David Plouffe’s book, Audacity to Win, is a detailed insider account of the Obama campaign. Plouffe, who was Obama’s campaign manager, narrates how the Obama campaign was organized and executed to produce the most unlikely victory in US electoral history. I read this book in January and was blown away by the David and Goliath type battles waged in the quest to secure the American presidency. Obama was regarded as a long shot by the pundits and press. He was a David in comparison to the Goliath that was Clinton. His inexperience and skin colour were also considered insurmountable setbacks.
Plouffe’s book reinforced, for me, the power of having a clear message as well as a single strategy. Obama’s campaign team knew they could not beat the Clinton juggernaut using conventional campaign methods. They knew they had to expand the electorate and electoral terrain as well as exploit the power of the Internet. .
Obama’s team spent time at the beginning of the campaign identifying and crafting their message and strategy, then spent the rest of the campaign executing them to the best of their ability. They believed that once you have determined your pathway to success, it was crucial to have the discipline to commit to it. There will inevitably be highs and lows but you have to give your strategy time to work. Maybe it won’t. Many endeavors fail. But without a clear sense of where you are headed, you will almost certainly fail. Obama said “People will either accept me and my message or they won’t. But we are not going to cast about for a political identity. We just need to ride this out.”
They made decisions about allocation of resources and time strictly through the prism of both their core electoral strategy and message. They refused to be swayed by the criticisms of naysayers and the concerns of some key supporters over the decision to adopt and implement an unconventional electoral strategy. It takes discipline to set a strategy or game plan and greater discipline not to let external influences pressurize you to alter that strategy or game plan.
David didn’t fight Goliath with a sword but he used a sling instead. The Obama campaign strategy was as unconventional as David’s use of his sling was radical. Goliath was baffled and amused, as were both the Clinton and McCain teams when confronted with an unconventional approach. Yet though it defied all logic, it proved to be surprisingly effective against stronger opponents.