If we think back four years ago, Howard Dean was in some ways what Barack Obama is now – the new thing, waging a campaign that seemed unique, and attracting enormous crowds, much larger than anyone else running. But the Dean campaign was a fundamentally amateurish affair, in ways that contributed greatly to its ultimate demise. Remember those thousands of orange-hatted kids running around Iowa? In the end, they were defeated by John Kerry’s much smaller but far more skilled team. Many of the top leadership on the Dean campaign were people who had precious little experience in presidential politics, and for all their enthusiasm, they ultimately weren’t up to the task. This isn’t to say it was all the staff’s fault; every campaign rises and falls on its candidate.
What’s notable about Obama is that his campaign is, first, staffed by people who know what they’re doing. They’re not the older Shrumian generation that has lost untold numbers of campaigns; they’re a little younger, but very smart and plenty experienced. And this week shows it.
All the other candidates released their fundraising totals yesterday; today we have stories about how Clinton raised $26 million, breaking all the records; Edwards raised $14 million, extremely solid and enough to keep him in the top tier; and everyone else is way down below. So what did the Obama campaign do? They decided to wait a day or two to release their numbers. So if he’s anywhere over $20 million, he’ll get a whole round of news coverage all to himself, about how he’s raised an extraordinary amount of money and is poised to take down Clinton. Had they released their numbers when everyone else did, they’d be one part of a much larger story in which Clinton was the star.
When you combine this with how they’ve reacted to a number of the other issues that have come up – aggressively shooting down the madrassa smear, including threatening Fox News over it, or the whole David Geffen dust-up, which made Clinton look over-sensitive and signaled Obama’s willingness to play hardball – the Obama campaign is clearly making the right moves at this early stage. Of course, Clinton’s team is even more battle-hardened, and Edwards has positioned himself as well as he could given the star power of the other two, all of which means this is the most interesting Democratic race in a couple of generations. But at the moment it’s hard to envision the Obama campaign imploding like other flavors of the month have in the past.