With Ohio's March 4th primary looming as the possible make-it-or-break it battleground for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama has landed his campaign A-Team three weeks ahead of the Buckeye State's D-Day.
Rival candidate Senator Hillary Clinton is also deploying her most battle-ready field marshals to Ohio. While both campaigns have had skeleton teams in Ohio since January, now the big guns have unpacked their bags and set up their state headquarters in Columbus. They've also brought their entourage of top managers, field directors, GOTV staffers and consultants with media buys planned, along with scheduled campaign events and candidate appearances.
Behind the scenes of the Obama-Clinton race to capture Ohio's 161 delegates, the biggest jackpot of states still in contention, it will be a killer match between each campaign's point man: Paul Tewes and Robby Mook.
Among campaign professionals,Tewes is widely regarded among the very most talented of political organizers in the nation - he's largely responsible for Obama's surprise win in Iowa, which proved that the "inevitable" nomination of Hillary Clinton wasn't so inevitable and that white voters, independents, and women could be lured to Obama.
Mook also comes with an impressive campaign record. He was Howard Dean's field director in the New Hampshire Primary and a former deputy field director for the Democratic National Committee. As the state director for Nevada, he led Hillary Clinton's impressive win there last month, successfully wooing Latinos and women back to the Clinton fold.
For each of these professional political operatives, winning means something different.
Mook is Clinton's new Ohio state director and needs to deliver a big win here for her, by at least 20 points or more. According to the Associated Press latest numbers, Obama leads with 1,232 delegates and Clinton holds 1,205 delegates and desperately needs a blow-out in Ohio.The latest poll conducted by SurveyUSA, between Sunday and Monday, reported that Clinton still holding onto the lead in here. She claims 56% to Obama's 39%.
Obama's Ohio state director, Tewes, just needs to keep it close enough for Obama to earn his proportional share of Ohio's delegates rich primary, which will be a battle that looks possible - even more than possible. Obama has a slim shot at an Ohio victory as of this moment, but as long as he just shows well (no less than 10-15 points behind Clinton in strategic areas), he stands to maintain his lead over delegates-won as long as he continues to outpace Clinton in the momentum game and grabs his expected smaller share of the Texas and Pennsylvania delegates on March 4.
Both campaigns are literally racing to get their respective Ohio teams onto the field. However, Obama's campaign looks to be outpacing the Clinton machine - at least, this week.
While Chelsea Clinton stumps for her mother in Ohio today (to decidedly mixed reviews), Obama is flying in his popular wife, Michelle, to campaign tomorrow. Senator Clinton is also winging toward Ohio.
The most disturbing number for the Clinton camp is the rising trend in Obama's momentum. He's gained a 20-point bump from Quinniapac's December 5th poll, which calculated Clinton with a 26 point lead over Obama. But his recent eight-state victory streak combined with Clinton's big margin losses, financial problems, and campaign shake-ups has helped Obama cut Clinton's Ohio lead nearly in half.
Bill Sloat reported on his blog that Obama's campaign has already tried to secure a on-ground beach, flexing its organizational muscle with 50 campaign events scheduled on his Ohio website over the next week compared to Sen. Clinton's three events promoted on hers.
"While Senator Clinton begins her Ohio campaign with support from much of the political establishment, we are confident that the strength of our longstanding grassroots support in the state will translate into a formidable organization," Tewes told Sloat.
Tewes is making good on his reputation as an ingenious organizer.
There are events scheduled all across the state over the next few days, and if a supporter would like, they can organize their own events with names like: "Vote or Die Generation to the Rescue" (women for Obama house parties) in Columbus, "Show Your Love for Obama (Valentine's Day honk & wave) in Akron, "Your Car is a Billboard" in Canton, and "Cleveland-Marshall Students & Alumni for Obama" in Cleveland. Then there are the numerous house parties:
Beth Hughes, a teacher who lives in Fairfield County, hasn't been involved in politics since her early 20s, but started volunteering for the Obama campaign in January by making telephone calls to voters in earlier primary states. She agreed to host an organizing event in her home next Monday but had to change the location.
"There were too many people to fit in my house, so I asked the pizzeria across the street to open up and let us use their place for the event," she laughs.
"I've never been involved at the ground roots level before. Well, the last time was when I worked for a presidential candidate was for George McGovern! I was attracted to Obama because of how effective he was at getting people interested in the discussion of government again; the loss of cynicism and the hope that he brings into the campaign. That's what turned me on."
She isn't alone.
Eddy Hooper and his partner, Brenda Jarvis, are hosting an organizing meeting for Obama in the northern suburb of Dayton, next week. When Hooper asked Brenda if they could host the meeting at their home, her only question: "Do you think we can get this house cleaned before next Monday?"
"I've never done this before but I feel compelled to do it even though it's a little scary, it's also cool. Our daughters can learn that running for president and keeping this democracy safe and free is a lot more than just voting," said Hooper.
Hooper agrees that Senator Clinton is a competent leader in the senate, but admitted that it was Barack who stole his heart.
"Barack got me back in 2004. I heard every word. That speech ranks right up there with the greatest speeches and his campaign includes everyone. We need to unite the country and repair our reputation in the world. Breaks my heart to what is going on with this country's good name. Obama reaches out to Dems, Republicans, and Independents. He's willing to work with other people and he asks us to be involved, not just rely on Washington. We're in this together, but you are the change and we all need to do something to make the world better," said Hooper.
Although Mrs. Clinton continues capturing big-time endorsements and on Thursday she will be sharing the stage in Columbus with former Ohio Senator of astronaut fame, John Glenn, the new Obama Ohio team was quick to dampen any positive press coverage.
An email press release from Obama's Ohio press spokesman going out Thursday that the Clinton campaign had declared Ohio a "must win state" also warned that "Senator Clinton will face a formidable opponent in Ohio: her record."
And so it begins and it won't end in Ohio until March 4, when voters not accustomed to receiving phone calls at 7:30 in the morning from strangers and from robo-polls, cast their preference and perhaps, become the next kingmakers in this fluid Democratic contest.