Obama’s Ohio speech yesterday was widely panned in the Beltway press as too long-winded, not sharp enough message-wise, and short on new ideas. This has angered Obama advisers and created a narrative they didn’t want.
But another way to look at the speech’s reception is this: How was it covered in the local press in the swing states?
Some political operatives believe that local coverage is the best way to reach swing voters. That’s certainly been the operating theory of Obama adviser David Plouffe since 2008, according to his campaign memoir. And certainly it’s worth noting that the vast majority of the voters who matter didn’t watch the speech and caught the main soundbites on the evening newscasts, so the length would be lost on them.
Interestingly, the local papers in Ohio covered Obama’s speech yesterday, and Romney’s rebuttal to it, as a clash of economic visions. This is how it was framed on front page after front page, according to a roundup of front pages forwarded to me by a Democrat frustrated with Washington coverage of the speech.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s front page blared: “Obama, Romney bring battle to Ohio; president levels first explicit attack on GOP candidate.” The story offered a fairly detailed look at their “dueling economic messages.”
The Columbus Dispatch featured dueling stories, each one focused on each man’s speech, under the headline: “At Opposite Ends.” The story on Obama’s speech did talk about his recent “doing fine” gaffe, but featured a number of paragraphs laying out his vision.
The Toledo Blade front page was striking, featuring two large headlines juxtaposed. “Obama calls for help for middle class,” one blared. “Romney vows policies to cut deficit, aid jobs,” read the other.
The Akron Beacon Journal’s front page hed: “Dueling speeches target Ohio voters.” The story noted that “Romney and Obama dueled in economic speeches that set the tone for months of debate,” and covered their policy differences at some length.
“President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Thursday offered vastly different visions of how to speed up America’s economic recovery,” blared the front page of the Cincinnatti Enquirer.
This is only a cursory look through the coverage, and this isn’t to say the speech was a success. The criticism of the speech is a bad process story for the Obama campaign and partly overshadowed its message in the national media. And at any rate, it’s far too early to know whether the frame Obama laid out yesterday will work; speeches this far out are unlikely to matter to the outcome in any case.
But if the Obama campaign was hoping to reframe this election as a choice between two visions for moving the economy forward, rather than a referendum on the economic status quo, some of the local coverage did give the Obama team the framing they had hoped for, even if the national media commentary largely didn’t.