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Obama Invests in Feb. 5 Strategy

When 2008 morphed into the fast-track campaign, it was broadly assumed that the slew of big states holding primaries on Feb. 5 would play into the hands of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Her name recognition alone, this theory held, would give her a huge advantage over her lesser-known rivals for the nomination.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama has three offices in Alabama. Three!?!? (AP Photo)

But as Feb. 5 creeps ever closer, it is clear that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) is willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, a fight he's pursuing by building the broadest organizational network in the Feb. 5 states.

To date, Obama has 19 offices in 13 states where Feb. 5 primaries are scheduled, including the campaign's newest satellite office in Fargo, North Dakota. In addition to obvious places like Los Angeles, Phoenix and New York City, Obama has opened offices in three Alabama cities (Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham), as well as in St. Paul, Minn., Lawrence, Kansas, and Salt Lake City. An Alaska office is also in the offing, according to the campaign.

Clinton, by contrast, has five total offices currently open in Feb. 5 states -- two in California, and one each in New Jersey, New York and Arkansas. The campaign soon plans to open offices in Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, Minnesota and Arizona, according to deputy communications director Phil Singer, and has held organizing meetings in 46 states.

The breadth of Obama's organizing speaks to the belief among his campaign's senior staff that there is a real chance that the nomination fight will extend until at least the Feb. 5 Tsunami Tuesday balloting.

"We fully expect that Barack will be in this through and beyond Feb. 5," said Steve Hildebrand, a senior Obama strategist overseeing much of the organizing in early states. "With at least 25 states competitive over a 33-day period starting with Iowa and ending with February 5, it is vitally important for any serious candidate to organize to the extent that they can in every one of those states."

The reality is that Obama is still a very new commodity on the national stage. Polls taken in Feb. 5 states show Clinton with wide leads. In California, Clinton leads Obama 45 percent to 20 percent, according to the latest Field Poll; a Rutgers-Eagleton poll put Clinton's lead over Obama in New Jersey at 52 percent to 21 percent.

Assuming the nomination battle extends into February, it will likely be because no candidate managed to secure knock-out blows in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. In this scenario, neither Obama nor Clinton would have significant momentum heading into Feb. 5, thus it would put the burden on Obama to make up ground in the large states where he trails Clinton badly at the moment.

Hence the Obama camp's office-opening drive. Having a visible presence in the Feb. 5 states allows Obama to begin to rally people to his flag and make clear to undecided voters that there is (and will continue to be) an alternative to Clinton.

It's important not to equate opening offices with winning a primaries in mega-states like California, New Jersey or Illinois. If Obama can't muster an early win in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire or South Carolina, having offices around the country won't matter one whit.

What then to make of Obama's willingness and ability to finance operations in such far flung locales as Alabama and North Dakota?

First, it's a testament to his massive fundraising operation, a cash-collecting machine that has allowed him to do something that was thought unimaginable just 12 months ago -- match (and even exceed) Clinton organizationally across the country.

Second, it shows that Obama is preparing for the long haul in the nomination fight and has no plans to go away if Clinton scores several victories early on. That calculus may well change if Obama comes under considerable pressure from the establishment to step aside for the good of the party, but it's clear at least right now that the Illinois Senator is digging in for a protracted fight.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 28, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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