Obama’s team insists that it is unfazed by the recent bumps in the political road.
By November, “it’s going to be about: Who do I trust more in [his] approach to the debt? Who do I trust more to create middle-class jobs? Who do I trust more to create an energy future? Who do I trust more as it relates to Afghanistan?” said David Plouffe, who served as Obama’s campaign manager four years ago and is managing political strategy in the White House this time around.
“That’s what’s going to decide the election, not the contretemps of the moment,” he said in an interview. “We’re very cognizant of that.”
That kind of unflappability is a hallmark of the Obama political operation — and was a crucial ingredient in its success in 2008. But some Democratic veterans are wondering whether the reelection campaign, run by the same tight-knit group that led it four years ago, is equipped for what lies ahead.
“The bad thing is, there is no new thinking in that circle,” said one longtime operative in Democratic presidential campaigns who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Eight other prominent Democratic strategists interviewed shared that view, describing Obama’s team as resistant to advice and assistance from those who are not part of its core. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity as well.
The latest alarm came in a memo Monday from Democracy Corps, a research group headed by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and political consultant James Carville.
Based on their analysis of focus groups conducted late last month among swing voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, they wrote that the current campaign message — which stresses the fragile progress of the economic recovery — is out of touch with the daily pain voters are feeling.
“We will face an impossible head wind in November if we do not move to a new narrative, one that contextualizes the recovery, but, more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class,” Greenberg, Carville and pollster Erica Seifert wrote. They added: “They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle — and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand.”
The memo came days after Obama handed the Republicans new ammunition with his declaration at a news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.”
However difficult the task, the president may have little choice but to try to make voters feel better about the economy. Successful presidents have run for reelection on the strength of their records, as well as on the hope they offered for the future.
But successful presidents also have benefited from presenting voters a choice — between their stewardship and their rivals’. Obama’s defenders said that although the Greenberg data reflect voters’ frustrations with the economy, they are not a good gauge of Obama’s vision vs. that of GOP challenger Mitt Romney.