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For Obama team, Democratic convention an 'organizing tool'

September 05, 2012|By Christi Parsons
  • First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C. on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.
First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech at the Time Warner Cable Arena… (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty…)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The decision to move President Obama’s speech indoors to avoid the rain isn’t just a logistical nightmare for his campaign team. It cancels the plan to register tens of thousands of North Carolina residents to vote as they waited in line for the Thursday night event.

But the change doesn’t derail a larger plan by the Obama campaign to use the Democratic National Convention as a nuts-and-bolts campaign planning event. It’s still an “organizing tool,” in the words of campaign manager Jim Messina.

To the viewing audience back home, nominating conventions tend to look like one long infomercial for the party’s presidential nominees.

PHOTOS: Protests of the DNC

At the 2008 convention in Denver, though, the Obama field operation discovered it could also be a one-stop shop to sign up voters and volunteers. Messina and company are now trying to expand the effort.

"We want to give them ownership of the convention," campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher said. "If people feel that ownership, it makes them more likely to get up and work on behalf of the president."

The ground game, of course, is where the Obama team has to shine. Money-wise, they won’t be able to the match the air war the Romney campaign and Republican-friendly groups are gearing up to unleash.

Obama campaign officials project confidence about the match-up.

“Just think about the numbers,” Messina told journalists at a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg News this week. “Six thousand people completed nine hours of volunteering just to get one ticket. That is a big chunk of business to what we need to get done on the ground.”

On stage this week, the audience will hear instructions on how to text a campaign donation, just a couple of weeks after federal election officials ruled such a program permissible.

The “Text to Give” program will also get mention in timely tweets from campaign officials with large Twitter followings.

PHOTOS: Scenes from the DNC

At the same time, livestreams of the convention proceedings with actor Kal Penn -- also available via SmartPhone -- will tell viewers how they can get involved.

Even before it began, the convention was already boosting the field organizing. The North Carolina campaign drew some 6,000 people into its volunteer network by promising them a ticket to the Obama speech. To qualify, all they had to do was turn out for three shifts, totaling nine hours of volunteer work, for Obama for America.

Those who couldn’t get in all of their shifts before the convention could still stand in line to get community tickets, which had to be activated online or via phone. Campaign officials say they issued those passes to 65,000 people and amassed a waiting list of 19,000 more -- all potential voters and some potential workers in the ground game.

Of course, the 65,000 community ticket holders won’t be able to attend the event. They’ll get a consolation conference call with the president, if they care to dial in. They’re all invited to watch parties going on in their neighborhoods.

The 6,000 volunteers will get an invitation to another Obama event sometime between now and November.

But the campaign knows they’re interested and knows where to find them. Field organizations are already making contact.

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Christi.Parsons@latimes.com

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