The Campaign Spot

Obama’s Career-Long Electoral Strategy

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why Is Obama So Focused on His Base This Year?

At Hot Air, Karl tries to see the big picture strategy behind Obama’s campaign approach:

 Team O is left with a strategy which is essentially an amalgam of 2004 and 2008. It draws on 2004 by relying on mobilizing supporters more than persuading swing voters. It draws on 2008 insofar as that mobilization is confined to a subset of the coalition Obama won 3+ years ago (largely the demographics of the supposed Emerging Democratic Majority). As Sean Trende observes in his book, The Lost Majority, Obama won a higher percentage of the vote than Bill Clinton ever did, but Obama’s coalition was demographically narrower. The political perfect storm that swept Obama into office has been replaced with the Obama record; Obama’s available demographics will have narrowed accordingly.

Obama’s reelect strategy is visible in the daily headlines, but typically not considered in toto. (Jay Cost came pretty close to it.) Political junkies notice Obama’s student loan policy is a sop to the young, the absurdly fictional “Julia” a pitch to single women (esp. single mothers), the reversal on same sex marriage a balm for Hollywood’s big donors, gay rights activists and the media, and so on. Brooks views these positions as the sort of small-ball politics Clinton used successfully in 1996, which has it backwards. Clinton played small-ball to appear more conservative and reach for the center as the economy ramped up; Obama is taking positions to pander to his base as the economy limps.

This is crucial to note because, in a larger sense, it is nothing new. Barack Obama’s approval ratings have declined from lofty heights because he has governed as What Swing Voters Haven’t Liked About Democrats For Decades.

…Obama is campaigning as he has governed — as an Old Democrat pandering to interest groups, engaging in big-spending crony capitalism while failing to address our structural economic concerns for the common good. Mitt Romney, if he recognizes the opportunity, could turn Obama’s campaign strategy into a goldmine for himself.

I would underline that Obama is using a familiar strategy because it’s not really clear that he’s ever had to use any other one. Once he won the Democratic primary for his State Senate seat in 1996, he had the seat for life, representing Hyde Park, an ultra-liberal neighborhood. He lost a House bid in 2000 against Democrat Bobby Rush, and then his next genuinely difficult fight was the 2004 Senate primary… when revelations from sealed divorce records doomed his best-funded opponent. Many of you are thinking, ‘wait, Jim, no, you’re thinking of Jack Ryan with the Jeri Ryan divorce papers’ – but the exact same thing happened in the general election. From there, Obama had a cakewalk beating Alan Keyes. In each circumstance, just getting the Democrats to come out in their traditional numbers was sufficient to ensure victory.

The 2008 Democratic party was indeed a tough fight, but again Obama was assembling his familiar coalition – African-Americans, Hollywood, gays, the party’s liberal wing – to overcome Hillary’s white working-class base. And then in 2008, even with the wind of Bush fatigue at his back, Obama was trailing… until Lehman collapsed, McCain insisted the debates be canceled, and then he changed his mind two days ago. In other words, 2008 was a perfect storm for Obama’s appeal to independents, centrists, Democrats who were unconvinced in the primary and frustrated Republicans. Obama has never really had to try to win over, say,  the suburbs or exurbs of Columbus, Orlando, Colorado Springs, or other “in play” parts of the political map in less than ideal circumstances.

So far, 2012 looks like far from ideal circumstances… thanks, in large part, the job he’s done as president since January 2009.

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