At Caucus Time, Obama Revs Iowa Campaign
While a fractious Republican Party huddles at caucus sites across Iowa on Jan. 3, hundreds of state Democrats will be quietly plotting a path to bring down the eventual GOP presidential nominee.
The caucus-night effort, orchestrated by President Obama's re-election campaign and the state Democratic Party, will take place at dozens of public schools and libraries, community centers and government offices in all 99 counties.
Organizers say state and local party officials and a designated Obama campaign surrogate will brief volunteers on the field of Democratic candidates and the strategy for winning in 2012.
President Obama will also deliver a live video message to each caucus gathering over the Internet, state Democratic officials said. The president's campaign sent a text message to supporters today confirming the plan.
The exercise marks a new phase in the president's campaign to win Iowa in 2012, four years after the state helped catapult him into the White House. This year's caucuses, however, will be less about numbers and turnout, and more about building a sense of urgency and energy for the quickly escalating campaign.
"Our expectation is simple. We carried Iowa for President Obama in 2008 and we will use the caucus this year as another step in our ongoing effort to organize our volunteers and build a campaign," said John Kraus, the Iowa communications director for Obama for America.
"No matter what happens on Jan. 3, one thing is for sure: On Jan. 4 we will have the strongest grassroots organization and campaign infrastructure in place of any candidate going forward," he said.
The Obama campaign has already opened eight offices across Iowa - more than any other Republican candidate - in Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Des Moines, Waterloo, Davenport, Iowa City, Dubuque and Council Bluffs. They've also enlisted hundreds of volunteers.
Since April, when Obama announced his bid for re-election, Democrats have held more than 1,000 events, including volunteer trainings, house parties and phone banks, a campaign official told ABC News.
Obama supporters have also placed more than a quarter million phone calls to potential voters and held at least 2,500 one-on-one conversations about the election, all aimed at rekindling the personal connections Obama used to great success in his Iowa campaign four years ago.
"Iowa, of course, is the place that we have a special relationship with because it's the state which helped launch the campaign in '08," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
"We feel good about what we have on the ground in Iowa," he said. "We have infrastructure on the ground in all the key states. I don't think any [Republicans] do. And in the general election, that's going to be an advantage for us in turning people out."
Cary Covington, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, said the face-to-face contact through a robust volunteer force could give Obama an edge next fall.
But the president's campaign still faces an uphill climb in the Hawkeye State given the resurgence of registered independent voters, Covington said.
More than 700,000 Iowans are registered independents, according to the Iowa Secretary of State. (Democrats number just over 640,000, while Republicans stand at 615,000.)
And Iowa independents aren't happy with Obama, by a wide margin: only 35 percent of registered independents said they approved of the president in a recent Marist/NBC poll in Iowa - well below the statewide average of 43 percent. Forty-seven percent of Iowa independents said they disapprove of Obama.
"What matters for Obama is that these Iowans want to see a downward trending unemployment rate," Covington said of Iowa independents. "It's the change. Nobody knows what to make of the absolute [unemployment] number, but what they are looking for is a sense of improvement."
With the national unemployment rate ticking down to 8.6 percent last month, Democrats believe that the trend line is in their favor, and that voter registration levels - and Obama approval ratings - will continue to rise in response.
"I don't think these caucuses are necessarily strengthening the Republican Party for the general [election]," said chief Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod.
"We spent 83 days in Iowa in 2007. And there's nothing like that going on there now," he said. "I think in the state of Iowa you've got … a lot of focus on issues that are geared toward generating [Republican] base response … None of that is helpful to them. It's defining the party in a negative way."
Iowa Republicans strongly disagree.
"It's wishful thinking for Team Obama to think they have any kind of advantage in Iowa," said state GOP chairman Matt Strawn.
"The reality on the ground is that Iowa Republicans have had 33 straight months of voter registration gains over the Democrats due in no small measure to Obama's policies of record spending and ballooning debts. This means that Iowa, the state that propelled Obama into the White House, could also be the state that retires him from the White House," he said.