“Iowa is Tuesday,” he said.
Messina was referring to Iowa’s precinct caucuses, but not those drawing all the media attention — the ones that will start the process of selecting a Republican presidential nominee. Democrats, too, will be caucusing Tuesday night, and the Obama campaign views the gatherings as one more opportunity for organizing in a state they expect to be among the many that will be fiercely contested in November.
On Tuesday night, as Republicans fill in their ballots, the president will address Democratic caucus attendees by video link from Washington. His presence signals the Obama campaign’s determination not to be drowned out by the GOP race and to use whatever platform is available to cast Republicans as protectors of the privileged at the expense of the middle class.
As Republicans squabble over their pick, the Obama team is already well deployed in Iowa and elsewhere. Messina said his paid staff there numbers “north of 20,” arrayed in eight field offices across the state. Until the Republican presidential campaigns finally ramped up in December, the Obama campaign may have had more paid staff members on the ground in Iowa than all the Republican campaigns put together.
The Obama team has been preparing all year for what it anticipates will be a much more competitive general election than in 2008. While campaign officials believe the president is starting 2012 in a slightly better position than he was in last summer, they also recall that even in what was considered a relatively easy victory four years ago, 47 percent of the electorate voted against him.
Messina, having seen conventional wisdom about the GOP race change by the month, said he can’t pretend to predict whether the other party’s nomination contest will be over quickly or drag on for months, as Obama’s race against Hillary Rodham Clinton did in 2008.
“Our goal was by the end of this year to be ready for whenever it ended,” he said. “We’re ready now.”
The campaign has organizations up and running in all the battleground states. How many?
“We don’t talk about that,” he said, although with the campaign’s various possible routes to 270 electoral votes already well publicized, it is not difficult to compile that list.
Nor will Messina talk about the technological bells and whistles that have been undergoing testing in a few states and will soon be rolled out across the country. What he will say is: “We’ve always believed that 2011 was about building the strongest grass-roots campaign in modern history, and we’re on track to do that. . . . I believe we’re going to be better, faster and more focused on the ground.”
Since it opened the national reelection campaign office overlooking Chicago’s Millennium Park this past spring, Obama’s team has made more than 350,000 calls to supporters in Iowa, according to an official. Workers have held 4,000 one-on-one conversations with voters, a signature of the grass-roots style that has long been part of the Obama campaign’s DNA. And they have held 1,200 training sessions, house parties or phone banking meetings.