With Tap and Click, Obama Team Maps Effort ; Expecting a Close Race, Campaign Workers Mine Data for a Strategic Edge

By Jim Rutenberg; Jeff Zeleny | International Herald Tribune, March 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

With Tap and Click, Obama Team Maps Effort ; Expecting a Close Race, Campaign Workers Mine Data for a Strategic Edge


Jim Rutenberg; Jeff Zeleny, International Herald Tribune


Saying the expect the November race to be a close one, those leading President Barack Obama's re-election campaign are sparing no effort in contacting those who swept him into office in 2008.

With a "chief scientist" specializing in consumer behavior, an "analytics department" monitoring voter trends, and a geek squad of dozens huddled at computer screens editing video or writing code, the sprawling office complex looks like a corporate research and development lab.

But it is home to the largely secret engine of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, where scores of political strategists, data analysts, corporate marketers and Web producers are sifting through information gleaned from Facebook, voter logs and thousands of in-person visits to reassemble and re-energize the scattered coalition of supporters who swept him into the White House four years ago.

Mr. Obama has begun reprising his election-style speeches of 2008, attacking Republicans and defending his record. His team is ready to begin a major election-year advertising blitz at a moment's notice as the Republican nominating contest begins drawing to a close.

But a huge part of the effort in Chicago is dedicated to less flashy yet potentially vital behind-the-scenes work taking place to address some of Mr. Obama's less visible political challenges.

Many of the small-dollar donors who gave early and often in 2008 have failed to rematerialize, slowing the campaign's fund-raising -- though officials say they have no doubt that they will raise at least the $750 million that they did then. Some volunteers who went to work enlisting friends and neighbors have been turned off by unmet expectations and the hard realities of partisan Washington, though the Republican attacks on Mr. Obama this year have helped bring some back into the fray.

Campaign officials say they have lost track of many reliable Democratic voters, particularly lower-income people who have lost their homes or their jobs or both, and can no longer be reached at the addresses or phone numbers the campaign had on file.

So Mr. Obama's re-election team is sifting through reams of data available through the Internet or fed back to it by its hundreds of staff members on the ground in all 50 states; identifying past or potential supporters and donors, and testing e-mail and Web-based messages that can entice them back into the fold.

Campaign officials said the Republicans' internal nominating fight has bought them critical time to develop their campaign machinery. They have been carefully tracking the comments of Mitt Romney, and, more recently, Rick Santorum, but for now, "That is a sideshow," Jim Messina, the campaign manager, said in an interview.

The president's re-election headquarters looks more like a company than a campaign. Over the past year, a long, wide office has added more than 300 workers. The campaign declines to say how many additional employees are posted in offices across the county, but a payroll of $3 million in January suggests the staff is larger than any team ever assembled for a presidential race.

Having spent $48 million, the campaign invested heavily in its effort to find and reconnect with past or potentially future donors and volunteers, and entice them to re-engage, be it through donations or volunteering as part of one of the thousands of neighborhood "teams" it is seeking to build nationwide.

For instance, with the help of Web developers recruited from the private sector, it has dedicated considerable hours creating technology that can make its Web site fit perfectly onto any screen, be it an iPhone, a BlackBerry or a Droid -- a seemingly small detail that campaign officials say can make a huge difference when it comes to enticing donors or volunteers to stay connected or click a "donate" button. …

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