Retail Politics: Dems Step Up Organizing in North Carolina

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Interesting conversation with Jack Sanders at the North Carolina delegation ice cream social last night (Jack and I have been acquainted for a couple of years). Jack is the chairman of the Orange County Democratic party in North Carolina, the county that includes Chapel Hill. It’s by far the most liberal county in the state: it voted 67% for John Kerry in 2004, whereas Bush won the state overall by 12 points.

In a sign of how serious Senator Barack Obama is about putting North Carolina in play this Fall (the last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976), Obama has hired three paid staffers to organize Orange county alone. As far as Jack is aware, John Kerry had none in 2004, despite having a North Carolinian, John Edwards, on the ticket. Statewide this year, Obama has over 150 paid staffers in the Tar Heel state, making a major target of opportunity for the Obama campaign.

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Now, having Obama help organize the county is great, as it should help all Democratic county office holders. But Jack did identify one concern. If Obama canvassers go knock on doors in the morning to figure out who’s thinking about voting Democratic, and the county sends its own people in the afternoon, there’s a good chance they’ll piss people off. In other words, the county needs to know where the Obama canvassers are going, and the Obama campaign needs to know what ground the county party has already covered. To be sure, this falls into the category of a good problem to have—like a baseball team having too much pitching.

Retail politics—that is, the hard slog of grass roots, door-to-door election work—gets almost no attention from the elite talking heads in the press. It’s not sexy and it doesn’t allow the beltway media to nurse their obsession with horse-race polling, petty scandals, and self-referential tripe. But, it’s at the retail level—the work that folks like Jack, Obama’s paid staffers and volunteers are doing—where elections can be won or lost. The evidence is that Kerry got badly beat on the retail level by Bush in 2004. The signs in 2008 suggest that this year’s Democratic nominee is ready to turn that around.

Watch Barack Obama‘s victory speech after winning the North Carolina primary:

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