There’s a side benefit to spending time with regular voters who aren’t pre-screened Democrats: Every event wins over a dozen or so new ambassadors willing to tell their friends and relatives just how much Obama understands their hardships. Those new volunteers can expand the Obama campaign's already-massive grassroots efforts.
Get away from Washington. Physically, Obama is doing so. This week alone, he has traveled to Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. Next week, he will head back to Ohio, and Joe Biden is logging travel miles, too. But verbally, Obama is speaking as if he were on the Senate floor rather than among Americans who could care less about the legislative inner workings of Washington.
“People respond to real people, facing real hardship, and they want to hear what their leaders are doing to fix their problems. There’s too much talk about super committees, bills, and budgets,” said Stacie Paxton, a public relations strategist at Hill and Knowlton who worked at the Democratic National Committee and for John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004. “I wouldn’t say ‘Pass this bill,’ I’d say, ‘Create jobs now.’ I don’t think most Americans could tell you what’s in the president’s jobs bill, what it does or how it would benefit their lives.”
Play more golf. Well, at least play golf with the right people. Obama’s predecessors, Bush and Clinton, used their weekend golf games to hobnob with influential business executives, big thinkers, rival politicians, and others outside their inner circle.
Obama, by striking contrast, is more apt to hit the links with his closest aides. Occasionally, he'll duff with someone outside that circle; he recently played a round with Vernon Jordan, and he and Boehner beat Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the early days of the debt-ceiling debate. But the regular outing is more likely to include the White House trip director and a former press aide.
“I think he probably got something out of taking John Boehner golfing,” said one frustrated Democratic strategist. “But whether it’s labor leaders or business leaders, Republicans or Democrats, don’t waste three golf slots on staff that don’t need to be star-gazing at you all the time. It’s a missed opportunity. You’re on the links for four hours. You can do a lot of work there. You need to use every opportunity you have right now, and that’s a missed opportunity. A lot of business gets done on golf courses.”
The book is not closed on Obama’s chances at reelection yet. But losing a special election in New York City could be the end of a disastrous summer chapter if the White House is willing and able to turn the page. Whether that includes picking a fight or making a deal, leaving Washington or heading out on the links, Democrats all agree the current course is untenable, and a new narrative needs to be written.