Barack Obama Gains Ground on Clinton

From | June 11, 2007

By Michael H. Cottman

With one national poll showing Sen. Barack Obama in a statistical dead heat with Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama's campaign coordinated an ambitious field operation over the weekend where scores of Americans across the country walked door-to-door in their communities urging neighbors to rally around Obama's historic candidacy.

According to last week's USA Today/Gallup Poll, the tie between Obama (D-IL) and Clinton (D-NY) marks the first time that Clinton hasn't comfortably led the field of Democratic candidates. Other national polls still show Clinton leading Obama but Obama aides say they are clearly gaining ground.

So on Saturday, calling the movement a "Walk for Change," Obama supporters canvassed communities in all 50 states for a nationwide neighborhood walk, a grassroots effort to recruit volunteers for a long and expensive campaign season.

In what many supporters are calling "Obamamania," Texans for Obama, Vermonters for Obama, Bay Area for Obama, Asians for Obama, and YouTube in Sacramento, were just a few national grass roots groups that participated in the June 9 event.

Obama kicked-off the "Walk for Change" in Dubuque, Iowa and across the state more than 1,000 people door-knocked in their communities. Aides said Kim Mack, a mother of a soldier in Iraq, organized 200 people to door-knock in Sacramento, California, and Ray Padraza, a Navy veteran, one of the founding members of Nevada Hispanics for Obama, supported Obama in his neighborhood.

"Hundreds of folks around the country are expected to participate in what will be a nationwide effort to raise money, recruit volunteers and organize neighborhoods for the campaign," Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, told last week.

The date for the initiative marks 219 days from the Iowa Caucus, and supporters were able to sponsor a volunteer by donating $2.19 or $21.90 or sponsor a group of door-knockers by donating $219.00.

Aides to Obama say the "Walk For Change" will continue to generate collective enthusiasm for Obama's candidacy and attract new supporters to his campaign.

"Obama supporters across the country are eager to get out in their communities to talk about why they support this campaign to change America," Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe said in a statement.

"This movement is about the people in small towns and city neighborhoods who are taking the campaign into their own hands by building a team of volunteers and supporters that will help send Barack Obama to the White House," Plouffe said.

Burton said the community-driven initiative is unprecedented, adding the Obama camp is the only campaign to create a grassroots effort of this magnitude.

"As far as I know," Burton said, "we're the only campaign doing something like this."

Black political observers say Obama is politically sophisticated and adept at merging state-of-the-art technology with old-school community outreach to engage a cross-section of Americans, a multi-cultural mix of younger and older voters of all socio-economic backgrounds, those who are seasoned activists and others who are participating in politics for the first time.

"It is a novel approach from someone who is trying to be different, break from the mold and bring new voters to the polls," Peter C. Groff, a Colorado state senator, publisher of and executive director of the Center for African American Policy at the University of Denver, told "This Walk for Change may do just that since it is far more personal than Internet meet-ups or massive rallies."

Groff recalled how four years ago, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean tried to create an entire campaign on the Internet.

"And it seemed to work," Groff said, "until people had to get out from behind the computer and act. Sen. Obama is exercising a great amount of savvy in gauging the depth of support now. The critical key is whether people will leave the computer in the dead of winter to go vote in a primary or attend a caucus."

"Not only could this initiative prevent him from being Deaned," Groff added, "but it will show actual strength across the country and result in new supporters as folks hear from friends and neighbors why they are supporting the guy with the strange name. Essentially, he's found a way to unlock the influence of online constituents."

Aides to Clinton said her campaign is also moving forward with national mass mobilization strategies to recruit volunteers and supporters.

"Hillary Clinton is enjoying widespread support for her candidacy," Jin Chon, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, told

"We're ramping up our organizational efforts around the country," Chon said. "We are already using a range of organizing tools, like the Internet, to engage supporters and mobilize them to help elect President Hillary Clinton."

Chon said in the past several months, "hundreds of thousands of people" have signed up at to become part of the campaign. He said the campaign is also using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook so supporters can recruit their friends and peers to join the campaign.

Craig Kirby, a Democratic political consultant, told that Obama and Clinton's national community initiatives proves the old political adage that "all politics are local."

He said the 1-1/2-year-long campaign season between the Democrats, particularly between Obama and Clinton, will be tantamount "to a heavyweight fight reminiscent of Ali-Frazier."

The Obama campaign left nothing to chance and offered supporters detailed guidelines for the "Walk for Change" -- from what it means to be a neighborhood leader to following a script when knocking on doors talking to neighbors.

"Your goal in the canvass is to make personal connections with other people who might not know as much about Barack Obama," according to the website's instructions. "You are the face of the campaign in your community."

The script:

"Hi, my name is _______________ and I'm a local volunteer with Barack Obama's presidential campaign."

"Today, people all across America are talking with their neighbors about how we can change the direction our country is heading in, especially when it comes to the endless war in Iraq and our healthcare crisis."

Burton told that through a pre-approved script, the campaign hoped its supporters will be informed and knowledgeable -- from veterans to political neophytes.

"We try to be as helpful as possible for folks who are participating," Burton said, "especially those who haven't been part of a campaign before."

But Groff said, for Obama, it's also about political stamina.

"The problem," he said, "will be trying to maintain whatever momentum he may gain that day for eight months, which would take him through the national primary slated for February 5, 2008 and will most likely decide the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party."