The president sent the team off to Chicago, far away from the hothouse of Washington and Beltway chatter, to use 2011 to build the foundation and reassemble the army from 2008. As the Republican candidates were gearing up and then battling one another through the summer and fall of 2011, the Obama team was investing enormous amounts of time, money and creative energy in what resembled a high-tech political start-up whose main purpose was to put more people on the streets, armed with more information about the voters they were contacting, than any campaign had ever attempted.
The Obama team had to be better in 2012. The weak economy made the president vulnerable to defeat. His political advisers knew well that turning out the vote would be far more challenging in the reelection effort than it had been in 2008. Many of his early supporters were disappointed and some were outright frustrated with Obama’s performance in office. The advisers recognized that Republicans were trying to block his agenda by questioning whether he had the leadership skills or the tenacity to get done what his first campaign had promised. Obama advisers also knew this campaign would have to be far more negative than the first — with few of the aspirational themes of 2008 — and they began preparing to attack Mitt Romney, the presumed challenger, long before the Republican primaries and caucuses began.
One of the hallmarks of Obama’s 2012 campaign was its prodigious appetite for research. The trio at the top — Messina, senior strategist David Axelrod and White House senior adviser David Plouffe — were enthusiastic consumers of research. Though different in their approaches to politics — Axelrod operated intuitively, Plouffe’s watchwords were “Prove it” and Messina wanted to be able to measure everything — they all pushed the campaign for more research, testing, analysis and innovation.
Message and media operated on one track. The other track focused on identifying, registering, mobilizing and ultimately turning out Obama voters. At the Chicago headquarters, these efforts were guided by Messina and Jen O’Malley Dillon, the deputy campaign manager, along with a sizable team of political organizers and tech-savvy newcomers.
“There’s always been two campaigns since the Internet was invented, the campaign online and the campaign on the doors. What I wanted was, I didn’t care where you organized, what time you organized, how you organized, as long as I could track it, I can measure it, and I can encourage you to do more of it.”