N2K: Cooling to Obama’s Take on Greenhouse Gas Rules

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March 8, 2011, noon

A Rasmussen Re­ports (IVR) poll; con­duc­ted 10/11; sur­veyed 750 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 3.6% (re­lease, 10/13). Tested: Sen­ate Maj. Lead­er Harry Re­id and ‘06 NV-02 can­did­ate/ex-As­semb. Shar­ron Angle (R). (Note: Trends from 7/27 and earli­er are without lean­ers.)

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

- Now 10/5 9/28 9/13 9/1 8/16 7/27 7/12 6/22 6/9 4/27 S. Angle 49% 50% 47% 48% 48% 50% 43% 43% 48% 50% 40% H. Re­id 48 46 48 48 50 48 45 46 41 39 40 Oth­er 1 2 4 2 2 1 7 6 8 5 6 Un­dec 1 2 1 3 1 1 4 5 2 6 3

Flip It Over

A Pub­lic Policy Polling (D) (IVR) poll; con­duc­ted 10/7-9; sur­veyed 504 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 4.4% (re­lease, 10/12). Party ID break­down: 41%D, 40%R, 19%I. Tested: Re­id, Angle, busi­ness­man Scott Ashji­an (TP), USN vet/air­craft en­gin­eer/busi­ness­man Tim Fas­ano (IAP), Mi­chael Haines (I), Jesse Hol­land (I), Jef­frey Reeves (I) and Will Stand (I).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­ups

- All Dem GOP Ind Men Wom Wht Blk His Oth H. Re­id 47% 85% 11% 40% 44% 51% 42% 76% 54% 47% S. Angle 45 7 83 48 47 42 52 21 30 48 S. Ashji­an 2 2 2 4 3 2 2 — 3 — M. Haines 1 — 0 2 1 0 1 — — 2 J. Hol­land 1 1 1 — 1 1 0 — 2 — J. Reeves 1 2 — — 1 1 — 2 4 2 T. Fas­ano 0 — — 2 1 — 0 — — — W. Stand 0 1 — — 0 0 0 2 — — None 2 2 2 1 1 2 1 — 4 — Un­dec 1 1 1 3 2 1 2 — 2 — - All Dem GOP Ind Men Wom Wht Blk His Oth 7/18(RVs) H. Re­id 49% 90% 13% 40% 46% 52% 42% 79% 61% 52% 48% S. Angle 48 7 86 56 51 45 56 21 32 48 46 Un­dec 3 3 2 4 3 2 2 — 7 — 6

Re­id As Sen.

- RVs RVs - All Dem GOP Ind Men Wom Wht Blk His Oth 7/18 1/12 Ap­prove 44% 82% 10% 34% 40% 49% 37% 78% 53% 50% 44% 36% Dis­ap­prove 52 13 88 61 55 48 58 21 43 50 53 58

Fav/Un­fav

- All Dem GOP Ind 7/18(RVs) S. Angle 41%/53% 8%/86% 70%/22% 50%/46% 36%/52% S. Ashji­an 8 /38 8 /34 3 /44 16 /37 n/a

(For more from this poll, please see today’s NV In The States story.)

COR­REC­TION: The ori­gin­al ver­sion of this column gave the in­cor­rect cam­paign that Stacie Pax­ton worked on in 2004. She worked on John Kerry’s cam­paign.

After a dif­fi­cult sum­mer of polit­ic­al and le­gis­lat­ive set­backs that has the White House and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats on their heels, the party would be wise to re­mem­ber Rahm Emanuel’s ax­iom: “You nev­er want a ser­i­ous crisis to go to waste.”

Make no mis­take, Demo­crats’ polit­ic­al for­tunes right now are in a state of crisis, and it’s a good time to re­mem­ber the former White House chief of staff’s ad­vice. The party has just lost a spe­cial elec­tion in heav­ily Demo­crat­ic New York City, in a man­ner that sug­gests one of their key vot­ing blocs, Jew­ish voters, may be ready to bolt to the GOP. The Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee was out­raised in Au­gust by its Re­pub­lic­an coun­ter­part, even with the help of mega-bashes thrown to hon­or Obama’s 50th birth­day. And the pres­id­ent’s ap­prov­al rat­ings are sink­ing to new lows, both na­tion­ally and in key states like Cali­for­nia, Pennsylvania, and Vir­gin­ia.

By them­selves, none of those data points sug­gest a party in per­il. With the elec­tion 14 months away, Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing has time to re­bound. A few mil­lion dol­lars in an elec­tion that will cost bil­lions are in­sig­ni­fic­ant. And spe­cial elec­tions are odd beasts that serve as un­re­li­able in­dic­at­ors of the na­tion­al mood. But put them to­geth­er and the out­look gets down­right scary.

