Obama in the Cornfields

OBAMA IN THE CORNFIELDS….Can Barack Obama win in Iowa even if he doesn’t pick up very many local endorsements? Mark Kleiman crunches the numbers and says it’s doable with a well-funded ground campaign:

Last time around, 125,000 Democrats turned out for the Iowa caucuses….So a candidate who turns out 100,000 of his own supporters is going to blow the field away….An organizer hired for the last two weeks before the caucuses ought to be able to round up 50 attendees. So 2,000 organizers ought to be able to turn out those 100,000 voters.

Let’s say a field organizer has to be paid $750/week, which might be on the high side. Then 2000 organizers for two weeks would cost $3 million. [Blah blah blah.] So it looks to me as if the whole thing could be done for $6 million. At the fund-raising levels now being established, that’s chump change.

Now, as Mark points out, if everyone else has astronomic amounts of money too, then maybe 100,000 supporters won’t be enough in 2008. But I think there’s something more fundamental here: all the money in the world isn’t going to raise total turnout all that significantly. At least, it hasn’t in the past. So what’s more likely is that total turnout will remain at around 125,000, or maybe increase modestly to 150,000 or so, and the candidates will simply be spending more money per vote. And as Howard Dean discovered in Iowa last year, there’s a limit to what money and sheer numbers of ground troops can do. Ringing someone’s doorbell five times just isn’t going to do any good if you haven’t been able to make the sale after ringing it twice. And running ads ten times a night buys you barely more than running them five times a night. Once you saturate a market, there’s nothing more that money can buy.

In any case, I doubt Obama will try to win Iowa with huge wads of cash anyway. He’ll save it for places like California and New York. In fact, if anything, I’d guess that Obama’s experience in community organizing is his biggest asset in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s nice to have money, but knowing — really knowing — how to motivate and organize your organizers is probably even more important.

Plus ethanol. Don’t forget about ethanol.