Published September 28, 2011
Obama’s Swing State Blitz Yields Little, Christie Chatter Helps Romney
Obama Still Losing Ground in Swing States Despite Early Start
“If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the middle class, I will accept that; I’ll wear that as a badge of honor.”
-- President Obama talking about his $450 billion stimulus proposal during a campaign stop at a Denver high school.
President Obama has been campaigning almost non-stop since Labor Day, but his political fortunes have hardly improved. Obama’s September blitz through swing states, backed up with an aggressive media schedule, has apparently yielded little for the embattled incumbent.
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Obama dragging a 42 percent job-approval rating in Ohio and already evenly matched by Republican frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney in the all-important Buckeye State, where Obama has campaigned twice in three weeks.
And so it is across the states where Obama has focused his efforts in this first round of campaigning.
In Ohio and neighboring Pennsylvania, 51 percent of voters said Obama didn’t deserve a second term. In Virginia, the lynchpin to Obama’s 2012 strategy, a Roanoke College poll found the president with a 39 percent rating. In North Carolina, the great Obama success story of 2008, a High Point University poll finds the president with a 41 percent job-approval rating.
Obama has succeeded, though, in bucking up base voters and quieting some calls for a primary challenge. Even as he has been crisscrossing swing states making his case to disaffected middle-class moderates, Obama has been making a tightly targeted effort to energize gay activists (including having Lady Gaga on hand for his California fundraising swing and speaking at a banquet for the leading gay political group, the Human Rights Campaign, this weekend) and to show dispirited black political leaders that he shares their outrage over the current state of affairs (“Take off your bedroom slippers…”)
The biggest base play Obama has made, though, has been his proposal for a massive tax increase for top earners. The $1.5 trillion package was a dead letter even with Democratic supermajorities in both houses of Congress, but proposing it again has been a way for Obama to show his good faith with his core supporters. It is an implicit promise about his agenda for a second term, as are Obama’s frequent reminders about the unfinished work and perilous situation of his most significant accomplishment, a national health care law.
(The administration’s decision to drop its opposition to an expedited Supreme Court hearing of the central challenge to the controversial law fits into this strategy, too.)
While this effort -- along with the clarifying effects of panic among his fellow Democrats -- may have helped Obama find a new floor in his national support in the low to mid 40s, disapproval for the president has continued to grow as moderates, uneasy with Obama since his 2009-2010 health push, recoil from his latest proposals for a third stimulus plan and tax increases.
This is the cruelty of political life for a weak incumbent: Base voters require increasing reassurance to prevent a catastrophe, but those reassurances only push moderates and independents farther out of reach.
When Obama even hints at centrism, his base gets tetchy, requiring more Gaga dinners, defensive BET interviews and attacks on the wealthy. That means that when Obama returns to seek support in the center he finds that the must-win voters in the must-win states eyeing him even more warily than before. This is a cycle that the president will likely be repeating many times before November 2012.
His campaign’s bet is that whether Republicans pick Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, a billion-dollar barrage of attack ads can break that diminishing cycle by terrifying Obama’s core supporters into submission and leaving moderates disgusted and disengaged. It’s a plan to win an unhappy, diminished-turnout election.
Obama knows he will not have the same support he enjoyed in 2008, but needs to make sure that he doesn’t face the same backlash among independents that cost his party so dearly in 2010. He doesn’t need their votes, he just needs them to stay home.
Obama had little choice but to start his re-election bid so early given his dire condition among moderates and the growing anger and anxiety over the nation’s foundering economy, but his 14-month strategy still looks like a long, uncertain slog.
Romney Benefits From Uncertainty About GOP Field
“…I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition, their education. And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position that is a common sense position.”
The effort by Mitt Romney and his team to turn Rick Perry’s post-debate doldrums into a terminal condition comes at the moment when Perry is making his own effort to raid Romney’s turf.
Perry made a rare trip to Washington on Tuesday to woo the insiders and political financiers that have mostly been lining up for Romney. In a pair of high-dollar fundraisers, D.C. insiders got a chance to inspect the Texan in person, many for the first time, and to weigh his presidential bid.
With the collapse of Tim Pawlenty’s campaign and Jon Huntsman’s bid burning out in a media supernova, the Republican establishment has been gradually making its way to Romney’s tent. But the general sentiment has been to wait and see.
Romney has continued his attack on Perry from the left (Social Security) and right (illegal immigration) in a bid to spook GOP moderates and moneybags ahead of Friday’s campaign fundraising deadline. When Perry and Romney unveil their third-quarter fundraising numbers it will give Republicans their best look yet at the relative organizational prowess of the field’s frontrunners.
One way that Romney people aim to win is by talking up the possibility of new entrants to the field.
If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were to get in the race it would be worse news for Romney than Perry as Christie would be competing for many of the same votes and contributions as his fellow Northeastern moderate. But Christie speculation is helpful to Romney as it offers another reason for donors and endorsers to stay away from Perry.
The best-case scenario for Romney is that the Christie buzz lasts long enough to dampen Perry’s fundraising quarter and simultaneously builds the value of Christie’s eventual endorsement, which looks all but certain to go to Romney.
Similarly, the buzz surrounding Paul Ryan’s unlikely presidential bid helped retain the illusion that the field was still unformed after Perry stormed to the top tier with Romney.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is out in support of his corker of a new book, “Saving the Republic,” will also provoke some wistful yearning among establishment conservatives. Daniels is the one that got away for the GOP this cycle and his book, which is a frontal assault on Obama’s ideology as opposed to the Romneyite argument that Obama is an incompetent manager of the economy, will produce pangs. But Daniels is a realist and is unlikely to be tempted into even a flirtation of his reconsideration to run.
While his wife and daughters could still reverse their ruling and bless Daniels’ in a late bid, it would be hard for the little-known, plainspoken Hoosier to mount a successful bid now.
Of the remaining potential entrants to the field, only Sarah Palin has the name identification, fundraising ability and following to make a go at this late date. She’s still mulling, but concedes that she must decide in the days to come as filing deadlines mount in October. Polls show that her presence in the field wouldn’t change the dynamic between Romney and Perry at first, but she would eventually cripple the Texan’s chances. The possibility of her entry is yet another argument for Romney’s inevitability approach: he aims to be the last one standing after the more conservative wing of his party exhausts itself in internal struggles.
Perry must survive this season of speculation, manage to raise more than $10 million this quarter and demonstrate that he can survive the Romney barrage. If he does that – and finds a way to stop losing debates – he can continue to hit Romney where it hurts: on the abiding suspicion in the GOP that Romney is inconstant and would change his views again under pressure as the nominee, or as president.
If Perry can’t put up a Texas-sized number on Friday, his fortunes will dim dramatically.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Rather than thinking of Pakistan as an ally against Afghanistan, Afghanistan, for all of its instability and the hostility that America has been facing there, is the base from which we keep an eye on the bad guys in the region. It's an interesting and almost a paradoxical reason for continuing our presence in Afghanistan. It's a new one but a serious one.”