How can the White House turn things around? Demo­crat­ic strategists from across the coun­try of­fer a range of sug­ges­tions: Pick a fight. Drive a co­her­ent, con­sist­ent mes­sage. Bring in a new team. And even play more golf. Here are eight, some­times con­tra­dict­ory sug­ges­tions the White House might want to con­sider as it tries to re­build a dam­aged brand:

Pick a fight. Obama’s first two and a half years in of­fice have shown his in­stinct for prag­mat­ism. He has offered com­prom­ises and ne­go­ti­ations on every ma­jor item on his agenda. But he rarely finds a will­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ner, to hear Demo­crats’ spin. (Re­pub­lic­ans would say Obama ex­pects them to ac­qui­esce to his open­ing po­s­i­tion rather than truly ham­mer­ing out a deal.)

Some Demo­crats be­lieve Obama must es­chew his in­stinct to sit down with Re­pub­lic­an House Speak­er John Boehner and in­stead take a clear stand in op­pos­i­tion to the GOP agenda. “Pick one fight with Re­pub­lic­ans and don’t back down,” said Nath­an Daschle, the former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation. “It’s not just for your base, it’s for all voters who want a pres­id­ent who be­lieves in prin­ciple. It’s a bal­an­cing act. There is a time for com­prom­ise and there is a time to fight. Show us you know the dif­fer­ence.”

The jobs bill is a good start, some Demo­crats say. In in­tro­du­cing the bill last week, Obama dis­played an ag­gress­ive tone with Con­gress that he hasn’t in the past, something Demo­crats say af­fords him an op­por­tun­ity to draw a con­trast with Re­pub­lic­ans. The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll re­leased this week shows over­whelm­ing ma­jor­it­ies fa­vor ele­ments of Obama’s jobs plan, while a slim plur­al­ity fa­vor his over­all ap­proach over the Re­pub­lic­an ap­proach.

“The sub­stance of the pres­id­ent’s plan is more pop­u­lar than the [Re­pub­lic­an] al­tern­at­ive, and what people want now is for their lead­ers to fo­cus re­lent­lessly on the eco­nom­ic chal­lenge con­front­ing the na­tion,” said Tad Dev­ine, a Demo­crat­ic me­dia con­sult­ant. “He should stay on the road and keep the same ap­pro­pri­ately ag­gress­ive tone he dis­played in his ad­dress to Con­gress.”

Make a deal. Run­ning against a do-noth­ing Con­gress can only get Obama so far. At some point, Obama has to show he has ac­tu­ally taken pos­it­ive steps to­ward fix­ing the eco­nomy, wheth­er or not the res­ults are there. Ar­guing that he’s be­ing ham­strung by an ob­struc­tion­ist Con­gress could just demon­strate to voters that the in­cum­bent is in­ef­fec­tu­al. The best de­fense, some Demo­crats con­tend, is to pass a bill — any bill — that Obama can point to on the cam­paign trail.

“The pres­id­ent needs to pass his jobs pack­age demon­strat­ing to Amer­ica that he can get something done. This starts by com­ing up with a real pay-for that is not a re­pack­aging of tax in­creases that the House already re­jec­ted,” said one seni­or Demo­crat­ic strategist, who asked that his name be with­held. “Con­gress may be an obstacle, but run­ning against a do-noth­ing Con­gress will not be enough. Amer­ic­ans are hurt­ing and they want res­ults.”

When reelect­ing a pres­id­ent, a voter’s de­cision is usu­ally a two-step pro­cess: Does the in­cum­bent de­serve reelec­tion, and if not, is there a vi­able al­tern­at­ive? Demo­crats hope to make the case that the even­tu­al Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee is not a vi­able al­tern­at­ive. But get­ting a res­ult on the jobs plan would give Obama’s cam­paign a chance to an­swer the first ques­tion — that he de­serves reelec­tion — in a pos­it­ive way.

Drive a mes­sage. Re­gard­less of wheth­er he chooses to fight or ne­go­ti­ate, Obama needs to pick a mes­sage and stick with it. Vir­tu­ally since the mo­ment he entered of­fice, Obama’s team has been buf­feted by ma­jor events that re­quired im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion, ran­ging from the im­pend­ing eco­nom­ic col­lapse to the Ar­ab Spring to the debt-ceil­ing dead­line.

That’s pre­ven­ted the White House from stick­ing with a single, con­sist­ent theme — even Demo­crats joke about the num­ber of times the White House has said it is “pivot­ing” to fo­cus on jobs. Again, the jobs bill provides an op­por­tun­ity to re­peat a man­tra. Obama is already re­peat­ing his “Pass this bill” line con­tinu­ously. He needs to do it even more of­ten. “Re­peat “˜Pass this jobs bill’ 50 times a day un­til the elec­tion,” one lead­ing Demo­crat ad­vised.

