Sunday, December 23, 2007

Outside Organizations Give Hillary Clinton a Boost

This post follows up my earlier entry, "Interest Groups to Dominate Big Money Campaign Finance."

In the wake of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign reform legislation, we're seeing the increasing importance of interest groups in the political process - not just in the realm of money and politics, but in traditional grassroots organizing and mobilization.

This Los Angeles Times story on outside interest group influence in Hillary Clinton's campaign really captures the trend:

They are the basic chores that can make or break a political candidate: identifying likely supporters, getting them excited and making sure they turn out when it's time to vote.

And as the Democratic presidential campaigns focus on the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Hillary Rodham Clinton has a major advantage: Three organizations outside her campaign are lending a big helping hand with those difficult and expensive tasks, pouring more than $2 million and an army of fresh troops into the last-minute push. The outside effort, much larger than any being mounted on behalf of a rival campaign, is led in large part by EMILY's List, the nation's largest political action committee and a significant force in Democratic politics. Allied with it are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers.

The unions are supporting pro-Clinton radio and television advertising and direct mail contacts with targeted voting groups. Separately, AFSCME has dispatched more than 200 paid workers to Iowa. The fly-in gives Clinton about twice as many such workers in the state as rival Barack Obama, officials of his campaign say.

EMILY's List also is trying a new technique developed with the help of Google to reach female voters there, especially those who are unsure how to navigate the state's complex caucus system. Whenever someone in Iowa searches online for "recipe," "stocking stuffer" or "yoga," for instance, a banner will pop up inviting the searcher to visit a website supporting Clinton.

How much effect the last-minute infusion of money and other resources will have is unclear, but the effort has stirred concern in the Obama campaign. "When you are in a tight race like this, any- and everything matters," said Obama's field director, Steve Hildebrand.

The effort by EMILY's List and the two unions reflects the increasing importance of so-called independent expenditures, in which groups officially independent of a particular campaign pay for advertising, consulting fees and other expenses that might otherwise be covered by the candidate. Such spending is on the rise in both Republican and Democratic campaigns.

And such groups can accept more in donations than a candidate can. Individuals may give no more than $2,300 to a candidate per election, but they can give $5,000 to independent political action committees like EMILY's List. So long as the outside groups avoid "coordinating" their efforts with the favored campaign, federal rules permit the groups to advocate for the candidate by name.

Here's more from the article on EMILY's List:

Its name is an acronym for the slogan "Early Money Is Like Yeast" ("it helps the dough rise"). It raised $46 million for candidates in the 2006 election. It trained campaign personnel. And it has been a source of early cash for female Democratic candidates across the country who support abortion rights.

In addition to its own spending on Clinton's behalf in Iowa, the group has bundled hundreds of contributions directly to her campaign. It also has begun a separate effort encouraging New Hampshire women to support Clinton when their state votes Jan. 8.

Female voters are crucial to Clinton's success, but her relationship with them is complicated. She draws her strongest support from younger, blue-collar women who view her as a champion. Wealthier, college-educated women, surveys show, are drawn more to Obama.

The Web-based effort by EMILY's List got its start earlier this year, after research showed that more than half of those who caucused in Iowa in 2004 were women and that their numbers could soar in 2008.

All the campaigns have been targeting women -- it's one reason Obama campaigned with Oprah Winfrey. But Clinton strategists found that their candidate did particularly well among women who were unsure whether they would participate in a caucus.

The most common reason women said they were hesitant to attend caucuses was that they didn't know what would happen. EMILY's List launched a website called You Go Girl -- the one linked in banner ads on the Iowa Google searches -- to educate voters.

Another reason some women said they might not attend caucus sessions was family obligations such as providing dinner. So the website offers "caucus-night recipes," including chicken-noodle and taco casseroles.

Other campaigns are buying Google ads, but typically they are linked to political search terms, not consumer preferences.

"We wanted to find women where they live online," said the technology guru at EMILY's List, Maren Hesla. "If we can increase caucus attendance by just 5,000 statewide, that could make the difference in a race like this."

We'll see alright, come January, how effective all of this outside support is.

Clinton's been having a lot of problems with the women's vote (as I've noted before). Perhaps if EMILY's List mobilizes the down-market chicken noodle mom turnout, she'll have a shot at beating Barack Obama to salvage whatever hopes the campaign might have had for some early momentum (early Iowa and New Hampshire momentum is the yeast in this case).