Obama campaign manager visits Pitt

By Lindsay Carroll

Students who supported ‘mdash; and opposed ‘mdash; President Barack Obama during his campaign… Students who supported ‘mdash; and opposed ‘mdash; President Barack Obama during his campaign had the chance Monday night to see the man who sent them e-mails, made videos about the campaign’s latest strategy and recruited them en masse to volunteer in the campaign. David Plouffe, the former campaign manager for Obama, spoke in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room at an event hosted by Pitt Program Council. He said young people played an important role in Obama’s victory. ‘Going forward, we refused to believe that young people wouldn’t vote, that they wouldn’t get involved, that they wouldn’t contribute,’ said Plouffe. He said that before the Iowa caucuses, the Obama campaign attempted to ‘change the complexion’ of typical voters in that state. The campaign went to bars and happy hours, he said. It recruited high school and college students to form organizations in a state that tends to have older and less voters than in states with primaries. The campaign encouraged college students to vote in their home districts rather than on their college campuses to increase Obama’s chances in rural counties, said Plouffe. ‘You get seven or eight high school kids to come out [in those counties], you can win the election,’ he said. He guessed millions voted for Obama because their kids supported him so strongly and that hundreds of thousands of students contributed money they ‘couldn’t afford.’ Plouffe, who never finished his University of Delaware political science degree, came to Pittsburgh for the first time since one of his worst days working on the campaign ‘mdash; after Obama received backlash from Pennsylvanians because he said bitter small-town voters ‘cling’ to guns and religion. ‘This is a much warmer welcome in Pittsburgh,’ said Plouffe. Although Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania in the primary, Obama won Pennsylvania with an 11-point lead ‘mdash; the state’s biggest margin of victory since 1964. Before working on the presidential campaign, Plouffe helped with Obama’s senatorial campaign in 2004 and for politicians such as former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt. He said that during this campaign, he never allowed himself to think that Obama would definitely win, but that a turning point came just before the first debate ‘mdash; when the bank Lehman Brothers failed, and Sen. John McCain called the fundamentals of the economy strong. Plouffe said that when McCain announced he’d suspend his campaign shortly before the debate, the Obama team had 10 minutes to figure out what to do. Obama decided he wanted to debate. ‘[McCain’s] erratic-ness became a fact [to voters],’ said Plouffe. ‘People didn’t like the way he picked [Gov. Sarah] Palin, either. They viewed it as impulsive.’ One student asked how the Obama campaign viewed Palin, McCain’s running mate. ‘She was the best organizer for our fundraising,’ said Plouffe. ‘We should have put her on payroll. We could have even bought her some clothes.’ Pitt sophomores Mike DeDad and Adam Wubbolt said they came to see Plouffe because they considered themselves ‘pretty massive’ Obama supporters who volunteered for the candidate. ‘It was great being 10 feet away from the person that was the architect of what Obama called the greatest campaign in history,’ said DeDad. Chatham student Jessica Byrd, who worked as a field organizer for Obama, called Plouffe an ‘extraordinary’ campaign manager because of his foresight in winning Iowa and his 50-state strategy. ‘This is not the last you’ll see of him,’ said Byrd.