After the inspirational campaign of 2008, the Obama reelection campaign was a let down. Considering the dire consequence of a Romney victory to the nation, Obama supporters generally tolerated the campaign based upon attacking Romney as long as it was working, but it was not the type of campaign most of us really wanted to see. Few people were going to second guess the campaign as long as Obama had a secure lead, but it seemed like Obama should be doing more to respond to the Republican attacks and doing more to say why voters should vote for him as opposed to against Romney. Now that we are in the final two weeks with Obama clinging on to a slim lead in the battleground states, the campaign has begun to do these things:
Over the weekend, after seeing yet another ad blaming Obama for the economic conditions created by the Republicans, I suggested on Facebook that the Obama campaign should run an ad with “Bill Clinton placing the blame on Bush for crashing the economy, the GOP House for obstructing recovery, and crediting Obama for keeping us out of a full fledged depression.”
“The stuff some folks are saying about President Obama sound kind of familiar. The same people said my ideas destroyed jobs—they called me every name in the book.”
“Well we created 22 million new jobs and turned deficits into surpluses.”
“President Obama’s got it right. We should invest in the middle class, education and innovation. And pay down our debt with spending restraint and asking the wealthy to pay a little more. Sound familiar?”
They did this slightly different, tying Clinton’s ad into another ad released this week, spelling out Obama’s plan for the economy, but they did see the value in having Clinton do such an ad. Of course there is no reason why Clinton couldn’t do additional ads now that he has backed Obama’s policies.
The ad above reiterates what Obama has already been saying, but putting it together in one place helps counter Romney’s claim that Obama does not have a plan for his second term. The new ad was accompanied by a booklet on Obama’s Blueprint for America’s Future.
In the final two weeks, the ground game is receiving more attention. Molly Boll described how this gives Obama an advantage. The Field-Office Gap is far more important than the Bayonet-Gap of the third debate.
While Obama’s office in Sterling is one of more than 800 across the country — concentrated, of course, in the swing states — Romney commands less than half that number, about 300 locations. In the swing states, the gap is stark. Here’s the numerical comparison in what are generally considered the top three swing states — Ohio, Florida and Virginia:
But the difference isn’t just quantitative, it’s qualitative. I visited Obama and Romney field offices in three swing states — Ohio, Colorado and Virginia — dropping in unannounced at random times to see what I could see. There were some consistent, and telling, differences.
Obama’s office suite in Sterling was in an office park next to a dentist’s office. The front window was plastered with Obama-Biden signs, the door was propped open, and the stink bugs that plague Virginia in the fall crawled over stacks of literature — fliers for Senate candidate Tim Kaine, Obama bumper stickers — piled on a table near the front reception desk. In rooms in front and back, volunteers made calls on cell phones, while in the interior, field staffers hunched over computers. One wall was covered with a sheet of paper where people had scrawled responses to the prompt, “I Support the President Because…”, while another wall held a precinct-by-precinct list of neighborhood team leaders’ email addresses.
Only about a mile down the road was the Republican office, a cavernous, unfinished space on the back side of a strip mall next to a Sleepy’s mattress outlet. On one side of the room, under a Gadsden flag (“Don’t tread on me”) and a poster of Sarah Palin on a horse, two long tables of land-line telephones were arrayed. Most of the signs, literature, and buttons on display were for the local Republican congressman, Frank Wolf. A volunteer in a Wolf for Congress T-shirt was directing traffic, sort of — no one really seemed to be in charge and there were no paid staff present, though there were several elderly volunteers wandering in and out. The man in the T-shirt allowed me to survey the room but not walk around, and was unable to refer me to anyone from the Romney campaign or coordinated party effort.
These basic characteristics were repeated in all the offices I visited: The Obama offices were devoted almost entirely to the president’s reelection; the Republican offices were devoted almost entirely to local candidates, with little presence for Romney. In Greenwood Village, Colorado, I walked in past a handwritten sign reading “WE ARE OUT OF ROMNEY YARD SIGNS,” then had a nice chat with a staffer for Rep. Mike Coffman. In Canton, Ohio, the small GOP storefront was dominated by “Win With Jim!” signs for Rep. Jim Renacci. Obama’s nearest offices in both places were all Obama. In Canton, a clutch of yard signs for Sen. Sherrod Brown leaned against a wall, but table after table was filled with Obama lit — Veterans for Obama, Women for Obama, Latinos for Obama, and so on. The Obama campaign uses cell phones exclusively, while the Republicans use Internet-based land line phones programmed to make voter calls. Every Obama office has an “I Support the President Because…” wall, covered with earnest paeans to Obamacare and the like.
Even many Republicans realize they are at a disadvantage:
Some Republicans admit that the ground game is a weakness for the party. In Colorado, one top GOP consultant who has worked on presidential campaigns told me he mentally added 2 to 4 points to Obama’s polls in the state based on superior organization.
