martes, 12 de junio de 2012

En este hombre reposan las esperanzas de Obama

Este señor que se parece al Reverendo Henry Kane de 'Poltergeist II' con unos años menos y unos kilso más, es Jim Messina, el campaign manager que dirige la operación de reelección del Presidente Obama. Sustituye en esa complicada misión a David Plouffe, el alabado campaign manager de 2008 que ahora permanece en la Casa Blanca como Senior Advisor.

Mother Jones nos habla de Messina:

Soon afterward, the president handed the then-41-year-old operator his next big challenge: managing his 2012 reelection campaign. It was the ultimate sign of confidence—a signal that Messina understands and reflects the ways of Obamaland.

Messina first joined the Obama team as chief of staff to David Plouffe, the stoic and taciturn 2008 campaign manager who relished message discipline and number-crunching. Rail-thin and tall with a boyish face and ruddy complexion, he fit in well with the insular, metrics-obsessed Obama crew. Messina is a true campaign rat who has said he prefers the war room atmosphere to the grind of governance, once noting, "I miss how bad a campaign office smells at midnight." (He told an interviewer in 2007 that his biggest campaign vice was "grease," recalling that he once ate 27 consecutive meals at McDonald's, upsetting his girlfriend.) "I personally couldn't tell you what he believes in," says a former campaign staffer who collaborated with him. "But he does reflect one distinguishing Obama quality: pragmatism."

After Obama won the presidency, Plouffe took time off to write a book and do some consulting, while Messina followed Obama to the White House. There he became known for being as hardcore as his boss, Rahm Emanuel, if not always as profane or flamboyant. (He does drive a Porsche.) He has referred to Emanuel as the "smartest political strategist of his generation." Some colleagues called him "mini-Rahm." It was not a compliment.

As deputy chief of staff, Messina kept a low public profile—he wasn't a cable TV fixture—but developed a reputation as the guy who could take care of the president's problems. A Treasury secretary nominee with a tax issue? Messina smoothed it over in the Senate. Tracking how various agencies would spend stimulus dollars? Messina was on it. The Washington Post dubbed him "Obama's fixer." He wore the label proudly.

Messina especially played the operator during the messy health care reform debate, when he cut deals that liberal advocates questioned. Before he joined up with Obama, his career had been mostly devoted to centrist Montana Sen. Max Baucus—who Messina once said was "like my father"—and some believed that this connection led the White House to put too much faith in Baucus' failed attempt to craft a health care compromise.

(...) As the White House's ambassador to Washington liberals—unions, abortion rights groups, environmental organizations, and general advocacy shops—Messina organized regular Tuesday meetings known as the Common Purpose Project. "Common Purpose was put together to manage the outside groups," says a Democratic strategist involved in its formation. "To keep them under control as much as possible. It aimed at manipulation more than organizing. Here was Jim Messina, the deputy chief of staff, coming to meetings, and people would be docile because they were getting access to the White House."

(...) Messina favors striking an aggressive stance in trumpeting the big-ticket accomplishments of the Obama administration—even those that hurt Democrats in the 2010 midterms. "Let everyone know: 'I like Obamacare,'" he wrote in a March email to supporters. "'What's not to like?'" It was a classic move: adopt the attacker's language to undermine it. Health care could be a selling point for the president, he told me, as long as the campaign could frame the question as, "Do you want Republicans to take away your mammograms and colonoscopies or insurance for preexisting conditions?"

Messina is an expert on wielding power in the small circles of Washington. But now he must mobilize a grassroots colossus that just in 2011 recruited tens of thousands of foot soldiers and hundreds of thousands of small-dollar donors. (Through the first quarter of 2012, about 50 percent of donations were under $200.) A big part of his job is to build rapport with those folks and keep them motivated—while also nurturing the heavy hitters. In one email to the troops in April, Messina slapped Karl Rove for saying the president wasn't up to his job and warned that a Rove super-PAC was raising $200 million from big donors. Weeks earlier, he'd had a meeting with big-ticket Wall Street donors, assuring them that Obama wouldn't be demonizing Big Finance during the campaign.

At Chicago HQ, Messina oversees an extensive voter contact program in which thousands of volunteers talk to potential voters, asking them what they think of the president. The results are stored in databases that log the concerns, pet issues, and voting history of each one. As of late 2011, a million such contacts had been made, and Messina told me the leading causes of disenchantment among Obama-friendly voters were the president's abandonment of the public option and lack of progress on climate change, immigration reform, and closing Guantanamo. One key goal for Messina: figuring out how to allay these strongly held concerns.

His plan revolves less around James Carville-like framing and more on the mechanics of reaching and turning out potential supporters. "All politics is local," the maxim coined by former House Speaker Tip O'Neill, is the mantra for Obama '12. "Last time it was change we can believe in, becoming a national movement," Messina told the New York Times in March. "This is a series of very local campaigns. No one's ever tried to do that in a reelection campaign."

Messina's team has been drawing up customized blueprints for the swing states it aims to win—Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, and others—working out the best ways to comb mailing lists, voter registries, and other data to find the most likely Obama voters and get them to the polls via highly targeted tweets, Facebook posts, emails, text messages, phone calls, and old-fashioned door-knocking. In something of a test drive in November 2011, Obama volunteers in North Carolina—responding to specific emails from Chicago—went to events and canvassed door to door to get their voters to the polls. This helped Democrats trounce Republicans in local elections. (In the Wisconsin recall election this month, the Democratic ground game was not as successful.) At the start of this year, Messina was looking to develop 20,000 volunteer teams across the nation, and he has told reporters he is building the "biggest grassroots effort in American political history."

To some, Messina may symbolize all that is conventional about the Obama presidency. His mission, though, is not to alter the political culture, but to build a winning campaign. Until November 6, his definition of hope will be determined by that narrow and easy-to-measure goal.

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