N. Virginia campaign volunteers urge Obama to be bold in 2nd term


Obama 2012 volunteers Liesa Collins, left, and Mindy Bertram, enter data as they work at a call center for the campaign June 28, 2012 in Richmond, Va. (Steve Helber/AP)
Robert McCartney
Columnist January 19, 2013

Volunteer campaign workers who played a crucial role in reelecting President Obama have some advice for him on the eve of his Monday inauguration:

Be bolder than in your first term, Mr. President. Worry less about offending conservatives.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

Assert yourself especially on immigration reform and gun control.

Lock in the benefits of Obamacare before Republicans can find new ways to undermine it.

Compromise in a big way with the GOP only to reach a deal to curb the federal budget deficit. Do so even if it requires some cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare — providing the Republicans accept more tax increases and shrinkage at the Pentagon.

Those were the principal messages I gleaned from interviews last week with 14 Northern Virginians, each of whom devoted scores of hours, or more, of unpaid work to the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote drive last year.

For the most part, I agree with their priorities. I’m particularly keen on their prescriptions on health care, immigration and the budget. (I’m skeptical that an assault-weapons ban is politically possible, and the backlash could be damaging.)

I thought they overlooked one important goal for a second term, which is a fresh effort to reverse wage stagnation and the hollowing out of the middle class. Perhaps they did so because their communities are so prosperous, compared with elsewhere in America. There aren’t many struggling industrial workers in Fairfax.

In any case, these campaign foot soldiers have earned more right than I to counsel Obama. Their toil was universally described as vital in achieving a smashing turnout that delivered Virginia, a closely contested swing state, for the president.

Much of it was drudgery. They stood outside supermarkets registering voters. They worked phone banks identifying supporters and urging them to go the polls. They typed in data about thousands of voters. They walked door to door, including in 100-degree heat, to talk to neighbors.

Now they want Obama to use his renewed mandate to push some liberal goals that they thought he neglected in the first term. He can take more risks because he need not worry about reelection.

“I hope the overall tone is less tentative. He’s been very focused for the last four years on this coming Monday, which is understandable. But I hope he’s more bold overall, because he did win,” said John Lawrence, who oversaw canvassing in the city of Falls Church. (The other interviewees also worked in Falls Church or Fairfax County.)

To a significant extent, the campaign workers just want Obama to continue not being Mitt Romney. They supported him because they feared what a Romney presidency might do on women’s and gay rights, Supreme Court nominations, economic inequality and foreign policy.

But they hope Obama will forcefully seek major advances on gun violence and immigration. They were pleased with the ambitious firearms package he proposed after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

“My hope is that he will continue on this path of being strong, coming across with, ‘I did get the votes, thank you very much,’ ” said Win Singleton, who did data entry for the campaign.

The volunteers also emphasized the need to implement the new health-care reforms quickly, partly because they expect the Republicans to continue to obstruct it.

“Mostly, I want to make sure that it is protected and allowed to take root,” said Kendra Gaarder, who organized phone banks and canvassing in five precincts.

I was pleased that most of the volunteers, though not all, were open to the possibility of reducing spending on Medicare and possibly other entitlements as part of a Grand Bargain to rein in the U.S. debt. The Democratic base is often seen as absolutely unwilling to trim such spending, but these activists recognized it’s probably necessary.

“I think there won’t be a choice,” said Guita Kangarloo, a neighborhood team leader. “It seems foolish to think we can keep going on without cutting something.”

Tom Mulczynski, a voter registration captain, urged “a get-well plan for the debt,” including controlling expenditures. “That would go a long way to help the party’s chances in the future,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, however, the Democrats didn’t demonize government. On the contrary, they hoped success in a second term might encourage more public confidence in government activism. To that end, they hoped the president and his Cabinet members would do more to sell his policies.

“I want to see the president be a little more muscular,” said Keith D. Kearney, a phone bank coordinator. “That’s why we gave him a second term. That’s why we volunteered.”

Pay attention, Mr. President. You owe them.

For previous Robert McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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