The timing of the start of President Obama’s re-election bid had as much to do with money as anything else.
By starting at the beginning of April, Obama will be able to post an impressive fundraising number for the second quarter of the year. It’s a strategy that has worked for him before.
In 2007, Obama cast doubt on the certainty of Hillary Clinton’s nomination by out raising her between April 1 and June 30. She brought in $27 million compared to his $32.5 million and her campaign never really recovered the cloak of inevitability.
This time, it’s Obama who wants to prevent any doubts from being cast on his chances.
With deep corporate connections and the power of incumbency, Obama could handily double his haul from the same period in 2007. Even if leading Republican contenders Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour post huge numbers by the end of June, they will still pale in comparison to what Obama will be raking in.
Money is the only logical reason for Team Obama to start the campaign this week because otherwise, the timing was dreadful. Announcing that the drive for 2012 has begun right in the middle of an acrimonious debate over a government shutdown and as questions mount about the war in Libya was tough. Presidents generally like to declare for a second term while they are on the upswing, not when they are skidding to new lows in job-approval polls.
This may have been why Obama went for a “soft” opening – a Web video, a tweet or two, a low-key speech from Vice President Joe Biden, a conference call with volunteers, etc. – rather than a traditional kickoff. This approach allows Obama to start socking away cash but not appear triumphal at a decidedly downbeat time.
But if it was money that forced Obama’s schedule, it was political necessity that determined his initial audience. The Obama team’s effort in the campaign kickoff has been to reengage the president’s flagging base. Big-city liberals, voters under 30, black voters and union members helped drive Obama’s success in 2008 and will provide the energy and ground troops he needs to retain the White House.
But these voters need bucking up precisely because Obama has followed a political strategy that leaves them listless. While Obama may want to revive the core of his 2008 movement, those folks are a drop in the political bucket compared to the key voter group for Obama: mostly white, mostly moderate, mostly middle aged suburbanites.
Polls tell us that Obama’s support among his fellow African-Americans is equal to or greater than it ever was. In 2008, Black voters reached a new high in turnout with more than 17 million going to the polls. But as a percentage of overall voter turnout, the result was not huge. Black turnout was 13 percent of the whole , according to exit polls, up only two points from the 11 percent showing in 2004.
The same is true of young voters. In 2008, voters under 30 were 18 percent of turnout compared to 17 percent in 2004. Obama significantly increased the share of these votes that went to the Democratic side. George W. Bush took a respectable 45 percent against John Kerry in 2004, while John McCain could only scrape together 32 percent. Since Obama got creamed among voters 65 and older, the youth vote helped carry the day. Polls show, though, that young voters have lost some of their ardor for Obama.
Is it the country’s involvement in three wars, the failure to reverse Bush-era terrorism policies or a crummy job market for entry-level workers? It’s some combination of those things adhered by an overarching notion that Obama is not really trying to change the way Washington works.
Since the president is likely to fare even worse among senior citizens, Obama can be expected to spend lots of time trying to run up the score with the under 30 crowd. If he can’t take at least 60 percent of their votes and keep turnout at a consistent level, it will mean dire trouble.
But here, as will be the case with union members, and big-city liberals, Obama can rely on Republicans to do much of his work for him. It may be satisfying now to grouse about the president’s decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay prisoner-of-war camp open or his extension of current tax rates for upper-income earners. But when faced with a flesh and blood Republican alternative, the left will mostly come home to roost.
And cash can compensate for some of their dashed enthusiasm. Obama broke all records in 2008 by raising and spending $750 million. He plans to add a quarter of a billion dollars to that haul, and this time, none of the money will be wasted on an expensive primary slug-fest.
The target of all those hundreds of millions of Obama dollars will be the suburban areas that propelled Obama to victory in 2008. If you live in Arvada, Colo., Doylestown, Pa., Easton, Ohio, Arlington, Va. or Winter Springs, Fla. brace yourself for your share of what will likely be $600 million in media spending by Obama.
Where George W. Bush had twice prevailed with suburban voters, McCain actually lost suburban precincts by 2 points, a sure ticket to defeat for any Republican nominee. Obama might be able to hold on to win if he breaks even in the suburbs. But if these folks swing back to their Republican ways, as they did in the 2010 midterm elections, Obama is cooked. There is no amount of base enthusiasm that could compensate for that.
Half of all voters were in suburban precincts in 2008, compared to 30 percent in urban neighborhoods and 20 percent who lived in rural areas. Trend lines suggest that the suburban share will be larger still in 2012.
When Obama backs away from his promises on taxes, terrorist trials and other issues, he is actually reaching out to these folks who tend to earn more and be more moderate than the president’s base.
Obama was labeled as too liberal during his 14-month push for a national health care law and for massive deficit spending on stimulus, bailouts and preserving government workers’ jobs. His task now is to again cast himself as a moderate consensus builder who is serious about national security.
Bushels of money can help cover an enthusiasm problem in Obama’s base, but there’s no substitute for the trust of the folks behind those white picket fences. Much of the money that the president has already started raising will be spent on restoring their confidence.
Chris Stirewalt is FOX News’ digital politics editor. His political note, Power Play, is available every weekday morning at FOXNEWS.COM.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.