Politics

Obama’s three-day mini-campaign

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s trip to Nevada, California and Colorado is a compressed version of his own 2012 campaign strategy.

The president is hitting several Hollywood fundraisers, showing sympathy with distressed Hispanic households, eating at a soul food restaurant, giving a speech on student loans, smiling through swing-state Colorado, and rolling out a new slogan that paints him as a concerned, effective leader.

He’ll also jet over to Colorado on his way back to D.C. That state is becoming increasingly important for him as his poll numbers fall in Midwestern states and in Virginia and North Carolina.

He’s down, but not out, in Colorado, according to an August poll by Democratic group Public Policy Polling. That poll showed he had a 46 percent approval rating and a 50 percent disapproval rate, down from a 51 percent-45 percent split in February, which matched Obama’s victory in 2008.

Monday night, for example, Obama hit two Hollywood fundraisers, where he picked up a maximum of $35,800 per guest for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The first event highlighted African Americans in Hollywood, and was attended by fans such as actor Will Smith and basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He made sure to name-drop a famous African-American restaurant, Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles soul food. In 2012, he’ll need a high turnout by African Americans, despite their record unemployment rates.

He also held a fundraiser in Nevada for 240 people, held two in L.A. Monday night, and is holding three more in San Francisco Tuesday.

Tuesday’s fundraisers in San Francisco will bring him up to 60 this year.

The initial stopover in Nevada allowed the president to to show middle-class voters his concern for real estate prices.

He won the state 55 percent to 42 percent in 2008, but he’s down to 45 percent approval now, with 52 percent disapproval, according to Public Policy Polling. That’s bad, but not yet lethal.

The state was the epicenter of the real estate bubble created by Washington’s easy credit policies, and the bubble’s bursting has left the state with the nation’s highest percentage of households below water. In August, 70 percent of Las Vegas home sales were of ‘underwater’ houses, in which the outstanding mortgage was greater than the house’s deflated value.

While some might be embarrassed by Washington’s central role in this disaster, the president hopes to use it as an opportunity to show Washington’s ability to ameliorate the disaster it caused, and so he announced a risk-shifting plan that will allow perhaps 1 million low-income homeowners with federally-backed loans to get new, lower interest loans.

The scheme was packaged with a new Obama slogan — “We Can’t Wait” — that seeks to paint Republican leaders as surly obstacles to progress. The slogan compliments another element of Obama’s stump speech: Republicans put “party before country.”

The new mortgage plan may work, partly because Obama agreed that the taxpayers — not finance companies — should accept the medium-term risk that some of the new mortgages may never be repaid. That way, George W. Bush got Nevada’s votes for pumping up the bubble, and Obama is trying to win those votes by re-inflating the bubble.

Even if this policy doesn’t work, and only a few homeowners are helped, Obama is seen as helping while GOP candidates, such as Gov. Mitt Romney, are already been shown in Internet ads as unsympathetic and unhelpful advocates of free market forces.

Obama needs a high turnout by Hispanic voters, so he made sure to be photographed while pitching his plan to an attractive Hispanic couple who own a house.

Last night’s second L.A. fundraiser also featured about 120 Hispanic celebrities, including TV starlet Eva Longoria, movie star Antonio Banderas and others, such as L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

When he reaches Colorado, Obama will also pitch his speeches to the state’s growing Hispanic community. They gave him almost 70 percent of their votes in 2008, but their support has slipped, so Wednesday’s events will likely include some references to immigration — which Hispanic ethnic lobbies strongly favor — and a shout out to his $447 billion, one-year stimulus plan. The plan include tens of billions for construction jobs, many of which were lost by Hispanics when the property bubble burst.

Obama also needs to revive support among younger voters, who have been hit hard by the stalled economy. In 2008, he got two-thirds of the 18-to-29 vote, but his support is much lower heading into the 2011 election.

Tonight’s appearance on Jay Leno’s late night show will hep him reach that demographic. But the the real pitch starts tomorrow, when he‘s slated to announce a new policy that will help students better manage their students loans, White House Communications Chief Dan Pfeiffer said in a Monday press conference.

The issue is important, in part because many recent graduates have been shocked at the payment they’re required to make after spending several years studying for a degree many feel is of less value in today’s workplace.

Obama has the legal power to adjust student loan repayments because the federal government’s regulatory policies is one of the forces that have inflated student loans to almost $1 trillion.

Federal Pell grants, for example, allow colleges and universities — who are a leading player in the Democratic Party’s diverse coalition — to raise their rates without immediate pain to students and their parents. Many students’ loans are already backstopped by federal grants, and Obama’s 2009 takeover of the student loan business from the banking sector also gives him more ability to regulate payments rates and even interest.

Obama’s student loan policy is needed, said Pfeiffer, because “We Can’t wait,” for congressional action.

Follow Neil on Twitter