-- Approximate permanent population of Ft. Bragg, N.C. in the 2010 Census.
-- Barack Obama’s margin of victory in North Carolina in the 2008 presidential election.
President Obama and his re-election campaign have been slicing and dicing America’s demographic groups in the quest for a second term with a narrow precision that would put even Google’s marketing department to shame.
Obama wants Romney chasing him through every bramble and thicket. Romney meanwhile must decide when to pursue the president and when to cede a topic to the incumbent in order to keep the focus where he wants it: the lousy economy.
One week, it’s working and single moms in the middle 20 percent of earners. Another week, it’s lower-income college students. And in the next 27 weeks, lots of other groups will get their turn in the gaze of Team Obama, especially those on the fringes of the Democratic coalition – upwardly mobile Hispanics, suburbanites with incomes over $60,000, men without college degrees, etc.
Right now, the campaign’s focus is on military families. It’s a tremendously important group for Obama’s hopes since the Southern states Obama is trying desperately to hold, Virginia and North Carolina, have enormous military populations.
The president and first lady today will be reaching out to military voters with an event at Ft. Stewart, Ga. touting an executive order that the president says will provide special consumer protections for military members. The actual effect of the order is unclear, but the political message is crystalline: the president and his wife consider themselves caretakers for military members and their spouses.
This has been one of the first lady’s perennial target demographic groups, constantly emphasizing charities and government programs for military families.
The Obamas’ event today dovetails with a campaign speech given Thursday by Vice President Joe Biden in which he warned that Romney would return to the same kind of interventionist, “go-it-alone” foreign policy of Obama’s predecessor. Shorter Biden: Obama is bringing the troops home, Romney would send them back.
This is a tough argument to make for an incumbent whose two troop surges in Afghanistan have come to a very unhappy end and who has perpetuated much of the Bush doctrine on foreign policy, both in regard to the treatment of terrorists and the idea of nation building. But Obama is not at all bashful about taking credit for the killing of Usama bin Laden and the completion of the troop withdrawal Bush commenced in Iraq.
Republicans generally win the military vote, but with large numbers of black and Hispanic service members and bin Laden’s scalp, the Obama Democrats are betting that they can outperform past numbers, especially in the Tidewater region of Virginia and in Cumberland County, N.C., home to Ft. Bragg.
This is part of a good-news, bad-news approach to the campaign by team Obama.
The bad news for the Democrats is that there is little chance of Obama recreating the coalition that led to a 7-point victory in 2008. The GOP candidate and his campaign are better than last time, Obama’s policies and overall job performance are viewed unfavorably and the electorate is frustrated with the new status quo in which the economy and the government are both dysfunctional.
The good news is that Obama is in a substantially better position starting out than either of the two Democratic nominees before him, and both John Kerry and Al Gore got daggone close to the presidency.
Obama’s plan bears a strong resemblance to the Bush 2004 re-election campaign. It starts with the assumption that we live in a 50-50 nation and that victory in national elections depends on shoring up your base and then picking off clusters of persuadable voters in the center to win a narrow majority.
The Bush team, which called it “micro targeting,” managed to find and mobilize social conservatives in Democratic precincts as well as new concentrations of Republican voters in exurban precincts. Identify, contact, convince and mobilize.
The Obama Democrats have now revved up their databases and are seeking to squeeze out victories in the most difficult swing states by maximizing base turnout and holding on to as many of the new members of the party’s 2008 coalition as possible. For the technologically obsessed Obama campaign, it’s a natural fit. It’s also why the president has already built a campaign organization unprecedented in size and cost and why he spends so much more time fundraising than his predecessors. Obama isn’t running one campaign. He’s running a dozen campaigns.
This is in part why the president hasn’t articulated a broad rationale for his re-election other than that Republican nominee Mitt Romney is bad. Obama is hoping to narrowcast to key constituencies with a message that either excites the resentments of liberals toward Republicans, especially of the wealthy kind, or reminds moderates of why they voted Democrat in 2008. Unable to ask voters whether they are better off now, Obama must summon dire thoughts of Romney Republicans victimizing the poor and middle class in order to make his case.
Romney, conversely, has little choice but to run a thematic campaign.
The Republican nominee is running on competency. His theme, “Obama isn’t working,” is a broad-based platform from which to attack the president’s record and make the election a referendum on the incumbent’s term and Romney’s own record of achievement and success. With Obama’s biggest policy proposals in disrepute and the sputtery economy still sputtering, Romney has some considerable advantages.
But, either Romney’s central argument will be successful or it won’t, and there’s no amount of micro targeting that will save him if the 8 percent of mostly moderate voters now undecided break for the incumbent.
Obama believes he has been dealt a good hand is therefore playing a cautious game of poker. Romney, though cautious by nature, is pushing his luck and trying to draw a winning hand. Before the draw, Obama is sitting on two pair and Romney is four cards into a flush.
In 2004, both candidates agreed on the theme. John Kerry was running against George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, George W. Bush was running on his overall effort fighting radical Islamists – the choice was between “Bush kept us safe” and “Bush led us into a quagmire.” Bush augmented his theme with micro-targeted outreach, but both sides agreed on the prime subject.
Obama, meanwhile, is heaving up a series of topics – birth control, immigration, economic inequality, consumer abuses of military families, etc. – in a bid to keep the discussion off of Romney’s preferred subject: the president’s policies and their effect on the economy.
Obama wants Romney chasing him through every bramble and thicket. Romney meanwhile must decide when to pursue the president and when to cede a topic to the incumbent in order to keep the focus where he wants it: the lousy economy. As owner of the bully pulpit and in possession of a sympathetic press corps, Obama is betting that he can keep Romney off topic.
Romney’s bet is that there will be more days like today when the president gets knocked off his micro-targeted message by the unavoidable stories about the nation’s economic woes.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“[Vice President Joe Biden] is the Herbert Hoover of American foreign policy. For him to be spokesman for administration on these affairs I think is rather ironic.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report With Bret Baier”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.