda,” said Hildebrand, adding, “There are difficult decisions that politicians make that leaders make, if Barack wanted to win the popularity contest he would have chosen to vote no. He made a very hard decision that he stands by.”
Later, Hildebrand added, “He has not changed his position on Iraq. He has not changed his position on abortion. He has not changed his position on guns. Stop believing everything you read. This guy is a great American. He’ll be a great president. And, you know, spend a lot of time on your Web sites attacking our opponent and stop worrying about Barack.”
Hildebrand, a self-described McGovern liberal, seemed to try to make it up to the audience by appealing for their help in the large battle.
“We are living in a 24-hour news cycle,” he said. “We’re living in a world where more people are learning more things over the Internet than they ever have before and it is opting in as well as just being spammed. And Barack’s character has been smeared plenty over the Internet…Every single day there is something, there is an either an attack from the McCain campaign, an attack from the R.N.C., an attack from Sean Hannity, whatever it is, there are multiple multiple multiple fronts being launched every single day. In a 24 hour news cycle and the high occurrence of the people on the Internet, we need immediate response, we need help. We can’t do it all on our own — we need all of you who blog to spend time debunking these rumors, utilizing the information we can provide you to take these false statements and make sure that people who are reading your sites, who are forwarding this stuff to their friends, that they are learning the truth.”
After the panel, he spoke with reporters and well-wishing bloggers. At a certain point a MoveOn.org organizer asked about the campaign’s field operations.
“A fundamental organizing principle for us in these 54 events we’ve been involved in is that we need our paid organizers to organize,” said Hildebrand. “And the way I’ve done it for years and … the way we did it in Iowa and for the most part New Hampshire is we had organizers as robots.”
He meant that they got instructions to knock on doors or make calls and they did just that. But the campaign has suggested that a more sophisticated field operation strategy would now be used, which in part included teams of well-trained volunteers getting call lists and names of targeted voters in their neighborhood right off the campaign’s Web site.
“We brought about 30 folks in from the states in about May to have a long brainstorm session about what worked what didn’t. What’s applicable to the general?” said Hildebrand. “And they went forward and did 200 interviewers with organizers to give a sense about how we do this. And a whole bunch of them went into a room for about three weeks and wrote the field model for the general. And the one that we all have agreed to is these field teams. Because volunteers are willing to give us more time, and because they are willing to take real responsibility, not just do a couple hours of phone calls.”
But, he said, they still wanted to take advantage of the volunteers who couldn’t donate all their time to the campaign. He used as an example the campaign’s plans to activate volunteers for a huge Labor Day push.
“If we go ahead with this Labor Day weekend piece, which it looks like we will, we want millions, literally millions of volunteers giving us three days. Basically giving us their Labor Day weekend.”
The MoveOn organizer asked how many organizing staff the campaign expected to have.
“We don’t put that number out because the press is really hungry for it,” said Hildebrand. “It’s strategy. It’s a lot.”
The MoveOn organizer then asked Hildebrand what the campaign planned to do on Election Day with the enormous network of online supporters they had built.
“There needs to be a well-funded structure that can handle the capacity, whether it’s put in the rubric of a national health care campaign, I don’t know for sure, but your point is right. We have to figure out how to manage this to effectively help Barack pass these important policies.”
Hildebrand was then asked by a reporter about David Plouffe’s suggestion that Nebraska could be an important state for the campaign in the fall. He said there were several scenarios which got Obama to 269 electoral votes, “which isn’t enough,” he said. “Nebraska too will be a very important place. There will be paid media. We have a huge number of grassroots volunteers in the state of Nebraska just as we do in every other state. They are ready to go to work and there’s a real belief that we can win it. Regardless of whether we need that one extra, we’ll take it to get it beyond 300, and 350.”
Asked by the reporter how targeted that effort would be, Hildebrand said, “Well, it’s the Omaha media market. It’s like running a congressional race. It’s one congressional district. We’ll have efforts all over the state of Nebraska, as we will in all 50 states because we can put our people to work. You know there are thousands of students in Lincoln Nebraska who want to be involved in this. So they can spend every weekend helping us in Nebraska too.”