Steve Hildebrand, the man behind the Obama campaign
By Mike Barajas
Hildebrand gives a list of complications the Obama campaign faced throughout the race.
Photo by Mike Barajas.
Speaking to an Ohio University audience Thursday night, Steve Hildebrand remembered his frustration with political campaigns after working with the Al Gore presidential election effort in 2000.
“I was going to walk away from this completely,” he said. “I wanted somebody different, or I was going to get out of this game.”
A few years later, Hildebrand began sitting in on early strategy meetings with then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., meetings focusing on whether or not Obama should run for the presidency. “I was sold on this guy… I though he was the right person for the right time,” Hildebrand recalled, as he delivered the keynote speech for the first Schuneman Symposium sponsored by the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
By all accounts Hildebrand, Obama’s former national deputy campaign manager, was one of the chief architects behind Obama’s groundbreaking presidential campaign.
Beginning in 2006 when Obama announced his candidacy for president, Hildebrand was behind all of the Obama campaign’s strategic decisions. During the campaign, Hildebrand pioneered the use of new media and social networking with grassroots-style organizing, making the Obama campaign among the most successful in history.
Hildebrand cited the unprecedented use social networking with grassroots-style organizing as the future for political campaigning. Using new media, Hildebrand said he and his team were able to bring millions of new voters to the polls and raise a shocking $750 million in campaign contributions. “The new media, without question, changed the way we ran our campaign,” he said.
The key to the campaign’s success was getting groups of supporters all over the country to organize in their own communities. “It wasn’t how many people we could get to an event; it was getting people at that event to organize,” Hildebrand said.
Using the Internet, he explained, was key to bringing in more supporters around the country. He cited “my.barackobama.com,” or MyBO, the social networking site the campaign designed to help supporters connect with one another and organize in their own communities.
“We started to really give people a sense of how to organize on the Internet, and it provided people an opportunity to organize in likeminded groups,” Hildebrand said.
He also noted the wide success of viral videos and YouTube during the campaign, with video campaigns popping up all over the Internet.
AN EARLIER PANEL FOR the symposium Thursday focused on the emerging use of political new media. During the panel, OU journalism professor Michelle Honald said the Obama campaign was “extraordinary in the way it used social media groups.”
Honald agreed that the Obama campaign was a perfect example of the use of political new media, whether it be viral video campaigns or social networking.
“2004 was the election of blogging; 2008 was the election of YouTube and social networking,” she said.
The massive Internet campaign was designed to draw in new voters and what Hildebrand called the “millennial generation,” the 75 million Americans between the ages of 12 to 29.
Another key to Obama’s success last fall was young voters, who came out in droves this past election, Hildebrand said. Typically, young voters were ignored by campaigns, who figured they never actually manage to show up at the polls. “We basically went to 30-year-olds and younger and said, ‘Everybody says you’re not going to show up; are you going to prove them wrong?’
“This time, [young voters] made the winning difference.”
Hildebrand said the widely successful campaign has changed the way political campaigns will operate in the future, with a new focus on the Internet, young voters and grass-roots community organizing.“Without question, the Internet and new media – text messaging, video messaging, twittering, all of that – is changing the way people communicate, the way they learn, the way people organize. And it is by all accounts a big reason why Barack Obama became president in 2008,” Hildebrand said.