Atlas Group Strives to Map Out Success for Democrats

Texas gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn lost her bid to be placed on the ballot as
Texas gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn lost her bid to be placed on the ballot as "Grandma." (By Harry Cabluck -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, July 30, 2006

Three of the Democratic Party's top field organizers have formed a group to provide their party's 2008 presidential nominee with road maps to victory in the dozen or so battleground states.

The effort is known as the Atlas Project and is being organized by political operatives Steve Rosenthal, Michael Whouley and Mary Beth Cahill. The group will analyze election data, interview local Democrats, and mount a polling and targeting effort to devise a comprehensive strategy to win votes in these states.

In 2004, Rosenthal headed America Coming Together, a liberal advocacy group that built large turnout operations in battleground states, while Cahill managed and Whouley served as the senior adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). After the election, the three went into consulting, and now they have reunited to oversee what Rosenthal describes as "a more thorough targeting analysis than has ever been done before."

The project, with an estimated cost of $3 million, will have four stages. This fall, the three founders, as well as a few full-time staffers, will begin studying election results from the past two presidential races in the 12 to 14 states likely to provide the margin of victory for the next president.

The group will then travel to the battleground states to interview elected officials, campaign operatives and key activists to learn about winning in these critical states.

The third leg of the project will be a broad polling and targeting operation. Three prominent polling firms -- Garin Hart Yang Research Group, Penn Schoen & Berland and Brilliant Corners -- will conduct the surveys, while Copernicus Analytics will analyze demographic data so political messages can be crafted to reach very small constituencies.

Finally, the group will draft memos focused on the individual states and based on everything they have learned. The group hopes to finish the road maps by January 2008.

"In the heat of an election, it seems we're always playing catch-up," Rosenthal said. "Our goal with this project is to bring together the best strategic thinkers -- the innovators at the state and national level -- to learn from what's been done over the past several elections."

The Candidate You Know as Grandma

Carole Keeton Strayhorn says she is still Grandma, even if Texas voters can't vote for her that way.

Texas's gubernatorial race is pitting Strayhorn, the state comptroller since 1999, against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R), Democrat Chris Bell, and Richard "Kinky" Friedman, a musician and author who is being allowed to use his nickname on the ballot this fall.

Strayhorn has long campaigned around the state as "Grandma," and she petitioned to be called that on the ballot. The Texas secretary of state declined her request, saying "Grandma" is a slogan.

Strayhorn sued in court to use the name, but a court said Thursday that it lacked jurisdiction to overrule the secretary of state.

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