Obama: Philly not worth the cash.
It's the best reference to Henri IV that I can come up with on only one cup of coffee, sorry.
By Moe Lane Posted in 2008 | Obamafiles | Show Me the Money | The Best Democratic Primary EVER — Comments (10) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Like Ed Morrissey, I'll grant this right off the bat: Senator Obama's taking the high ground on this one. While what he's refusing to do is actually legal, it's not particularly ethical*, either, and doing it would clash horribly with his perceived campaign style. Not doing it is a risk for him, so if it works out, he's going to reap considerable political benefits from it.
If it doesn't work out, he doesn't just lose PA. He loses PA filthy.
Barack Obama may lose support in Philadelphia over 'street money'
By Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Fourteen months into a campaign that has the feel of a movement, Sen. Barack Obama has collided with the gritty political traditions of Philadelphia, where ward bosses love their candidates, but also expect them to pay up.
The dispute centers on the dispensing of "street money," a long-standing Philadelphia ritual in which candidates deliver cash to the city's Democratic operatives in return for getting out the vote.
Flush with payments from well-funded campaigns, the ward leaders and Democratic Party bosses typically spread out the cash in the days before the election, handing $10, $20 and $50 bills to the foot soldiers and loyalists who make up the party's workforce.
It is all legal -- but Obama's people are telling the local bosses he won't pay.
I'd read the entire article: it breaks down what could be a very real problem for the Obama campaign. The short version: Philadelphia Democratic Party officials supporting one candidate or another expect the national campaigns to pass along cash to defray costs, which they then pass along to their street-level staff. We're not talking about actual vote-buying, at least not officially: merely paying people to put up flyers, knock on doors, man tables outside of polling stations, filling up their gas tanks so that they can transport voters to polls, giving them incentives to get people registered and voting, that sort of thing. Iffy, if only because some of that money is probably but deniably being traded directly for votes, but it's the custom, and Philadelphia Democrats know and count on it. The Obama currently has no intention of honoring that custom; I would be shocked if the Clinton campaign didn't look at that item in the budget, and double the amount allocated.
This has the potential to be a real problem for Obama. From the article:
Carol Ann Campbell, a ward leader and Democratic superdelegate who supports Obama, estimated that the amount of street money Obama would need to lay out for election day is $400,000 to $500,000.
"This is a machine city, and ward leaders have to pay their committee people," Campbell said. "Barack Obama's campaign doesn't pay workers, and I guarantee you if they don't put up some money for those street workers, those leaders will most likely take Clinton money. It won't stop him from winning Philadelphia, but he won't come out with the numbers that he needs" to win the state.
Campbell goes on to say that "she could not in good conscience ask people to work for Obama for free." Couple that with this:
A neutral observer, state Rep. Dwight Evans, whose district is in northwest Philadelphia, said there might be a racial subtext to the dispute. Ward leaders, he said, see Obama airing millions of dollars worth of television ads in the city -- money that benefits largely white station owners, feeding resentment. People wonder why Obama isn't sharing the largesse with the largely African American field workers trying to get him elected, Evans said.
"They view it that the white people are getting all the money for TV," said Evans, an African American and former ward leader. "And they're the ones who are the foot soldiers on the street. They're predominantly African Americans, and they're not the ones who are getting that TV money."
...and you end up with a situation that's lose/lose. The last thing that Obama needs is a Philadelphia that doesn't break strongly for him: it's his best chance for victory, or at least a single-digit loss. Existing expectations from polling results - which aren't taking this practice in account - would magnify every point by which he loses, and the Media's unlikely to dwell overmuch on why he lost. The temptation to just spend the five hundred grand to prevent that must be powerful... except that the Obama campaign's policy has not been to pay out street money, and changing it now will be seen - legitimately - as being the abandonment of principle to expediency. And, frankly, he's had enough hits to his halo in the last two months to be able to afford very many more of them.
My advice? Tough one. Ethically, he's better off not spreading around the street money; pragmatically, he needs to spread it around even more lavishly than Hillary will. Either way benefits the GOP in the long run, so I guess that he should pick the option that lets him sleep better at night.
After firing the people who lost him California and Ohio, of course. If it weren't for them, he'd not be in this mess right now.
*Whether you consider it unethical depends in large part on whether you were counting on some of that money, I suppose - and what you were expected to do in exchange for it.