Clinton volunteer army ramps up in California
They seek absentee votes here before polls open elsewhere
Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
They call themselves “HillStars,” and they are part of a dedicated campaign army – the “HillCorps.”
And with just more than five months until California’s Feb. 5 presidential primary, the effort by the campaign of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to organize trained volunteers – 1,000 strong across the state – suggests it is no coincidence that she has amassed a 30-point lead in California over her closest Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
The Democratic front-runner’s California grassroots organizing effort has been dubbed by Clinton campaign strategists as the “1,000-20-200″ plan. And it will use “the power of the Internet with traditional field methods to create millions of voter contacts leading up to the Feb. 5 primary,” according to a 27-page “HillStar” campaign manual obtained by The Chronicle.
The Clinton campaign strategy in California is noteworthy for its scope and for its target – to help her secure the votes of potentially millions of absentee voters in California’s rich delegate field before Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire ever weigh in at the polls.
“Politics is about the bottom line,” said Averill “Ace” Smith, Clinton’s California campaign manager, who noted that in 2008, “the largest number of votes cast at a relatively early stage” will be in California.
Beginning Jan. 7 – when voters can begin to cast absentee ballots in the state – “we have a 29-day election” that starts before the current Jan. 14 schedule for the Iowa caucus and the Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary, Smith said.
That calls for unprecedented organization and innovation in California to get those voters to the polls, Clinton senior adviser Ann Lewis said in an interview Monday in San Francisco.
For the first serious female presidential candidate, Lewis said, “the power of networks, the growth of social networks, will be the strength of this campaign.”
Presidential candidates are lavishing the lion’s share of money and attention on early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and some political strategists suggested the efforts by the Clinton campaign to build, train and organize a California bank of 20,000 volunteers is a savvy move. That could help Clinton guard her front-runner status and construct a crucial firewall against Democratic rivals such as Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards – regardless of the results in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“This is classic front-runner’s strategy – pushed to a whole new level,” said GOP consultant Dan Schnur.
Schnur said the late Lee Atwater pursued a similar strategy in 1988 for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, intended to establish a grassroots network to send a message of overpowering strength – and inevitability – to his rivals.
“An organization like this doesn’t build her lead. It’s designed to protect it,” Schnur said.
Clinton faces challenges in Iowa and New Hampshire from Obama and Edwards, in the weeks before California and other states vote on Feb. 5, and he said such an effort is “a matter of logistics.”
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