Obama Rose Garden speech reveals route to victory in 2012

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama and his aides believe they’ve got a path to victory in 2012, and today’s campaign-style budget plan speech in the Rose Garden showed their road-map.

The landmarks on this Democratic map include Obama’s reputation as a great persuader, his relatively high likability ratings, the fears of Democratic base voters, the hopes of independents and the potential vulnerabilities of GOP candidates in one-on-one comparisons with Obama.

In repeated interviews and statements, White House officials blame poor communications — not policies — for the president’s stunning loss of support since 2009. His approval has fallen from the high-60s to the low-40s, swing-voters have flipped from support to opposition, and he’s trailing in must-win states such as Florida and Ohio.

“The area in my presidency where I think my management and understanding of the presidency evolved most, and where I think we made the most mistakes, was less on the policy front and more on the communications front,” Obama recently told Ron Suskind, the author of a new book chronicling disagreements and disputes inside the White House. Presidents “Carter, Clinton and I all have sort of the disease of being policy wonks,” rather than communicators, he claimed. (RELATED: New Obama plan promises to raise taxes, worry Democrats)

This analysis has prompted the White House to put the president out on the campaign trail, rather than change their policy prescriptions. Last week, Obama traveled to three swing-states: North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. Monday, he gave the Rose Garden speech, and this Thursday he’s going back to Ohio.

Democrats say these personal appearances also leverage the high personal ratings he gets from the public. For example, his personal ratings were around 70 percent in May despite the poor economy, and remain higher than the ratings he gets for the economy.

Obama’s speech Monday also featured repeated criticism of Republicans as a danger to retirees, who are a critical voting bloc, especially in must-win Florida.

The wealthy should pay more in taxes, rather than “ask seniors to pay more in Medicare,” Obama said, as he promised to veto any GOP effort to cut Medicare spending. “I’m not going to allow that [entitlement reform] to be an excuse for turning Medicare into a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of insurance companies,” he said as he promised to preserve Medicare with only minor changes.

The various promises on taxes, Medicare, Social Security, immigration and other issues, are built not only on the president’s ideological preferences, but also on polls that show many Americans pick Obama’s preferences when asked about each single proposal. A New York Times poll, for example, showed that 71 percent favor deficit reductions via a combination of taxes and cuts, versus 21 percent who favor only reductions via spending cuts. A July poll by CNN showed that 77 percent of adults oppose cuts to Medicare programs, while only 22 percent support cuts.

Democrats cite these direct comparisons to argue that voters will choose Obama over any named Republican — complete with his proposals — in November 2012.

“The Republicans have yet to choose a nominee, and therefore, most Americans have yet to learn much about their records or visions for the country,” Obama campaign manager said in a memo released to reporters last week. “Their candidates are busy courting the Tea Party, signing off on any economic pledge it might demand — no revenue increases under any circumstances, ending Medicare as we know it, draconian cuts that will hamper job creation,” he said.

Obama’s speech also sought to taint the current GOP candidates with the current recession by linking them to former President George W. Bush. “Profligate spending… the costs of two wars, and the recessions, turned a record surplus into a yawning deficit,” he said.

That criticism also implies that Obama is the good-government, fiscal-conservative, consensus-builder that most swing-voters want to see in the White House. Today, he followed up by saying he had offered Republicans a “grand bargain” in August to the deficit-and-debt problems facing Washington, and he made sure to say that House Speaker John Boehner walked away from the deal.

Obama’s campaign team will likely have more than $500 million dollars worth of money to fund attack-ads against the Republicans, no matter which candidate is picked by the GOP’s primary voters.

Some of that $500 million-plus will also be used to boost turnout by Democratic-leaning voters, including Hispanics, retirees and government employees.

In today’s speech, for example, Obama name-checked retirees, working teachers and veterans. He also signaled his loyalty to Democratic-leaning professionals when he spoke of his support for medical-research, and for Democratic-leaning Hispanics when he touted his support for construction workers.

Shortly after the speech, reporters received invites to a press-conference by a new coalition of 10 Hispanic advocacy groups claiming to protect Medicare for Hispanics. On Tuesday, the group will release a new report, The High Cost to Latinos of Raising the Medicare Age, which will said that Latinos will lose $2.4 billion in transfer payments in one year if Medicare’s eligibility age is raised to 67, according to the press release.

Obama had proposed that change during the August deficit talks, but did not include it in today’s package. That change reveals a decision by Obama to scale-back his pursuit of swing-voters, and to instead bolster sagging support among his base voters.

Axelrod has some polling support to back up his that claim that Obama is doing well in direct comparisons with likely GOP candidates.

An August poll of North Carolina voters showed Obama neck and neck with Governors Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. “Despite the Republican candidates just beginning to undergo the media scrutiny that occurs during a presidential campaign, from North Carolina to Nevada, the president remains ahead or in a dead heat with the Republican candidates in the battleground states that will decide the election in 2012.”

That same poll, however, noted that the Obama would lose if the election was held today, because the Republican will likely get most of the voters from undecided voters. Other polls — and the Sept. 14 GOP win in New York’s 9th district — suggest that Obama’s attack ads may not spur voters’ worries about individual GOP policies enough to overcome their general distress at his administration’s economic policies, unemployment and the rising deficit.

Obama’s persuasiveness is also questionable. On Sept. 18, commentator George Will argued that Obama actually has little ability to persuade voters. “He went to Massachusetts to campaign against Scott Brown. Scott Brown is now a senator. He went to New Jersey to campaign against Chris Christie, who’s now the governor. He went to Virginia to campaign against Bob McDonnell, who’s now governor … There is no evidence that the man has rhetorical powers he is relying on,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” show.

But the White House has its re-election strategy, and it’s sticking to it, according to Axelrod’s memo. “Ultimately it is in those battleground states where voters will choose, 14 months from now, between two candidates, their records, and their visions for the country.”

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