“We were coming of age in middle school and high school in era of fear and war,” said Gadi, the artist behind the Hope Lounge benefit. “Some of us had come of age and were still dealing with it, and there weren’t many of us who knew what politics was like or what government was like or certainly what governing was. Everybody thought everything would be fixed the next day.”
The skill of the Obama team was a factor as well, using social media to turn the campaign into political mixer for the postcollegiate set. They built on a lot of what the Howard Dean campaign had done in 2004. But whereas the Dean effort was mostly online, the Obama team used online organizing tools to get people to meet off-line.
“We didn’t have YouTube,” said Joe Trippi, Mr. Dean’s online organizing guru in 2004. “By the time Barack Obama started there were a hundred million people watching stuff on YouTube.”
Mr. Trippi doesn’t anticipate a fall-off in excitement for the president among the younger set this time around.
“The newness and the excitement is gone, and it would be hard to rekindle just because of the historic nature of the election,” he said. “But it’s definitely still there. Talk to me if Michelle Bachmann is the Republican nominee; then you’ll see how fired up everyone will be.”
Still, as Mr. Trippi acknowledges, an incumbent is never as much fun. Plus, this time around, those who jumped on the bandwagon early say that they expect “the pros” to take over in 2012. The local elected officials who backed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries have come to toe the party line, and those who passed out homemade cookies at polling sites in early 2008 say they expect to be shunted to the side. Life interferes too. One-time round-the-clock volunteers have to take full-time jobs. Children are born and parents become ill. Galleries get audited.
“The real power [of 2008] was giving people the tools to organize themselves, and then you had all of these self-forming groups,” said Mr. Fife. “It’s very different [now.] Now you have the power of being in the White House. It is going to take longer.”
Obama 2012 operatives say that they think that the lightning of 2008 can be bottled again. To those who say Mr. Obama hasn’t done much, they point to the health care overhaul, the stimulus, the ending of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. They point to a summer organizing program that has 12,000 applicants for 1,700 slots. Wait until the Republicans settle on a nominee. See how you like the thought of Mitt Romney in the Oval Office, and see, young gallerist, if you aren’t organizing another auction in spite of yourself.
“In 2008 we had unprecedented grass-roots support from young people across the country,” said Clo Ewing, a campaign spokeswoman. “On college campuses and cities across the country they mobilized to elect President Obama and we are seeing the same enthusiasm for 2012 evidenced by the thousands of young people who recently applied for our Summer Organizing program.”
Some are already gearing up again.
Matt Walters started volunteering for the campaign in April 2007, soon after Mr. Obama announced that he was running. By the fall, he was selling “Obamulkes,” Obama-inspired yarmulkes. He met his wife in New York headquarters. He is ready to go back out on the trail again.
“I get the sense that people of this generation are still excited about the president,” he said. “He’s just not new any more. He’s no longer a blank slate. He is going to have to run on his record, and he hasn’t even been campaigning. He’s been running the country and killing Osama bin Laden.”