All Politicking is Local: How the Obama Campaign is Using Technology to Change Elections on the Ground


"It's the difference between open and closed source." That's how Cyrus Krohn, director of the eCampain division of the Republican National Committee, describes the approaches of the Obama and McCain campaigns.

The Democratic campaign is using technology to create a very large, relatively unstructured army of local volunteers to register voters and get out the vote; the Republicans are relying on a more conventional, top-down approach.

The stakes are high: the better ground game can be worth 2-3% on Election Day, says veteran strategist Joe Trippi. That means that in a close race, the field organization could make the difference. And even if the presidential election is decided by a wider margin, turnout will have a big impact on other races to be decided November 4.

The GOP once had a large lead in connecting huge voter-file databases to volunteers; a crash program by the Democrats closed that gap. Now the Obama campaign is betting that its net-enabled strategy will allow it to leapfrog the vaunted Republican technology effort, and that its local cadres will make the difference at the polls. (The strategy doesn't impress everyone.)

I've posted a draft of my upcoming feature on this topic. Part One, The Ground Game: Open Source vs Closed, sets up the big themes. Part Two, Local Area Networks: How the Obama Campaign Works on the Ground, looks at a group of volunteers in small-town North Carolina. Part Three: Connecting the Campaign: How the Democrats Built Their Network, looks at the plumbing and wiring behind the scenes. And Part Four, Going Mobile: Texting and Twittering in the New Ground Game, is about, well, the stuff the title says it's about.

Thanks to all the smart folks who took time during a busy political season to help with this article.