The winner of the Republican presidential primary fight is … President Obama?
That’s the analysis laid out Tuesday by Obama’s top campaign strategists in a presentation that brimmed with confidence over how the shifting political winds in the GOP are boosting the president’s chances of reelection.
No matter whether Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich is the GOP nominee, senior strategist David Axelrod, campaign manager Jim Messina and deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter argued that a protracted Republican fight helps Obama in multiple ways.
For starters, the strategists said, the leading GOP candidates are pushing to the right to appeal to their party’s energized tea-party base – alienating General Election voters with hard-line views on immigration, abortion and taxes. Moreover, they said, every week that the Republicans are focused on fighting each other in debates and over the airwaves is another week that Obama’s campaign has to assemble its battleground state get-out-the-vote network.
“They’ve just decided not to do the kind of grass-roots organizing we’re doing,” Messina said.
Even in Iowa, where the GOP candidates are vying for votes in just a matter of weeks, Obama’s campaign claims to have a bigger operation than any of its potential Republican rivals. “We have more staffers on the ground in Iowa than the other campaigns,” Messina said.
Where the lengthy and heated Democratic primary battle four years ago between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton excited core voters and turned Obama into a more mature candidate, the GOP bout is instead harming that party this time around, Axelrod said.
“The difference here is we weren’t being tugged to the left in our party,” he said. “They’re being tugged to the right every day.”
The Obama aides predicted a reelection victory next year, laying out a series of potential paths to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
A PowerPoint slide displayed five of those paths, one through the West, one through Florida, one through the Midwest and one southern path through Virginia and North Carolina – but each path showed only a narrow victory margin. Another slide showed recent polling data in battleground states in which Obama easily leads Gingrich and holds leads in many places over Romney.
Yet another slide displayed the GOP primary calendar through next June, labeling some states and dates as favoring Gingrich and others favoring Romney. Gingrich could have a “large delegate lead” after Super Tuesday in March, dominated by the South, while “winner take all states in [the Northeast] in April could favor Romney.”
Axelrod declared the GOP outcome totally unpredictable, recalling that he once assumed Texas Gov. Rick Perry would cruise to the top.
Nevertheless, throughout Tuesday’s presentation at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, the Obama team seemed most obsessed with Romney and merely amused by Gingrich.
Axelrod poked fun at Romney’s attempted $10,000 bet in Saturday night’s debate, alluding to his history as a leveraged buyout specialist to say that, typically, Romney has “bet other people’s money, not his own.”
As for Gingrich, Axelrod added what he called some homespun wisdom from a Chicago pol: “Just remember that the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you see his butt. Well, the speaker is very high on a pole right now and we’ll see how people like the view.”