Obama faces tricky task in building 2012 campaign platform

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Imagine, it’s 2012. Unemployment is above 8 percent. The deficit is once again above $1 trillion. Troops are still in Afghanistan. And the post-debate over the health care law drags on, only its most popular provisions have not yet gone into effect.

For President Obama, it’s a tough room to play. But that could easily be the environment he runs in to seek a second term. There’s a reason so many top advisers are fleeing the White House for Chicago to start brainstorming their 2012 strategy — they have to figure out a way, and soon, to make his controversial accomplishments palatable and re-establish trust with both moderates and the Democratic base.

Coming off his State of the Union address, the president has plenty of themes and achievements on which to run. But they all have strings attached.

“Right now I think he’s in survival mode,” said Brad Blakeman, a past adviser to former President George W. Bush.

Strategists say the president started to delicately craft his message Tuesday night, using his address to the nation to accentuate the positives, make a few gestures to the center and offer an upbeat vision for the future. They say he’ll make the economy an inevitable cornerstone of his 2012 campaign. But how he does it, and how effective that will be, much depends on the course of the next two years — especially since the “stimulus” of the last two years has become somewhat of a dirty word among Democrats.

“I think it’s going to be contingent probably on the state of the economy,” said David Lewis, political science professor at Vanderbilt University. “If the economy turns around, then his record looks a lot different, and it’ll be easier to pin his re-election on his stewardship.”

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