President Obama is like the kid brother who spins cartwheels behind the bride and groom, hoping to get in the picture. White House press secretary Jay Carney announced Monday that Mr. Obama would hold a press conference – his first since October – on Super Tuesday -- the biggest GOP primary day yet.
This isn’t his first effort to steal the limelight.
Last Tuesday, as Republicans trooped to the polls in Arizona and Michigan (an especially important contest for Messrs. Romney and Santorum), Mr. Obama took center stage with a blustery speech to auto workers in Detroit.
He not only took credit for saving the car makers but savaged those who criticized the heavy-handed White House intervention. The attack was especially pointed, given that Romney was among those who opposed the Detroit bail-outs.
While these powerfully political maneuvers are vintage Obama/Axelrod tactics, they also reveal acute anxiety about the upcoming election.
President Obama is in full campaign mode, and has been for months, even though his competitor is yet to emerge.
Because the president has to run against his record, and that may be the toughest opponent of all.
Team Obama is taking nothing for granted, nor should it.
While Republicans are lamenting and Democrats are celebrating the destructive GOP primaries, the president polls only a few points ahead of Romney in a head-to-head match-up. -- That’s hardly impressive given the enormous drubbing Romney has taken in recent weeks at the hands of the press and of his rivals.
With Super Tuesday upon us, the betting is that Mr. Romney will move closer to winning the nomination.
This is not good news for the White House.
Romney is the most likely of the Republican candidates to win the all-important independent vote (some 7 to 10% of voters, who currently register only 35% approval for the president) and unseat Mr. Obama. The closer the former Massachusetts governor gets to clinching the nomination, the more the president will push to regain the spotlight.
The president’s intentional raining on the GOP parade is not the only symptom of campaign anxiety we’ve seen.
President Obama has, according to the New York Times, already participated in 100 fund raisers in the last twelve months – more than President George W. Bush did during the entire 2004 contest.
Despite the fact that he is not facing a primary contest, Mr. Obama spent nearly as much of his war chest in January as Mr. Romney, ($17.7 versus $18.8 million) who is in a life-or-death struggle.
Consider also the president’s embarrassing about-face on taking Super-PAC money, despite having blasted that source of funding as a “threat to our democracy.”
Further, Mr. Obama’s campaign announced Monday that it would not donate money to Democrats running for Congress, saying the top priority was instead to “secure the electoral votes necessary to re-elect the president.”
Politico reported that Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Minority leader Pelosi had asked the White House for as much as $30 million from the DNC and Obama for America, “a replay of the financial help they received from Obama in 2008 and 2010.”
President Obama’s sudden urge to meet the press on Super Tuesday may also be a reaction to concerns that the two issues occupying the front pages these days are not especially helpful to his standing. (This may also account for the recent dip in the president’s approval ratings after weeks of improvement.)
Rising gasoline prices allow Republicans to revisit the president’s decision to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline – an unpopular move widely seen as a bone tossed to the environmental lobby. Though the pipeline itself would have made no difference to gasoline prices any time soon, it feeds the GOP narrative that the president’s love affair with green energy (most recently algae) is fanciful and unrealistic. This is the realm of ice-cold economics in which Mitt Romney can score some hits (think Solyndra, the Chevy Volt et al), and the White House knows it.
The other issue dominating the news, Israel’s possible attack on Iran, is also problematic for Mr. Obama. He has struggled to rebuild his popularity with American Jews who are suspicious of his overtures to the Muslim world and unhappy with his tough line with Israel. Here, too, Republicans currently have the upper hand.
Mr. Obama seems to think his best defense is a strong offense. With only 27% of Americans believing that government intervention actually helps the economy, Mr. Obama needs to convince them that the bailouts of Detroit and Wall Street were successful.
He will portray himself as the champion of working Americans, friend to unions whose support he depends upon, and architect of our nascent economic recovery.
He will also keep on lambasting Republicans for favoring tax breaks for the wealthy and refusing to make everyone pay their “fair share.”
Mr. Obama also wants desperately to divert attention from the talking points of the GOP candidates. Republicans will remind voters that the nation’s debt continues to soar, that the unemployment rate remains in unacceptable territory, that mettlesome ObamaCare is on its way, that public employee unions reap outsized pensions and health care benefits at the expense of taxpayers and that the federal government is riddled with waste and inefficiencies.
We will see who wins these arguments in November, but this we know: Mr. Obama will not sit back and let Mitt Romney steal the show. He wants in the picture, too.