posted on May 30, 2008 12:23
Barack Obama needs a Manhattan Project. No, not a bomb. But an intensive strategic and research project like the one the Clinton campaign undertook in 1992, when they figured out why Clinton was running third (behind Bush and Perot) – and how to fix the problem.
The ’92 Clinton campaign is more famous for its War Room, which was conceived by Hillary Clinton. She also coined the name.
But what turned that campaign around – along with Perot briefly dropping out and ceding the stage – was the reintroduction of Clinton as The Man From Hope.
By June 1992, Clinton had been badly damaged. Most Americans knew only that he dodged the draft and allegedly had an affair with Gennifer Flowers (and others).
The Manhattan Project learned that voters thought Clinton was from a privileged background, wealthy enough to attend Ivy League schools. They saw him as a creature of Yale and Georgetown, not Arkansas.
So the campaign used the convention – and the run-up to it – to reintroduce Clinton. They told his story: single mother, modest background, alcoholic stepfather, scholarship winner, good student, Governor of Arkansas, etc., etc. The campaign gave voters the facts about Clinton – or, at least, its version of the facts.
Obama has to do the same thing now. Only political junkies know his story: a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas. A Christian, not a Muslim.
Many Americans know only the caricature: Jeremiah Wright, Farrakhan, Weathermen, most liberal Senator, etc.
A vacuum of information is deadly for candidates who are new on the scene. Ted Kennedy, for example, has a fixed national image. That’s because he’s been in the Senate as long as Obama has been alive. Obama is a blank slate. He can’t let the other side fill in the blanks, as Michael Dukakis and John Kerry did.
Obama might have beaten the Clintons, but he still has a lot to learn from them.
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