The Campaign Spot

Can Obama Gin Up Liberal Donors and Swing Voters at the Same Time?

A reader asks, “Do you believe there’s a real tension between fundraising and campaigning that results in Obama being locked into a campaign strategy of pandering to the loons to drive fundraising targets, as opposed to playing to the middle of america and the swing voters? How much complexity does his decision add to his end game, in your opinion?”

It’s a good question. You would think that a deft campaigner could throw enough bones to the liberal base without causing himself too many headaches with swing voters. But I would note that probably the single most self-destructive moment of the Obama campaign came when he was speaking at a fundraiser, to a bunch of extremely wealthy liberals on Billionaire’s Row in San Francisco, trying to explain small-town Pennsylvanians to them and pretty much catering to their worst stereotypes. Obama’s probably smart enough to not make make the same mistake twice. But it illustrates that a message that works well with one group can be toxic to another.
When the Obama campaign tries to gin up online donations, the e-mails generally are in the vein of,

Dear Jim,
Never in our wildest nightmares did we imagine that the Republicans would sink so low as to allege that Obama’s work as a community organizer isn’t good preparation to be commander in chief. Did we mention that he could have worked on Wall Street? Did we mention he made $10,000? No, don’t punch that number into an inflation calculator, and don’t listen to those bloggers who point out that his salary doubled shortly thereafter. Stop. Come back. We need your help to beat back the smears, and call America’s attention to the fact that Sarah Palin is a flip-flopper on the Bridge to Nowhere, and she opposes vital bridge project money that Barack Obama and Joe Biden saved from being diverted to Hurricane Katrina relief. Donate now so we can fight back blah blah blah…

In other words, the message is usually, “we’re under attack, it’s unfair, and we need your help to punch back.” Which I guess works, or at least the Obama campaign thinks it works. But I suspect the perpetual “how dare they/we aren’t going to be bullied” can come across as a bit whiny to some. A candidate whose message regularly includes “can you believe how unfair the opposition is being?” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when it comes to dealing with Putin, Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Kim Jong Il.

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