No one has gained more from the new net-based political organizing than presidential candidate Barack Obama. Yet in states like Kentucky, where web savvy is not widespread, the Obama campaign's apparent failure to link with Democratic Party operatives and to give supporters off-line ways to contact him and each other could cost him heavily. That raises questions about the so-called "50 state campaign strategy."
"It's a sin and a shame," says Jo Anne Crawford, Director, Kentucky Democratic Party District # 3, a member of its executive committee, and treasurer of the Democratic Women of Kentucky Club in Louisville/Jefferson County. She explains, "Obama's people have no Kentucky state office, no listed Kentucky phone number, and they closed their offices in Lexington and Louisville [the state's two largest cities] right after the primaries. Before the primaries, there were at least metal Obama buttons that we could pass out and people just snapped them up. Since the primaries, the Obama campaign has not furnished us with buttons, yard signs, bumper stickers, any of it. All the other candidates that I've seen provided those things free. With Obama, his supporters have to call an 800 number and buy all that. For a while, we did not even have the 800 number."
Staffing the Louisville Democratic Party headquarters on Mondays, Crawford reports that she often finds 40-45 messages on the answering machine when she comes in. Yet she says, "He's just not responding to us."
Consequently, there are few Obama signs even in fervent Louisville supporters' yards.
MoveOn.org, the key progressive online organization backing Obama, meanwhile sends e-mail invitations to its Louisville fundraisers and meetings, but the local party headquarters has no information in its "Contacts" binder on MoveOn.org.
In fact, when asked about MoveOn, Crawford said "Moo Vaughn Who?"
That matters. Louisville is among the 30 largest cities in the U.S. It would be the 16th largest if numerous neighborhoods within its borders were not functioning as independent towns. At the only Louisville Obama rally held thus far, thousands thronged the convention center and thousands more were turned away at the door. There is widespread outspoken support for Obama among young people, manual workers and the black community. The local clubs of the Democratic Party are one key to reaching white women over 50, who form a disproportionate number of the party's stalwarts. Yet according to Crawford, the state and local party and the local clubs are not organizing for Obama, because they are getting no Obama back up.
Granted, like many symbols of the old politics, the Louisville Democratic Party is visibly losing steam. The Party has held the mayor's office of Louisville since the 1980s, but "Mayor for Life" Jerry Abramson [D, 1985-] has his own machine. Even the once prominent party headquarters has moved to a hard-to-find industrial lot.
Mercedes-Benz "Auto Werkshop" garage owner Gerald Atherton, seeing me driving back and forth searching, offered to help. He too soon discovered that the local headquarters was not listed on the state Democratic Party website. If contacted, the state office could furnish a phone number but not an address. The local phone book noted accurately that the headquarters was on Barrett Avenue, but the street number was wrong, and neighbors were unable to pinpoint it. I finally found a wind-torn plastic Democratic Headquarters sign. Far down the hill from the sign, in a locked building in an empty industrial parking lot, was the headquarters. It had no Obama literature, stickers or signs.
With piercing blue eyes, tightly curled white hair, turquoise earrings, a rainbow-colored pullover and turquoise slacks, crisp and wanting to work, Party Director Crawford looked as lonely as the Maytag repairman.
Anyone wishing to forge better links might call Louisville party chairman Tim Longmeyer (1-502-341-3609) or the Obama headquarters in Chicago (1-866-675-2008). MoveOn political action can be reached through http://pol.moveon.org/; The link for Obama in Kentucky is at firstname.lastname@example.org That of course does not help those people who are not web denizens and need to use a phone.