POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Campaign Preparing Push In California


The Barack Obama campaign is getting ready to sharply crank up its already sizeable California operations even before voting takes place in the four early primary and caucus states.

"We're kicking it into a higher gear," former state controller and current California Obama campaign co-chair Steve Westly told The Huffington Post.

The campaign is preparing to redeploy a bumped-up wave of staff and volunteers and to the Golden State once the January caucus and primary votes are completed in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, according to Westly.

The California primary takes place on so-called "Tsunami Tuesday," February 5.

Californians may see the first Obama television ads after the first of the year as well as a drive to maximize absentee voting for Obama. Absentee ballots are available starting Jan. 7 and a high percentage of California Democrats vote by mail.

In a sign of a possible shift in momentum in the state, Westly said that California-based fundraisers previously aligned with the other major Democratic candidates have defected to the Obama camp.

"I cannot give you any names, but I can tell you that there have been other people from other teams who have come over," Westly said.

When asked if the defections came from the Hillary Clinton or John Edwards campaigns Westly said: "I think that would be a good guess. And that has all happened in the past two weeks."

California has been a major source of election cash for Obama, and his campaign has been building up its field operations in the state for months. Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire where voters expect to personally meet the contenders, the vastness of California - and the demands to deal with the other Feb. 5 races in more than 20 other states - calls for a strategy that is heavily reliant on paid media.

Westly said that Californians won't have the early state advantage of "of the campaign on their doorstep." But by the first of the year, he said, "Californians will see regular TV from Obama."

California stands to be the biggest prize of this primary season. Democratic voters in 22 states will go to the polls that day, and over half of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention next summer will be up for grabs.

For weeks, Obama insiders have been touting the importance of Tsunami Tuesday to their campaign, with staffers encouraging reporters to take a look at what their team is doing in the Feb. 5 states.

Though staffers will be shifted to California, Westly said the Obama effort would be focused on a networked ground game. The campaign views its emphasis on net-and-grass roots work to be as important as endorsements and paid workers.

Obama's prospects in California are improving, Westly said, as new polling data shows the campaign tightening in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

As part of the ramp-up in California, Obama spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh said the campaign also plans to open its fourth Golden State office in Sacramento on Dec. 20. Two weeks ago Obama set up shop in San Diego, and the campaign also has offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. There is also talk of a fifth office in the Central Valley.

But Mesloh stressed that a lot of the groundwork for the California operation has been set for some time now.

"There were already 110,000 people signed up through our web site, so we have already enjoyed a very significant level of grass roots support and activism," Mesloh told The Huffington Post.

Obama still trails chief rival Clinton in both polling and fundraising in California, and the state has long been considered a lock in the Clinton column. A SurveyUSA poll of likely Democratic primary voters released on Nov. 5 showed 53 percent of those surveyed favoring the New York senator; Obama registered at 25 percent in the same poll.

But Westly dismissed those early polls saying, " I don't think Californians really will really focus in on the election until the first of the year."

The Obama camp is also hoping to use California's huge supporter base to help clinch a victory in neighboring Nevada, one of the four early states campaigns are relying on to build momentum ahead of Feb. 5.

At a 5,000-person rock concert-cum-fundraiser inside LA's Gibson Amphitheater on Monday, Obama's California Field Director Buffy Wicks asked Angelenos to travel to Nevada to work for the campaign.

"Something dramatic is happening here," Westly said.