What’s Obama Thinking When He Campaigns In Bowie, Maryland?
In President Obama’s last three weeks of midterm campaigning, his message has rung the same bells (sometimes word for word) no matter where he is: The Republicans are counting on the Democrats not to vote, so get “fired up,” remember all that the Democrats have done for you and get to the ballot box (especially you, younger voters and voters of color).
In the final 10 days leading to the midterms, Obama’s four-day, five-state push out West puts a lot at stake for the Democrats. Neon Tommy asked political strategists and journalists to analyze key races around the country and the president’s moves to influence them.
A new poll from the Associated Press-Knowledge Networks shows one-quarter of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 are now considering voting Republican and only half of them say they will “definitely” show up to vote on Election Day.
Obama’s westward travels through Nevada, California, Washington, Oregon and Minnesota are closely calculated.
“The White House at this stage in the game doesn’t take the President anywhere where they don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to go,” said Mother Jones’ Washington Bureau Chief David Corn.
Democratic strategist Bill Carrick said Obama may have an effect in Illinois, Delaware and Massachusetts. But his biggest impact will most likely come in the form of fundraising if not in rustling votes.
California Target Book’s Shawn Steel put it this way: “He does well on fundraising but all presidents do; everybody wants to touch the robe…The money will be there but the passion will not. He’s trying to rekindle the passion.”
Though Obama’s approval ratings have dipped since he first took office, according to a recent Gallup poll, his ratings have averaged 26 points higher than congressional approval ratings.
A Rasmussen Report poll released Oct. 20 qualified Obama’s national approval rating as 47 percent of voters “somewhat” approving of the president’s performance and 52 percent disapproving.
Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at UC Berkeley and the executive director of the UC Washington Center, stressed the importance of the repetition of Obama’s message: “You can’t do something once in the modern environment because not everybody watches the same three channels anymore. So just like with TV ads they have to show them over and over again in order for the saturation point to be significantly large,” he said. “By talking to Ohio State he’s talking to USC. College kids will go on the Huffington Post and see he’s been to Ohio State and that he was addressing their issues at Ohio State, so I think it’s not everyone but by doing one group in a particular state you’re hitting the comparable group in other states.”
A look at the president’s recent forays into states like Pennsylvania and Illinois—states he won in 2008 where Democrats are now vulnerable, shows he’s strategically hitting the right targets.
In Philadelphia, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden stumped for Rep. Joe Sestak, who, as of Oct. 11, was trailing opponent Pat Toomey by 6.6 percent in the Senate race. The New York Times’ Five Thirty Eight blog run by well-known statistician Nate Silver shows Toomey with a 94 percent chance of winning.
Obama again spoke of the importance of getting out the vote.
“What they're counting on is you're going to stay home. They're counting on your silence, they're calling on your amnesia, they're calling on your apathy,” Obama said. “If everyone who fought so hard for change in 2008 shows up to vote in 2010, I am absolutely confident that we will win.”
Perhaps the most embarrassing stop for Obama has been his trip to Illinois—a state formerly thought of as a lock for Democrats.
Obama’s Chicago visit drew criticism from State Republican chairman Pat Brady who said, “If they have to bring in this kind of horsepower in a state like Illinois, which has been blue for a while, then the party’s in trouble.”
Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog is predicting a 54.2 percent chance Kirk wins and a 45.8 percent chance Giannoulias wins.
Obama campaigned for Gov. Martin O’Malley in Maryland on Oct. 7, praising him as “rock solid” in both his commitment to middle and working-class families and to education.
New data from Maryland pollster Patrick Gonzales shows O’Malley leading Robert Ehrlich by five points as of Oct. 19.
Obama visited Boston to stump for Gov. Deval Patrick who has a 75.2 percent chance of winning, according to Five Thirty Eight.
“The biggest mistake we could make now is to go back to the very same politics that almost destroyed us,” Obama said. “This election is about where we want to be two, five 10, 20 years from now. It’s about the work we have left to do, about moving forward.”
In his visit to Ohio, the President and First Lady Michelle Obama drew an estimated crowd of 35,000 people at Ohio State University. Officials say the rally was Obama’s largest since he was elected.
Campaigning for Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Senate candidate Lee Fisher, both of whom were trailing their Republican opponents, Obama said, “Everybody said, 'No, you can't' and in 2008 you showed them, 'Yes, we can.’”
The president is also focusing on states like Delaware and California that have little Tea Party influence and where support for his policies remains relatively strong.
“Although I think Chris has so far run an extraordinary race, I don’t want anybody here taking this for granted,” Obama said. “This is a tough political environment.”
Obama’s stop in California, which has had a topsy-turvy political history in recent years, will be much like his stops elsewhere.
Though the state tends to lean Democratic, it has voted conservatively in the past, electing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003 after the recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
Schwarzenegger leaned more toward the middle during his tenure but California voters have remained committed to less liberal values, passing Proposition 8, a ban on gay marriage, and leaning toward voting against Proposition 19, legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
Mother Jones’ Corn said Schwarzenegger made himself a key ally of Obama’s by supporting global warming legislation and the stimulus bill.
“There’s no sign that Meg Whitman is going to cooperate in that fashion,” Corn said.
A Rasmussen report from Oct. 16 shows that 49 percent of voters in California favor repealing the new national health care law.
In the middle of a budget crisis, Californians may vote for the candidate they believe can fix the state’s deadlock.
Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog is forecasting an 82.1 percent chance that Boxer wins the seat.
A big factor could be turnout.
The most recent voter registration data shows 72.24 percent of 23,521,995 eligible voters have registered in California. Though the total registration numbers are up from 2006, the number of eligible voters has also increased.
The percentage of voters registered with the Democratic Party is 44.3 percent, while Republicans come in at 30.9 percent. Democratic Party registration increased from 42.7 percent in 2006, while Republican Party voter registration decreased from 34.3 percent in 2006.
Ultimately, though, the wind may just not be in favor of politicians in general.
“The climate stinks and people are upset about it,” Democratic strategist Bill Carrick said. “It’s an extremely difficult climate for anybody in office regardless of what party they belong to.”
And as always, the reason is money.
“People aren’t happy,” Carrick said. “They have incredible economic anxiety of where the economy’s headed...This is like your brother-in-law sleeping on your couch because he doesn’t have a job. This is real and it’s tough. It’s a very, very negative political environment.”