Infomercial a masterstroke in a masterful campaign

Perhaps most of us can agree that the idea to begin Barack Obama's 30-minute infomercial with him standing in a wood-paneled, faux Oval Office was cheesy. And what if the subtle, perhaps subliminal, messaging it was intended for failed, and viewers wondered if that was the Obamas’ living room in Hyde Park?

But in between the schmaltz, the infomercial was another masterstroke. It provided a final, uninterrupted forum for Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) to tell voters that he understands the poignant struggles taking place all over the country, that he is not hiding behind slogans and wants voters to know all about his detailed programs he has coupled with "spending cuts above and beyond their costs."

The commercial was impressive in its measure. It was purposefully un-theatrical, reassuringly bland. All about voters, less about Obama, nothing about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose name was never mentioned.

In these last days, perhaps most of us can agree that Obama has run a remarkable campaign. We only know about bits and pieces of his "high-tech," "high-touch" ground strategy that used e-mail, text-messaging, Internet, Facebook, MySpace and more to penetrate as many pockets of the country as possible and purple up cherry-red places like South Dakota, Indiana, South Carolina, Arizona, Montana, Georgia, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Though it may have little or no bearing on governing, it turns out community organizing is great preparation for running for president. Obama's county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct, town-by-town and block-by-block strategy of finding votes enabled him to defeat the Clinton political machine. Remember: Obama won the same number of delegates from the Idaho caucuses (roughly 20,000 votes) that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) won in her Pennsylvania primary victory (roughly 2 million votes).

Apparently the Obama campaign figured out early that the goal of a campaign is to find the votes to win — message, tactics, advertisements and endorsements are a means to the end. Though they may have shared the same goal, the Clinton and McCain campaigns didn't come close to committing to that goal on the ground. Take, for example, the fact that the Clinton campaign came to the Super Tuesday states months after the Obama campaign had set up shop. Take, for another example, that the McCain campaign has no offices in Montana but Obama dared to open 19 offices in a solid GOP state. Now with less than a week to go, the Republican National Committee is scrambling to run ads in Montana for the first time while polls show Obama within striking distance there.

In Florida, where the Obama campaign has approximately 500 paid staff and 160,000 volunteers, Republicans are fuming that McCain took the Sunshine State for granted and could now lose it. There is the well-known story of the former senior adviser to Gov. Jeb Bush (R) who signed up on the Obama website to check up on the opposition and received seven phone calls from live volunteers in the days that followed. She has received no phone calls from the McCain campaign.

Like all candidates, Obama has many liabilities — inexperience, voting present 130 times as a state senator, Tony Rezko, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers. Compared to Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s campaigns, Obama's made few mistakes; in 21months he managed to confine them to fewer than a handful. But he made them — the famous "bitter" comments at that fundraiser, calling Hillary "nice enough" at the New Hampshire debate, and telling Joe the Plumber he wanted to "spread the wealth around." They were errors of honesty, like McCain has made, telling politically unpalatable truths that land them in hot water. (Go back and read the entire context of Obama's San Francisco remarks; they do belong in this category.)

The ground operation is the foundation of Obama's campaign that sustained the "improbable" effort, as he likes to call it, literally anchoring the campaign through the darkest days. The Obama campaign knew that losing a few news cycles affects poll numbers but doesn't have to stop devoted volunteers from making progress on the ground. They never let up on a wholly ambitious and aggressive battle, and even last week, ahead in almost every poll, campaign manager David Plouffe sent out an appeal for 845,252 volunteer shifts to be filled in battleground states.

Unlike most presidential campaigns that see ousters and hostile layerings when things go wrong, the same team that conceived of the Obama campaign is the team that will win or lose together next week. We have learned that they are exceedingly meticulous, share no tension with the press, and leave nothing — absolutely nothing — to chance.

When this is all over, the Obama team will ultimately tell the heretofore closely-held story of their unprecedented campaign. Friend and foe will be eager to hear it.