Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Two Grassroots Campaigns Go At It

The Obama campaign has been about grassroots campaigning for a while now. From my.barackobama.com where supporters can create blogs and create their own fundraising pages to dozens of websites that bring supporters together around videos of the Senator's speeches, this is one campaign that has had the appearance of being built from the ground up since the beginning.

The truth of the matter is that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton's campaigns can be considered truly "grassroots"—they have both been set up from the top down, with content, funding, and ideas flowing from giant headquarters to dozens of offices nationwide. "Grassroots," as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary means, "ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization's membership," and the Obama campaign's 37 field offices in Iowa alone leading up to the Caucus this January shows a campaign that is and has been very much centralized.

Since the contests this past Tuesday, the Clinton campaign has embraced its "underdog" status. While that title was laughed at following Clinton's "come from behind" win in New Hampshire, Obama really is the frontrunner now. In Wisconsin, Obama outspent Senator Clinton 4 to 1 on television ads, and in Cleveland and throughout much of Ohio, Obama is already spending three times as much as Ms. Clinton on advertising. While the recent incorporation of the American Leadership Project as a pro-Hillary 527 group has been heavily publicized in recent days, a grassroots movement of Clinton supporters has also flourished.

Lead by over 300,000 contributors following Super Tuesday, this grassroots movement has some interesting similarities and differences from the grassroots support enjoyed by Barack Obama.

The most obvious difference is an urgency within the Clinton grassroots. Unlike the nationwide group of Obama grassroots supporters, young people, volunteers etc. who signed on in waves from about early December to the past few weeks, Hillary Clinton's big grassroots support is more recent—it's come largely as a reaction to the Senator's string of losses following Super Tuesday. Though this puts Clinton at what would seem like a disadvantage, grassroots support doesn't always stay particularly strong for a sustained period of time (though Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee's supporters have proven it's possible). For example, the Will.I.Am "Yes We Can" music video in support of Obama came as a part of a barrage of videos and online content right around Super Tuesday that really pumped up the Obama faithful, but it essentially took the idea of Obama supporter videos to a level that can't be matched again. In that sense, a part of Obama's momentum has been slowed.

Hillary Clinton's grassroots supporters are just beginning to churn out the bulk of their work, and a late surge in producing its content could give her a crucial boost of support in these upcoming, must-win states.

The most recent Hillary Clinton grassroots creation is a website called Hillary Speaks for Me. The site is a user-generated collection of videos by Clinton supporters explaining why they support her. It's not a groundbreaking idea, but the site is doing exactly what the Clinton campaign hasn't been able to do—turn voters into activists. The Obama campaign has been so successful recently not because of money or ground presence, but because Obama supporters wore pins, put up yard signs (I've seen about 5 times more Obama yard signs than Clinton signs in Massachusetts alone), and generally made a big scene about Obama wherever they went. Now Clinton's supporters have the chance to voice their support online through short videos. The site has already produced one video that is sure to be a hit on YouTube and across the Hillary blogosphere.

An inspiring product created by Hillary Clinton supporters?

The media will say what they want and try to predict results, critique every word Senators Clinton and Obama say in the next week, and generally annoy almost everyone with their "professional" analysis. But when it comes down to it, elections (especially this one) are about votes and grassroots activism. Now that Hillary Clinton has a grassroots of her own that ain't too shabby, I wouldn't say this race is over just yet.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

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