Clinton volunteer army ramps up in California
They seek absentee votes here before polls open elsewhere
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.”
“If enough absentees are cast (in California) before Iowa and New Hampshire, she’s protected against an upset in one of those states,” Schnur said.
The Clinton “1,000-20-200” plan takes its name from the campaign’s ambitious goal in California: training 1,000 “HillStar” corps members to then train and manage 20 other “Hillary Corps” campaign volunteers each, who in turn will be “contacting 200 voters in their social networks and convincing those people to vote for Sen. Clinton,” according to the campaign manual.
“We give them a tool box and different approaches,” Smith said.
The most active volunteers will marshal forces with the help of house parties – there were 47 statewide for Clinton last week – as well as one-on-one efforts to meet and talk to voters at schools, homes, coffee shops and, increasingly, by e-mail and in online conversations.
“We need to create millions of conversations with voters, and that doesn’t cost millions,” Smith said.
The campaign’s target is 4 million contacts with state voters through events like “bring your own phone” parties – in which cell phone-wielding volunteers get together and create their own roving phone banks, talking to voters at night and on weekends, when call times are free.
The Clinton campaign said it is targeting a still largely overlooked factor in the 2008 presidential race: the crucial role of early primary voters in the nation’s most populous state.
With the use of absentee ballots continuing to grow, it is estimated that as many as half of the state’s 6.7 million registered Democrats could be absentee voters in the 2008 presidential primary.
The “HillStar” campaign manual notes that “up to half a million votes will be cast in California in the week before the Iowa caucus … (so) for the first time, the California campaign will be in the vanguard of the presidential nomination process.”
Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said the permanent absentee voting in California “is becoming one of the big megatrends,” and a closer look at California’s growing numbers could explain why Clinton’s campaign has targeted those absentee voters.
Field Poll studies show that in March 2007, there were 4 million permanent absentee voters in California – nearly 60 percent of them women, he said.
“Women are a bigger segment, and that makes sense,” he said. “Permanent absentees tend to be older, and there are a lot more older women than older men.”
The Clinton 2008 effort in California underscores how “the campaigns go after their own targeted segments, and they contribute to the (absentee ballot) movement,” he said. “That’s why it’s growing – because the campaigns encourage it among their supporters.”
The Clinton campaign has set a daunting task for its Democratic rivals in California. Already, Clinton’s campaign, with a larger campaign staff, has opened offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles and has rounded up scores of big-name endorsements, including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
But Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Obama, said he soon will open a campaign office in California and that the campaign hasn’t slowed its own volunteer efforts in the Golden State.
“Hundreds of Californians have attended our ‘Camp Obama’ training sessions in Los Angeles and San Francisco,” LaBolt said, adding that “more than 100,000 Californians have signed up to join our campaign,” which has representatives in 40 of the state’s 53 congressional districts.
But Mather Martin, 25, the Northern California field director for the “HillStar” campaign, said Monday that 500 “HillStar” leaders already are signed up, and more are on deck.
“We hear from women who say this is the time,” she said. “It’s never been a question that we couldn’t do this.”
What the Clinton campaign has created from a 27-page document and numerous
paid staff hours to pull together, the Edwards campaign has been doing for months. Without the millions of dollars being brought into the Clinton campaign from contributions by both lobbyists and PAC’s monies that the Edwards campaign refuses to tap into, the Edwards effort in California is entirely volunteer-run, freeing the campaign to focus the resources of its paid staff in the critical early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Edwards main organizing tool has been its OneCorps web site, where
volunteers can sign on to existing groups or create their own. Organizing meetings are held in private homes and local cafes, communicating by email or telephone conference calls. While the Clinton campaign seems to be just getting started with its efforts at assembling and training volunteers, the Edwards campaign already has a network of volunteer organizers firmly in place.
At the grassroots level, the Clinton campaign is not in the lead, but rather is working only now to
catch up to the other campaigns.
Name ID continues to shore up Clinton’s polling numbers as this from our very own Pollster.com shows here:
The latest polls from IA show a dead heat. That state’s caucus method of selecting a candidate is notoriously hard to poll. Edwards has been on the ground there quite a while and he has some of the best in that state on his team. I really believe he will win there.
Which brings us to NH…..here is a diary from dKos which paints a picture of an energized Edwards campaign going all out. The last poll there is over two weeks old and shows Edwards trailing third. It will be interesting to see what the next poll there shows.
Which brings us to CA. ReThugs are up to no good here as you most likely know. I know it’s early but if you think you want to support John Edwards you’d better get to it before The Hill’s media juggernaut makes Giulianni’s victory a possibility.
One I don’t wish to contemplate.