Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is barely a month old, but Camille Gervasio and other volunteers nationwide already are hard at work.
“Are you with us? Are you in?” Gervasio asks into her iPhone, dialing through a call sheet resting on her laptop to line up supporters for an election 18 months away.
In call centres like this one on the eighth floor of an office building, the president’s backers are trying to take advantage of a head start over the still-forming Republican field and the benefits of incumbency to rebuild a grassroots effort that mobilized millions of voters in 2008.
Obama’s campaign has pledged to reach out to every voter it was in contact with during his first run, a herculean 50-state organizational effort to reconnect with its supporters – some of them now disillusioned with the president.
Without having to focus on a primary opponent, Obama’s campaign also is spending much of its time and money trying to build foundations of support early in battleground states like Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Ohio that backed Obama last time but have since elected Republican governors, weakening state Democratic Party operations.
“Every single day we have to go scratch and claw for those votes,” Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said recently in a video outlining Obama’s strategy. He argued that Obama’s team must “act like an insurgent campaign” to win re-election.
In some ways, Obama’s first campaign never folded.
After he was elected, he turned it into an organization called Organizing for America to communicate with supporters, rally them behind his policies and encourage get-out-the-vote efforts during last year’s congressional elections. The group, run through the Democratic National Committee, has been criticized even by some Democrats for being ineffective at translating support for Obama’s campaign into support for his policies.
Since Obama officially announced his re-election campaign in early April, his advisers have been working to reignite the grassroots campaign that was inspired by Obama’s days as a community organizer.
Under the slogan “I’m In!,” volunteer events are under way across the country, from brainstorming sessions at coffee houses to holding phone banks, house parties and door-to-door neighbourhood canvassing events.
“We’ve expanded upon what we did in 2008,” said Jeremy Bird, the Obama campaign’s national field director. “We could have said we’ll come back to you when we run another presidential election, but we’ve maintained contact with our supporters, they’ve been involved in voter outreach, legislative fights, training people.”