Monday, June 30, 2008


One of the main reasons I decided to support Barack Obama was because even early on it was immediately apparent that he was the kind of enormously deft politician (yes, he's one of those) we haven't seen in the Democratic party in a very long time. When was the last time you ever remember seeing rightwing pundits on the teevees extolling the poliskillz of a Democrat with such wide-eyed admiration and barely-contained jealousy? Little did I know at the time that he would also prove to be an exceptionally wise manager, putting together an organization underneath him that's as awesomely nimble as it is quietly ruthless. Take a look at what the Obama camp is doing in Florida and you'll see what I mean:
Don't let Steve Schale fool you, just because he looks like the kid who won the spelling bee, in wire-rimmed glasses and rumpled khakis. Or because Tallahassee is the biggest city he's ever lived in. Or because he lists Eagle Scout on his résumé.

Recently tapped to lead Democrat Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Florida, Schale may be the savviest Democratic operative in the state.

He helped his beleaguered party do something it hadn't done in more than 20 years: pick up a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. Under his steady hand, Democrats netted nine seats in the past two years.

Statewide, the latest polls show Obama with a slight edge over Republican John McCain, foreshadowing a knockdown, drag-out fight in the nation's largest battleground state. The Republican Party has already begun trying to undermine Obama among the state's Hispanic and Jewish voters, and it's easy to picture attack ads questioning his stated willingness to meet with hostile governments in Cuba and Iran.

Schale, 33, is a Southern gentleman who hasn't been in the trenches for very long. But he'll likely have more money, staff and volunteers at his disposal than McCain's team -- "the largest and most comprehensive organization that my side of the aisle has ever seen in Florida," he said. His allies warn: Don't let the nice-guy demeanor fool you.

"Steve does best when people take him for granted," said former state Rep. Doug Wiles of Jacksonville, who gave Schale his first job in politics. "I would never want to be on the other side of him in a campaign. He's very competitive, very focused and very driven."

Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in Florida, but the state has voted only twice for the Democrat in a presidential race since 1976. Partly to blame: clumsy coordination with the presidential campaigns and a second-rate operation of turning out voters and absentee ballots. The man who ran John Kerry's 2004 campaign was chief of staff to New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine and had never run a race in Florida.

In contrast, Schale is the resident scholar of the Florida Democratic Party. A Southerner from North Florida, Schale has spent his entire career helping Democratic candidates, from a sixth-generation farmer outside of Gainesville to a retired firefighter in Little Havana, run against the Republican tide.

Call Schale up in the middle of the night and no doubt he could rattle off voting trends in Okaloosa County.
Make no mistake about it, the Obama team is going to constantly keep the Republicans on their toes. Welcome to ballet school, wingnuts.

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