David Gergen also sees the ground game as an advantage for Obama:
Coming into a 14-day scramble, Obama can now rely upon an additional weapon in his arsenal: a strong ground game. Because it drove away any potential challengers in the Democratic primaries, his Chicago team not only got the jump on the GOP in advertising this past summer, but also constructed what appears to be a superior field organization.
In the pivotal state of Ohio, for example, the Obama campaign has three times as many offices, often captained by experienced young people. By contrast, a major Republican figure in the state, throwing up his hands, told me that the Romney field team looked like a high school civics class. The Romney team heartily disagrees, of course; we’ll just have to wait and see.
Contacting the voters directly might be one reason for Obama’s big lead among early voters:
The latest Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll finds President Obama had a lead of 53% to 42% among the 17% of the surveyed registered voters who said they had already cast their vote.
In the crucial swing state of Ohio, a new Time poll finds Obama holds a two-to-one lead over Romney among those who have voted early, 60% to 30%.
Ads and the ground game should dominate the final two weeks. Interviews are less likely to play a part. It looks like Romney might not give further interviews (but BuzzFeed did reveal how Romney looks so tan). Even Obama was initially reluctant to release the content of his interview with the Des Moines Register, but did ultimately release the transcript. Obama started with the same message in the ad and booklet mentioned above:
Obviously, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last four years. A lot of it was responding to the most severe economic emergency we’ve had since the Great Depression. And whether it was saving the auto industry, stabilizing the financial system, making sure that we got into a growth mode again and started putting people back to work, we have made real progress.
But people are obviously still hurting in a lot of parts of the country. And that’s why last night I tried to reiterate a very specific plan that we’ve put forward to make sure that the economy is growing, we’re bringing down our deficit, and we’re creating jobs.
So, number one, I’m very interested in continuing to build on the work that we did not just in the auto industry but some of the other industrial sectors, bringing manufacturing back to our shores; changing our tax code to reward companies that are investing here. There is a real sense that companies are starting to make decisions about insourcing, and some modest incentives I think can make a real difference in terms of us seeing continued manufacturing growth, which obviously has huge ramifications throughout the economy, including in the service sector of the economy.
Number two, education, which has obviously been a priority for us over the last four years — I want to build on what we’ve done with Race to the Top, but really focus on STEM education — math, science, technology, computer science. And part of that is helping states to hire teachers with the highest standards and training in these subjects so we can start making sure that our kids are catching up to some of the other industrialized world.
Two million more slots in community colleges that allows our workers to retrain, but also young people who may not want to go to a four-year college, making sure that the training they’re receiving is actually for jobs that are out there right now. And we want to continue to work — building on the progress we’ve done over the last four years — to keep tuition low for those who do attend either a two-year or a four-year college.
Number three, controlling our own energy. This obviously is of interest to Iowa. Our support of biofuels, our support of wind energy has created thousands of jobs in Iowa. But even more importantly, this is going to be the race to the future. The country that controls new sources of energy, not just the traditional sources, is going to have a huge competitive advantage 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now.
So in addition to doubling our fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks, what we want to do is make sure that we’re producing new technologies here — long-lasting batteries, making sure that we are developing the wind and solar and other energy sources that may provide us a breakthrough. In the meantime, we’re still producing oil and natural gas at a record pace, but we’ve got to start preparing for the future. And as I said, it creates jobs right now in Iowa.
Number four, I want to reduce our deficit. It’s got to be done in a balanced way. I’ve already cut a trillion dollars’ worth of spending. I’m willing to do more. I’m willing to cut more, and I’m willing to work with Democrats and Republicans when it comes to making some adjustments that bring down the cost of our health care programs, which obviously are the biggest drivers of our deficit.
But nobody who looks at the numbers thinks it’s realistic for us to actually reduce our deficit in a serious way without also having some revenue. And we’ve identified tax rates going up to the Clinton rates for income above $250,000; making some adjustments in terms of the corporate tax side that could actually bring down the corporate tax overall, but broaden the base and close some loopholes. That would be good for our economy, and it would be good for reducing our deficit.
And finally, using some of the war savings to put people back to work on infrastructure — roads, bridges. We’ve fallen behind in that area. And we can — this deferred maintenance, we can put people to work, back, right now, and at the same time make sure that our economy is more competitive over the long term.
So that’s sort of a summary of the things I want to accomplish to create jobs and economic growth. Obviously, there are other items on the agenda. We need to get immigration reform done, and I’m fully committed to doing that. I think there’s still more work on the energy efficiency side that we can do — helping to retrofit our buildings, schools, hospitals, so that they’re energy efficient — because if we achieved efficiencies at the level of, let’s say, Japan, we could actually cut our power bill by about 20-25 percent, and that would have the added benefit of taking a whole bunch of carbon out of the atmosphere.
So there are some things that we can do, but obviously the key focus is making sure that the economy is growing. That will facilitate all the other work that we do.