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April 19, 2012
by Mark Mardell | BBC News

BBC News

A targeted message from Obama 2012

I've just been given a tour of Barack Obama's election headquarters in his home town of Chicago. Housed on the 6th floor of one of the city's many skyscrapers, it is an odd mix of nerd-cool and control freakery.

The huge cluttered room feels like an open plan call centre staffed by the sort of people you'd expect to see working at an IT start up. Just about everyone is under 30. Everyone has a laptop in front of them and many are wearing outsized headphones.

The ping-pong table at the back of the room adds to the mood of relaxed intensity that you get at many hi-tech companies.

It doesn't get much use these days. Everyone is busy.

The uniform long grey desks are littered with personal touches. There are enough water bottles, outsized to go cups, nachos and bananas to make them look like a contractual obligation.

Some of the workers don't sit on chairs but instead perch on gigantic inflated silver beach balls. Among the desk decorations, the occasional conventional baby photo seems almost ridiculously un-ironic, amid other personal props like a horde of model dinosaurs riding motorcycles, cuddly toy gremlins with shocking pink fur and knobbly yellow stress balls.

State flags still hanging from the low ceiling are a testament to ex-college kids' fervour during the recent "March Madness" of basketball season.

Despite the cultivated kookiness, this is not an operation with a soft centre. It is a war machine, designed to crush Mr Obama's opposition.
Preaching to the choir

They have been planning all this for a long time. While his almost certain opponent, Mitt Romney, still isn't yet the officially adopted candidate, this operation has just celebrated its first birthday.

On the wall is a notice, "Happy one year anniversary", listing the names of the 30 or so staffers who have been working here since last April.

Their numbers have swelled every week and there are now around 300 of them. Add to that about 60 interns and 40 volunteers and you have 400 people with a single aim: to get Barack Obama elected to a second term.

Although they are happy to let me see and film the room, getting information out of the team about what is actually going on is like squeezing blood from a peculiarly nervous stone.

But it is clear they are here to deal with Mr Obama's overwhelming problem. 2012 is not 2008.

The amazing coalition that propelled him to power hasn't exactly fractured, but the enthusiasm and energy has run away into the sand. Many natural Obama voters are disillusioned and demoralised.

Even those who are pretty happy with the president hardly feel the same sense of exuberant excitement that they displayed in 2008. So this operation isn't really about making converts.

It is about very precise targeting of likely supporters in key places, and giving them a jolt of energy to jump start the campaign.

It is the job of the people in this war room to water and nurture the grass roots which sprang up so naturally four years ago.

This is very much a digital campaign, using websites, e-mails and the apparent intimacy of Facebook and Twitter over big scale blanket advertising.

Independent Democratic strategist Marilyn Katz says this will define the shape of the campaign.

"Our task is to make sure people understand the stakes, are registered and organised to not only come out to vote but to get their neighbours to do so as well," Ms Katz says. "In 2008, the Obama campaign created a structure to which people self-organised and attached themselves."

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