President Obama spent the weekend on the West Coast delivering a forceful call-to-arms to his somewhat beleaguered base, a recognition that he must find ways to energize his core supporters with the 2012 election rapidly approaching.
At a Seattle event, Obama told the crowd to “shake off any doldrums...I need you to decide right here and now, talk to your friends and neighbors and co-workers and tell them ‘You know what, we’re not finished yet.’”
And in Medina (Wa.), Obama said: “I am going to need all of you to help mobilize people and push back against arguments that say that somehow if we’re only — if we’ve only gotten 80 percent of what we wanted to get done that that’s a a failure.”
The president’s decision to directly address the need for an increase in intensity from his party’s base comes amid polling that suggests that the passion of 2008 is not yet there for him in some critical groups.
In the latest Gallup weekly tracking poll, 82 percent of African Americans, 75 percent of self identified Democrats, 53 percent of Hispanics and 47 percent of people ages 18-29 said they approved of the job President Obama was doing.
And, in a Washington Post/ABC News poll Obama’s strong approval rating among African Americans has plummeted from 83 percent to 58 percent in the last five months.
None of those numbers are terribly low but remember that we are talking about President Obama’s base — these are the people he must have in order to win in 2012 especially given his struggles among electorally critical independent voters.
There is on-the-ground evidence of that base intensity problem too. Democrats’ special election loss 13 days ago in a New York City-area district that went for President Obama with 55 percent was blamed on any number of things but one clear problem was that the voters who should have been voting Democratic simply weren’t motivated to turn out.
The focus on rallying the base behind his candidacy is a marked rhetorical change for Obama who spent the first nine months (or so) of the 2011 casting himself as a deal-maker — a play for compromise-loving independents.
With polling suggesting that effort has failed — at least for the moment — Obama has changed course to focus on his left flank, seeking to rebuild his electoral coalition from the ground up.
While the lack of passion/intensity/enthusiasm is clearly a problem for the president, it’s also likely solvable.
For the last three years, Obama has been running against himself — or at least the 2008 campaign version of himself that liberals and even many independents fell in love with.
Now that the 2012 Republican presidential race is fully engaged, Obama will be able to start running against his potential GOP opponents — a much better dynamic for him.
(Obama has already begun that process; “Has anybody been watching the debates lately,” he asked at the San Jose fundraiser. “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.”)
The simple fact is that for most liberals the contrast between what Obama has done in his first three years in office and what the Republican candidates are promising to do will be enough to turn them back on to the incumbent.
In other words: The Democratic base may not feel great about President Obama but they know he is/will be a heck of a lot better on the issues they care about than any of the potential Republican nominees.
Obama and his team know this. But they also know that the base needs a bit of care and feeding at the moment so that they do more than go out and vote for the president. To win, Obama needs the base to actively engage — small dollar donations, volunteer hours etc. — not simply pull the lever for him next November.
That’s why his 2012 campaign apparatus has begun an aggressive targeting operation aimed at re-igniting their base, a ground operation to go with Obama’s rhetorical outreach to his most loyal supporters.
Expect to hear lots more of this outreach in the coming weeks. Obama needs a strong base to stand on as the political calendar turns to 2012.
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