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AGAINST THE GRAIN

Nerves Show on Team Obama

Recent scrambling by the president’s political advisers indicates they’re very worried about his reelection chances.

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It’s been a rough June for the White House. Instead of being able to run a campaign taking credit for economic improvement, President Obama will, according to the latest forecasts, be trying to win four more years amid a grim economy next year. The president’s reelection team, once hoping to run on a “Morning in America” theme now doesn’t have that luxury.  No wonder, the president’s advisers over the past month have been making moves that suggest they’re awfully concerned about his prospects: 

 

1. Searching for an economic message. Veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg recently offered perceptive advice to the president’s team by criticizing its “getting the car out of the ditch” metaphor meant to suggest the economy is slowly improving.  As Greenberg wrote: “People thought they still were in the ditch.”

This is a time when the president needs to find his inner Bill Clinton, and feel Americans’ pain.  If he wants to be one of the few presidents to win reelection in a stagnant economy, he’ll have to devote less time to defending past policies, like the auto bailout, and more to offering specific solutions to help people get back to work. Think a 21st century version of FDR’s fireside chats.

But there are few signs that the president’s economic messaging has changed. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently said Democrats own the economy, but they don’t seem to be adapting their message to the bad economy likely to face them in November 2012. 

 

2. Doubling down on manufacturing. The latest White House effort to wring good news out of a bad economy focuses on successes in the manufacturing sector: the auto bailout that put GM and Chrysler on sounder footing, as well as green initiatives.

Politically, it’s a puzzling message.  While there has been a small uptick in manufacturing jobs, it’s hardly enough to be felt by the blue-collar electorate, who have been bearing the brunt of the recession and never viewed Obama too favorably in the first place. The latest Gallup weekly tracking poll shows Obama’s approval with college graduates at 51 percent, with a 40 percent approval among nongraduates.

The president’s emphasis on green jobs doesn’t help. It’s tough for many steelworkers to see themselves producing solar panels. Clean-energy jobs may be the future, but they’re not seen by displaced workers as a panacea.

This article appears in the June 29, 2011 edition of NJ Daily.

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