Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Importance of Organization

Very interesting piece on Kos about the Iowa caucuses, and the problems that the Dean people were having there. The most interesting bit was about the difference between the Edwards and Dean organizers:

I watched with amazement as a more-motivated, more-mature Edwards captain named Susan Voss (sans T-shirt, sans sideline coaches) went over to the Gephardt folks in Precinct 63, who at that point had only seven members but needed nine for viability. Susan sat down at their table, looked them in the eye, appealed to them about how Edwards is an "articulate, bright, caring person." You can tell not only that she meant it, but that she could personalize it. She didn't have any training, and it showed - it showed as authentic, that is.

Then, with grace and aplomb, she got up and said she would make room so a guy named Arturo, from the Kucinich group (also non-viable, and hoping to move Gephardt's people to them to achieve viability), could have his turn.

Meanwhile, the Deanies are sitting with their hands folded. They are not even talking to each other. No comity, no motivation. The precinct captain eventually comes over, unsure of what precisely to do with himself or how to speak to people. The Geppies are still sitting at the school library's tables at the far end of the room.

The Dean captain meanders over, stands over the Geppies, providing physical distance that is conveyed in a non-verbally and dismissive way. Worse, his main message is little more than, "C'mon, don't you want to join us?" or "Are there any questions or issues you have about the Governor?" The Geppies are literally staring at his navel, because it's hard to make eye contact with somebody whose head is three feet over your own with craning your neck.

There were six delegates to be assigned by the 60+ people who turned out at Precinct 63. Dean had 16 of the caucus-goers at the start, and ended up with 14. Kerry didn't budge much, but Edwards gained strength. Gephardt managed to cobble together the two defections from Kucinich he needed, and got one delegate, as did Dean and Kerry. But Edwards left with two, and he can thank the dynamism, assertiveness and tact of Susan Voss for that second delegate.
This may be the key problem with an insurgent campaign that is designed to attract those who aren't already involved in politics. While a lot of politicking may be somewhat farcical, there's the core reality there that focuses on how to connect with people and get them to agree with you. This can be a very difficult skill to learn; it's one of the key reasons why politics has gone so professional over the past few decades.

Still, I'm not about to declare Edwards or Kerry the nominee; Iowa's only one state, and it looks like Gephardt was largely responsible for Edwards' boost. He's out of the game, and Edwards has to run on his own merits now. His lacklustre performance during the "invisible primary" hasn't gone anywhere. While I have to admit to a certain interest in history recording that the Democratic nominee made his announcement on the Daily Show, I'm not about to call the local History Department just yet.

(Yes, I'm aware I was in the "Dean's inevitable" camp a while ago, like Matt Yglesias. I wasn't expecting the media to turn on him so savagely at the time, and I'm still stunned by it.)

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