Sunday, November 2, 2008

The campaigns in perspective: a strategic scorecard

Scorecards are in vogue. Politico offers their take daily, Halperin offers his weekly. But what would a score card of the whole campaign look like? Here's On Politik's take...

Obama: 1 (Per the Washington Post: a book tour for the 'Audacity of Hope' and his front covers of Time and GQ. Not a bad start for a freshman Senator, 22 months in the job!)
McCain: 1 (McCain put together a highly experienced staff, and looked set to raise a ton of money, he was the heir apparent.)

Obama: 1 (Before a crowd of 15,000 on a freezing Illinois day Obama gave a speech for the ages.)
McCain: 1 (His 'Letterman' announcement was considered a McCain-of-old classic: popular, unconventional, yet safer then it looks.)

2007 Q1
Obama: 1 (Obama's first quarter fundraising results showed him head to head with Hillary and secured his position as a serious contender.)
McCain: 0 (McCain's campaign first quarter fundraising was so disastrous as to bring his campaign to the brink of implosion.)

2007 Q2
Obama: 1 (Obama's fundraising machine bested Hillary's.)
McCain: 0 (Lacking both money and message, the McCain campaign imploded.)

2007 Q3
Obama: 1 (Obama calmed concerns about his campaign with steady debate performances, strong fundraising and a clear field plan for winning Iowa.)
McCain: 1 (Stripped of staff and broke, McCain began his campaign from scratch, focusing on Iraq and New Hampshire: good bets.)

2007 Q4
Obama: 1 (Obama's Jefferson Jackson speech before the Iowa caucus was hailed by the sage of Iowa, David Yepson as quite possibly the moment he won Iowa.)
McCain: 0 (McCain had yielded Iowa and only had a path to the GOP nod if Huckabee could somehow best Romney in Iowa allowing McCain a chance to beat Romney one-on-one in the subsequent NH primary. Hope is not a strategy.)

2008 Q1
Obama: 1 (Obama wins Iowa and nets the most delegates on Super Tuesday.)
McCain: 1 (McCain wins NH and nets the most delegates on Super Tuesday.)

2008 Q2
Obama: 1 (Obama wins the Democratic nomination.)
McCain: 0 (McCain's campaign flounders amidst unforced errors and a lack of message discipline.)

Obama: 1 (Joe Biden.)
McCain: 0 (Sarah Palin.)

Obama: 1 (Dem's achieve Party unity and Obama's Invesco speech is described by arch-conservative Pat Buchanan as "the greatest convention speech".)
McCain: 1 (McCain's Palin pick may have failed overall but it certainly boosted McCain to a feel-good Convention.)

Debate I
Obama: 1 (Obama was as calm as he was commanding and the voters responded accordingly.)
McCain: 0 (Remember when McCain wanted to cancel the debate? In hindsight, perhaps he should have.)

VP debate:
Biden: 1 (Joe Biden wins the voters nod.)
Palin: 0 (Sarah Palin's winks earn her voter scorn.)

Debate II
Obama: 1 (Obama mastered the townhall format, connecting strongly with voters.)
McCain: 0 (McCain's confusion and petulance did not go over well with voters.)

Debate III
Obama: 1 (Per the polling, Obama makes it three in a row.)
McCain: 0 (McCain's last huzzah falls flat.)

October Surprise
Obama: 1 (Turns out, it was the economy, stupid.)
McCain: 0 ('The fundementals of the economy are strong! Fire the SEC chair! Suspend the campaign! Talk about Ayers! Support the bailout! Criticize it! Talk about Ayers some more!' Gov. Rendell nails it at the 2:55 mark.)

McCain: 0 (The McCain/RNC Victory office in battleground Florida, 72hrs before close of polls, pictured here.)

Final score
Obama: 16
McCain: 5

To win the Primaries, McCain needed the political equivilant of an straight flush: Huckabee had to beat Romney in Iowa, a weakened Romney had to be beaten in NH, Thompson had to be strong enough in SC to hold Huckabee back there, Huckabee had to be strong enough to divide the anti-McCain vote in FL and then Huckabee and Romney had to repeat the same trick nationwide on GOP Super Tuesday. Hope is not a strategy and neither is luck.

Contrast that with the Obama primary strategy: A clear plan for each chapter of the campaign, an ability to stick to it where appropriate and modify where necessary, and an ambition for money and machine that was all the more extraordinary for it's actual realization.

As for the story of the General Election, On Politik has often bemoaned the difficulty of trying to analyze strategy comparatively when Obama's campaign is all strategy, all of time and McCain's doesn't even know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Politics is a dynamic activity: the actions of one party have an impact upon the other. But the stronger force meets less resistance in following it's path whilst the weaker one is more frequently buffeted. Such was the story throughout the Obama and McCain campaigns from start to finish. The Obama campaign consistently pursued it's strategic goals and resisted temptations to pursue targets of opportunity offered by McCain errors at a cost to their pursuit of strategic goals. In contrast, the McCain campaign pursued precisely the opposite course, sacrificing again and again the long term for the short term whilst over-reacting to the actions of Team Obama.

The Obama campaign has always focused on big goals, pursued with great effort over long periods of time. It has always borne in mind both the challenge in front of it and looked over the horizon towards what's next. It has remained focused, reacted appropriately and operated efficiently and thus it has achieved it's strategic objectives. It has been both a pleasure and an honour to have witnessed this politically and I am thrilled at the thought of what this offers in policy terms in the years to come.

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