Today, the political realities of a sputtering economy, a more polarized Washington and fast-sinking presidential job approval ratings, particularly among white independents, are forcing the Obama campaign to adjust its tactics.
Operation Vote will function as a large, centralized department in the Chicago campaign office for reaching ethnic, religious and other voter groups. It will coordinate recruitment of an ethnic volunteer base and push out targeted messages online and through the media to groups such as blacks, Hispanics, Jews, women, seniors, young people, gays and Asian Americans.
The campaign this month hired a longtime Jewish political activist as a point person for that community, the first of many such hirings to come this fall as staffers are brought on from each of the target groups.
The move comes as Obama has endured criticism from many liberal activists who charge that he has ceded too much ground in budget battles with Republicans. In recent days, the president has sharpened his partisan tone in public remarks on jobs and the economy, a change that has drawn praise from Democrats worried that flagging enthusiasm among core party voters could hurt Obama’s reelection chances.
And it is complemented by changes at the White House, including the impending hiring of a new Jewish community liaison and the recent promotion of another aide tasked with forging closer ties to black lawmakers, who have accused Obama of shying away from boosting troubled African American communities out of fear of alienating white voters.
“He was an exciting candidate, a fresh face,” said Rep. Steven R. Rothman (D-N.J.), one of Obama’s earliest 2008 backers. “And now he is an experienced president with a lot of maturity and more successes than failures legislatively, but in a divided government [there is] some inevitable disappointment.”
“I don’t agree that the specialness of his candidacy will be absent from this election,” Rothman added. But “the world has changed. The American economy has changed.”
A different campaign
The tactical shift from 2008 is a matter of “survival of the most adaptable,” said longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is advising an independent, pro-Democratic group called Priorities USA.
“They did everything right in 2008, but that doesn’t mean they should do everything the way they did it in 2008,” Begala said. “It’s completely changed circumstances. You can’t be as untraditional as they were in 2008 when you’re the president. He’s the man now.”