Last summer, the Obama campaign began supplementing that network with hundreds of its own workers. In previous years, that grass-roots army would have been starting from scratch just a few months out from Election Day. Local party leaders are always skeptical whenever the national party comes down in the last minute and says, This is the way its going to be, state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek said. The regional political directors have become permanent intermediaries between local leaders and the national party, so that hostility toward outsiders no longer exists.
Even before the presidential race, Meek saw the rewards of a beefed-up staff, as Democrats widened their majorities in the state Legislature and picked up sheriff and county commissioner spots in traditionally Republican western North Carolina in 2006. That has made it easier for the state party to field candidates in other Republican-
dominated areas. It helps explain how Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan was able to handily defeat North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) this week.
I didnt think there was ever any question that the 50-state strategy was going to pay off, Meek said. The surprise is that its paying off so fast.
The 50-state strategy did more than fatten state party payrolls. After fixing the DNCs glitch-plagued voter file, Dean opened it to state parties free of charge and insisted they learn to use it, sending holdouts to remedial training in Cleveland. We got technology that predicted with 85 percent certainty how someone would vote based on their credit card [purchases], Dean said. The Republicans had that for years.
Dean is reluctant to take credit for Obamas red-state victories. The reasons why were doing well in these states has more to do with him than with me, he said in an interview just before Election Day. It was fortuitous that we complemented each other ... you have someone running the party with a 50-state strategy and a candidate with the ability to appeal across a lot of the lines that the Republicans drew in America.
Indeed, most of Obamas success in the red states is his own. His grass-roots forces ultimately dwarfed the DNC organizing effort, and his message was designed to transcend the partisan divide. But thats just evidence that Deans 50-state strategy, once widely derided as a costly diversion, is on its way to becoming party orthodoxy.
Emanuel and Carville declined to comment.
Dan Gilgoff is politics editor at Beliefnet.com, where he writes the God-o-Meter blog.