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Inside Obama’s race to history

BY NICOLE KARLIS | NOVEMBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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A little more than a year ago, energetic students donning blue and white Barack Obama shirts swarmed the UI campus, hoping for the victory of a man they believed could bring change.

Then on the night of Nov. 4, 2008, UI students who had been so crucial in the Obama movement celebrated a historic win.

Leading up to the Iowa caucuses, presidential candidates knew how important those Iowa City voters were, Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe told The Daily Iowan.

“We always had Johnson County pegged as something we had to perform well in,” he said. “We would not have won the president’s election without the young people in Iowa.”

A year into office, Plouffe — famous for planning one of the most strategic and motivating campaigns — will revisit Iowa City tonight to read from his new book, The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory, at 8 p.m. in the Englert Theatre, 221 E.Washington St.

Plouffe’s book gives an inside look at the strategies and challenges that faced the Obama campaign and its ability to get young people to the polls.

Before heading out to another reading in California, Plouffe told the DI young students in Iowa City played an especially big role in the victory of America’s first black president.

“They were attracted to Obama; the most important thing is that they heard him talk and heard him speak,” he said. “This was a campaign that trusted young people to really participate … and the power of people talking to people.”

Which is exactly what happened with UI junior Allie Panther.

“My friends were talking about [Obama], so I looked into him and what he stood for,” said Panther, who served as a volunteer and intern for the campaign. “The more I found out about him, the more I liked him.”

Former UI political-science Associate Professor David Redlawsk said the campaign’s strategy of mobilizing students was one that has often been discarded in the past.

“Obama’s campaign went after people whom other campaigns have ignored,” Redlawsk said.

Before managing his first presidential campaign in 2008, Plouffe served as a Democratic Party media consultant from 2001 to 2007, playing a significant part in the elections of U.S. senators, House members, and governors.

The Obama campaign is also being recognized now for its use of a grass-roots network.

“My hope is that politicians will put more [emphasis] on grass-roots campaign and the power of volunteers,” Plouffe said.

When asked about the criticism that the Obama campaign was cult-like and that the rhetoric didn’t have enough substance, Plouffe replied simply: “Well, that’s just nuts.”

Despite any criticism, it was one word that really grabbed voters’ attention — change.

“I think that it really spoke to people in the sense that things were fundamentally off,” Plouffe said.

After a year of decompressing from managing Obama’s campaign, Plouffe said, he is ready to step up again when the time comes.

“In two and a half years, it will be time for politics again,” he said. “Now, it’s the president’s time to solve a lot of problems.”


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