Parties putting in place general election infrastructure

John McCain's campaign had not spent much time thinking about its general election message and organization given that it stumbled upon the nomination somewhat unexpectedly, just as John Kerry had 4 years ago. The difference, of course, is that Kerry had to hurriedly put together a strategy and a team while being bombarded by a Republican Party who had long since rallied around George Bush. McCain does not have that problem, of course, though he does suffer from a financial deficit that could hurt him in the months ahead (and force the RNC to empty its coffers).

The McCain campaign is putting the final touches to its general election infrastructure, devised and organized by top adviser Rick Davis: it is a decentralized campaign that will be run by 11 regional campaign managers dispatched around the country. There will for example be a RCM for the mid-Atlantic region, one for the Southwest, one for New Hampshire and New England. There will be very coordination of the regional campaigns: RCMs will decide most everything that will happen in their region and they will only have to report to Rick Davis. In other words, the McCain campaign will consist in 11 separate campaigns.

This is a very atypical model; campaigns are typically centralized, with a national campaign manager and staffers organizing a national effort. Many Republicans are complaining that Davis's plan is too ambitious for such a short amount of time and that it only betrays Davis's desire to be regarded as a master strategist. And it is true that this decentralized model could lead to some problems: How can the campaign drill a message if the RCMs are not coordinating between each others, even if Davis relays some instructions? It is this power of repetition and coordinated that made Republicans so efficient in 2000 and 2004. The McCain campaign runs the risk of lacking coherence at a time where they are already struggling to define a message, mostly because they have no opponent to practice it against.

On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how well this campaign model works, for it could also allow for more innovative tactics. We will have to closely watch how much the different RCMs differ from one another. And it could also allow the campaign to notice more rapidly if they have an opportunity to attack a state that looked lost, or if they need to defend a state they thought was safe. A New York Times article published today suggests that the McCain campaign is committed to expanding the map, and it believes firmly that California could be in play. The article also identifies four states that the McCain campaign is paying special attention to: Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin.

Colorado and New Mexico are two states the Obama campaign is committed to winning; the former in particular is an interesting choice, as it has not been kind to Democratic presidential candidates. But Obama believes that he is the type of Democrat who can take the state, and the McCain campaign is clearly worried enough about it to set up increased operations. As for Wisconsin and Minnesota, this just confirms that they will be at the forefront of the Republican offensive: McCain believes that his maverick reputation can attract independents from these states, both of whom barely went Democratic in 2000 and 2004.

On the Democratic side, the prolonged primary battle does not mean that others aren't working to put together the general election infrastructure. Marc Ambinder reports on "Project Atlas:" Three major Democratic strategists have spent more than a year amassing everything there is to know about organizing in 15 key battleground states. As soon as the Democrats select their nominee, this information will be passed along to the campaign and will be a great help for the campaign to avoid having to put everything together hurriedly.

The list of states is obviously very instructive as to where the campaign will be waged. There are only four states on the list that Kerry won, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The rest is made up of Bush states: Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona (the Arizona file was abandonned when McCain became the nominee). There are no surprises in this list -- except perhaps the inclusion of West Virginia. The choice to be on the offense in Virginia might also be surprising depending on when it was put in the list, for that state was not always considered in play.



  • McCain jumping in to attack Obama shows that he's concerned about the direction of his strategy. If he perceives a change on the Democratic side he'll be quick to cut his efforts in the Obama states. He's definitely at a disadvantage with no firm opponent.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 19 April, 2008 16:29  

  • One correction - Kerry won New Hampshire in 2004. So there are five states Kerry won on the list.

    It is interesting that Oregon and Washington are not be fought over since they are weak Dem sates in 2000 and 2004.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 19 April, 2008 17:55  

  • I also think its interesting that Washington and especially Oregan isn't on thier list, but this "Project Atlas:" this list is obviously preliminary and will probably be altered depending on who the nominee is. If Clinton is the nominee, Washington and Oregon will defintily be on this list, but probably not on Obama's sense he is stronger in these western states. However, they would probably put New Jersey and Massachusetts (!) in for Obama because hes weaker among those states.

    On McCain's GE strategy, it does seem risky to me to have a decentralized campaign. On the one hand having regional chairs would help McCain in terms of indentifying which voters are receptive to his messange, and I agree with Taniel that it could be helpful in determing if he can go offensive in one state or reinforce another. However one major weakness of this decentrialized campaign is that different messages could come out from these reginal directors, and if they are contradictioary enough the Dems could use it against McCain and paint him as not honoring his "straight talk"

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 19 April, 2008 18:37  

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