Nervous Democrats aren’t sure at this point. White House officials say they are well aware of how tough their problems are but believe things will brighten politically over the coming months. Looking ahead to next year’s election, senior adviser David Plouffe said Saturday: “We understand the very perilous situation we’re in, but we think we have a pathway forward. But we don’t have much margin for error.”
Plouffe says the tough economy and the ugly debt-ceiling debate have taken a toll on the president’s standing, but he dismisses any suggestion that there has been a break between the president and the electorate that will block his attempt to bounce back.
Obama is not, Plouffe argued, in anything like President George W. Bush’s situation in late 2005, after his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina — on top of Iraq-war weariness and other problems — inflicted permanent damage on his presidency.
“They have not at all tuned him out,” Plouffe said of the president and the public. “I completely reject that, the comparison to Bush.”
Four years ago this month, Obama was struggling. His poll numbers against Hillary Rodham Clinton were stagnant. In his estimation, his campaign was operating unevenly, and he was not the candidate he wanted to be. Donors were in revolt. At a meeting with his finance committee that fall, he offered them reassurance. “I will hold your hand,” he said. “. . . We can win this thing if you don’t waver.”
Two months later, after some tactical changes in the campaign and considerable sharpening of his message, Obama finally found his voice at the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Iowa. His campaign started to gain traction, and he became the candidate that many of his followers hoped he would be.
A campaign slump
Three years ago, in mid-September, the Obama campaign went into another slump. Republican nominee John McCain and his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, came out of their convention with unexpected momentum. Some polls showed McCain ahead of Obama. Democrats were complaining about the Obama team. Plouffe dismissed those complaints to the New York Times as “bed-wetting.”
Not entirely. Obama gathered his advisers together on the night of Sept. 14, 2008, and told them the campaign had become too reactive. He gave orders to shape up.
In that case, it wasn’t necessary. The next day, Lehman Brothers went belly up, changing the campaign overnight and sealing McCain’s fate. Obama was the beneficiary of external events that worked politically in his favor. The September slump was quickly forgotten.