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Mayhill Fowler Headshot

Fatigue Hinders Obama Camp's Ground Game

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The difference between the Clinton and Obama Texas ground games going into the Tuesday Two-Step is this: the Clinton field organizers don't know what they're doing; the Obama field organizers know but they're too tired to do it. The Clinton teams are fresh-faced, well-rested Texas women who love and support Hillary and are doing their best for her. But they're new to contested primaries and caucuses. The Obama field organizers, on the other hand, have fought their way through Iowa, Nevada, and often California or Arizona before being sent to Texas. From here, they will be going on, some of them, to Mississippi and North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama come and go from Ohio to Texas and back, and they speechify. These events provide the visuals of energized candidate and sign-shaking supporters against the red-white-and-blue that feed the news cycle. The behind-the-scenes for the two campaigns in Texas suggests the reality. The Clinton Campaign is spread thin, short on surrogates, short of the numbers of trained and experienced volunteers and paid staff that "the opponent," as both Clintons consistently call Obama, has been able to field. The Obama team leaders brought in from previous contests are exhausted. Many of these battle-seasoned and mostly young people now have the responsibility of fending off a Clinton insurgency at the March 4th caucuses. (Why this is a daunting task will be the subject of my Monday report.) If it weren't for the infusion of new troops, primarily but not exclusively Tejanos for Clinton and African-Americans for Obama, the campaigns would more noticeably be faltering. But the ominous signs of burn-out are there.

This week in Houston I had hoped to learn a few things from watching a caucus training session and a mock caucus. But the first two events I attended fell apart. As the woman who was supposed to hold a pretend caucus in the Houston neighborhood called The Heights told me, "I'm too tired to do it tonight." After the Beaumont town hall meeting (a clip of which has played endlessly on cable news and which I covered), a distraught volunteer cornered a local Obama field organizer and tried to talk to him about the problems she'd been having canvassing in tough neighborhoods. The lack of affect on the part of the young man suggested the pressure he was already under. These are but two examples of the emotionally closed down, mentally bunkered staffers I'm observing in the parts of Texas I can reasonably reach from Houston. You would not know that these are the same people who were so open and friendly and eager in the earlier contests. The change, which is not surprising, heralds one of the costs--one of the human costs--if the race continues to be protracted.

The two campaigns' ground games are also getting more brazen and more careless. In Beaumont, to the amusement of the audience waiting for Obama, a staffer kept rearranging the spectators seated on the podium, who are always the backdrop to an event photo, to achieve the right mix of color and gender. (He found one of the few Hispanic women at the event for his staging.) Later that evening, at a Clinton rally in Houston, an organizer passed out "hand made signs" to the crowd--in plain view of the traveling press. Seemingly, he no longer cared what the press might say. On an important level, people working for the Texas campaigns just want it to be over. It was fun at first, but now Democratic Texas has become rather like Poland, with campaign armies passing each other in the night, and the locals fearing, especially since the Clinton Campaign has reserved a right to sue over the caucuses, what shambles the campaigns may leave behind for the Texas Democratic Party and the chances for local candidates in November.