Obama Gets Rocky Mountain High, Opens First Campaign Office of Pres Contenders

A Q&A with the the Democratic presidential candidate’s Colorado campaign manager.The Obama ’08 campaign is the only presidential effort from either party to open an office in Colorado so far, promoting the Democratic candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Colorado Confidential talked to Colorado campaign manager Ray Rivera about their goals in Colorado.

Rivera was raised in New Mexico. He comes to the Obama campaign after being an organizer for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a public employees union.

CoCo: Obama is the only candidate to open an office here. I’m curious about why you place more value on Colorado than the other candidates do? Are you focusing on Super Tuesday instead of the Iowa-New Hampshire nexus?

Rivera: We are definitely still focused like a laser beam on our early state strategy. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. We have our largest staffs there. In fact we have the largest staff of any candidate in Iowa.

Why Colorado? For a few reasons. One, the whole Rocky Mountains is emerging in political importance, and especially trending blue. I think Sen. Obama’s message is resonating with those independent voters in the Southwest and Rocky Mountains. We haven’t done any polling in Colorado, but polls in other states show he’s very popular with independent voters.

We think we have the best chance to win Colorado.

The second part of that is: It’s a caucus state. It’s a town hall setting. You meet in person. You’ve got to go to a meeting for an hour and vote with your body. Historically, not a lot of people go.

We think Obama’s grassroots energy plays right into that. We’re able to turn folks out to the caucus that have never participated before. We know we’re changing the demographic of the caucus.

Ray Rivera
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CoCo: One of the senator’s appeals seems to be to the younger generation. Is that one of your focuses here in Colorado? And do you have a method for getting the usually lackadaisical young voters to the polls – or to the caucus, as the case may be?

Rivera: I don’t think it’s rocket science. We’re investing staff and resources into engaging the young voters. We have a youth director here in this state, where many campaigns don’t even have a youth director nationally. As we speak, my youth director is at CU, registering students to vote, talking about the caucus.

We’re boosted by Senator Obama’s appeal. His message is resonating with young folks. We’re boosted by our candidate, and then we’re going to put the time and resources into it.

CoCo: Young people historically don’t show up to vote. I had one person who told me that they put the polling places in the dorm lobbies at CU, but the students still didn’t vote. How do you get around that?

Rivera: To be honest with you, we won’t know until we know, on February 5th, if our efforts have paid off. I think that will be a major factor in whether or not we’re successful in winning the nomination, in how effective we can be in turning out some of our young supporters.

But all we have to go on is anecdotal. And in terms of the energy we’re seeing from students in our campaign, it’s just unbelievable. This is my third presidential campaign, and I’ve never seen young people who are so sincerely supportive of a candidate … But it’ll be an interesting discussion on February 6th.

CoCo: Does the Democratic Convention being here have anything to do with your interest in the state?

Rivera: It’s not because of the convention, but I think the convention is here for some of the same reasons that we’re here. We see an opportunity for Democrats to win in the Rocky Mountains.

CoCo: What about your relationship with state Democrats. Have you made any inroads in the local party?

Rivera: They’ve been supportive of us like any other candidate. We do have one superdelegate out of the Democratic Party, Dan Slater, the first vice chair.

CoCo: What about nuts and bolts? How many people do you have? What kind of budget?

Rivera: We’re at 10 staff now. We have county coordinators in 13 counties, which are mostly the larger ones, and obviously huge volunteer operations going on under there.

CoCo: What are your volunteers doing exactly? Knocking on doors? Talking to the press?

Rivera: The simple answer is, especially in the Obama campaign, they’re doing whatever they want.