And the mes­sage should fire up the base. As Obama tacks to­ward the middle, he is giv­ing Demo­crats a chance to snipe from the mar­gins. That feeds a me­dia hungry for evid­ence of a party in chaos. Privately, even some Obama cam­paign ad­visers say the can­did­ate needs to spend more time re­pair­ing a dam­aged re­la­tion­ship with the party’s two bases — the one on Cap­it­ol Hill that can ac­tu­ally pass Obama’s agenda, and the one out­side the Belt­way that will get him reelec­ted. “You can get lots of in­de­pend­ents by stand­ing for what you be­lieve,” the lead­ing Demo­crat said.

Blame Bush. Facts, as they say, are stub­born things. And the fact is, the eco­nom­ic down­turn began un­der George W. Bush. While the stim­u­lus pack­age has not dragged the eco­nomy out of the great re­ces­sion, and while most eco­nom­ists be­lieve the jobs bill wouldn’t provide a ter­min­al solu­tion either, some Demo­crats still be­lieve there is candy in the Bush pinata.

“The White House or the pres­id­ent’s cam­paign needs to es­tab­lish a nar­rat­ive for the vast ma­jor­ity of the coun­try that’s in the middle of the ideo­lo­gic­al spec­trum that ex­plains how we got in­to our cur­rent eco­nom­ic situ­ation,” said one ad­viser to a Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate can­did­ate. “It is com­pletely reas­on­able for the head of one of the two ma­jor polit­ic­al parties to make the case for why the oth­er party’s po­s­i­tions sig­ni­fic­antly con­trib­uted to our tak­ing the wrong turn. In oth­er words, it isn’t some his­tor­ic­al ac­ci­dent that our eco­nomy is as fra­gile as it is today.”

Re­pub­lic­ans scoff at the no­tion of blam­ing Bush, and the White House has not helped it­self by ad­mit­ting, on many oc­ca­sions, that they own the eco­nomy. But polls show a sig­ni­fic­ant slice of the Amer­ic­an elect­or­ate still blame Bush. (The latest: An NBC/Wall Street Journ­al poll, re­leased last week, that shows 53 per­cent of voters, and 54 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents, blame Bush, while just 27 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents and 32 per­cent of voters over­all blame Obama.) The White House has yet to ag­gress­ively tell those voters what they already be­lieve.

Clean house. In an ed­it­or­i­al for CNN, James Carville had some blunt ad­vice for the pres­id­ent: “Fire some­body. No — fire a lot of people.” A big slice of the Demo­crat­ic es­tab­lish­ment, both on and off Cap­it­ol Hill, agree.

Demo­crats and the me­dia reg­u­larly slammed Bush for re­ly­ing too heav­ily on a small, ri­gid in­ner circle. Obama does the same. A ma­jor staff turnover after the midterm elec­tions brought in new faces, but the over­haul traded one Chica­go­land in­sider, Emanuel, for an­oth­er, Bill Da­ley. Now Da­ley is tak­ing flak, with crit­ics both in­side and out­side the White House won­der­ing wheth­er he is the com­pet­ent man­ager with a spine of steel he was billed as.

To broaden his circle of ad­visers, Obama needs to “bring in some people who are out­side his com­fort zone, people who aren’t just from Chica­go and who didn’t work in his last cam­paign,” said a former Demo­crat­ic mem­ber of Con­gress. “One of the most out­rageous and short-sighted things this ad­min­is­tra­tion has done is to ban every­one who is a re­gistered lob­by­ist from serving on a gov­ern­ment board or com­mis­sion (even in a non-paid ca­pa­city). There are dozens of former Demo­crat­ic con­gress­men (who are re­gistered lob­by­ists) who would love to help the ad­min­is­tra­tion but who are pre­cluded from do­ing so by this dumb policy.”

Talk less, listen more. Run­ning for reelec­tion in 1996, Bill Clin­ton spent count­less hours in roundtable set­tings, listen­ing to reg­u­lar Amer­ic­ans tell their own stor­ies. “It bored the hell out of every­one, me in­cluded,” joked former Clin­ton press sec­ret­ary Mike Mc­Curry in an e-mail. But it worked: The roundtables gave Clin­ton an­ec­dotes to weave in­to his stump speech, mo­ments that in­dic­ated he was listen­ing to voters and un­der­stood their con­cerns.

Mc­Curry ad­vised Obama to take a page from the Clin­ton play­book. “Make a part of every event you do a “˜listen­ing’ roundtable for the pres­id­ent with real people who have real stor­ies,” he said. “The press won’t cov­er it but it is about put­ting the pres­id­ent in a place to hear stor­ies that he can re­mem­ber and re­tell him­self, and it is also about show­ing that he cares for people and takes the time to listen to what they have to say. He needs to speak less and listen more.”

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.

Com­plete cov­er­age of the 2012 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign from Na­tion­al Journ­al and CBS re­port­ers.

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