Reporter’s notebook: Obama begins 2014 campaign with State of the Union speech

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama will unofficially embark on the 2014 campaign trail Wednesday, but first he’s got to give a big speech Tuesday night at the Capitol.

His annual State of the Union speech will serve as the semi-formal kick-off of his 2014 campaign, which will rally the party’s depressed and diverse base of progressives, socialists, liberals, union members, feminists and gays, unmarried women and youths, plus various racial and ethnic groups.

D.C. lobbyists and activists expect he’ll deliver a red-meat speech that portray the GOP as mean, extreme and determined to cast the middle-class into a wasteland of poverty and chastity, without even a few dimes to buy some condoms.

Campaigning, not governing, is what Obama is good at, and on Wednesday, he’ll take his teleprompters to a steel plant in swing-state Philadelphia.

On Thursday, he’ll be headlining at General Electric’s Waukesha Gas Engines facility in Waukesha, Wisc.

Late Thursday, he’s got an event at McGavock High School in Nashville, Tenn.

He’ll likely flash his TV smile and enthusiastically reprise his SoTU speech at each event — and keep doing it week after week, month after month, until November.

That what’s needed to spur the base so that it rises to defend several vulnerable Democratic senators from the many swing voters who are angry at Obamacare and the terrible economy.

He’s got to defend those senators — all of whom voted for Obamacare in 2010 — because a big GOP win in November will create a GOP majority that would paralyze Obama in 2015 and 2016.

A big GOP win may even provide a narrow GOP majority to greet the new president in 2017.

Progressives are positively pleading for partisanship.

“If he tells a solid story of the Democratic Party fighting for the little guy, that will bring people to the polls who need that kind of inspiration,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told The Hill newspaper.

“But if he papers over differences and just talks about compromise, that will dampen enthusiasm and likely lead to some losses that could have been wins for Democrats.”

He’s under little pressure to moderate his speech, partly because the established media is in the tank for him but mostly because few swing voters will be paying attention. His 2013 speech got 37.5 million viewers, and his 2013 speech got only 33 million viewers. The 2014 audience is likely to be smaller still.

White House officials have been uncharacteristically close-mouthed about the speech, aside from some vague boilerplate about the need for more immigration — dubbed “comprehensive immigration reform” — and a pitch for greater economic opportunity.

“I have no further details to provide on the State of the Union address,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. “I very much want it to be exciting and surprising when you hear it tomorrow night.”

Back in December, Obama did some pre-campaign throat clearing with a speech that tried to convert his lousy economy into an electoral advantage. “I believe this is the defining challenge of our time:  Making sure our economy works for every working American,” he declared at a Washington speech, five years after he was elected in 2008.

“The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race, and that gap is growing,” said Obama, whose policies have helped the 1 percent of wealthy Americans to snag 95 percent of the economic gains made between 2009 and 2012.

But he’ll pair that economic pitch with a demand that Republicans approve an immigration bill which would bring in 30 million new Democratic-leaning low-skill immigrants over the next decade, plus several hundred thousand extra guest-workers per year.

So far, neither Obama nor his deputies have explained why adding so many new immigrants and guest-workers will help close any opportunity gap blocking the nation’s current 28 million teenagers or 18 million African-American workers.

The immigration boost is also a loser among working-class and middle-class swing voters.

That doesn’t matter, because the issue is a base-boosting win-win-win for Obama and the Democrats, and because the GOP’s establishment is too entwined with business — and the rival GOP 2016 candidates — to join GOP moderates who are trying to hang Obama’s immigration policy around his neck in November.

If the GOP’s House leadership tries to pass the business-backed bill, it could split the GOP base and lower GOP turnout.

If the GOP succeeds in passing the bill, it could split the GOP base and allow Obama to get credit from Latino voters who are glad to see their numbers and status rise.

If the GOP doesn’t push the immigration-boosting bill, Obama can boost Latino turnout by portraying the GOP as the party of mean white people who don’t like Latinos, Asians and other immigrants.

He used the same tactic in 2012. “Don’t boo, vote! Vote! Voting is the best revenge,” Obama said at a November 2012 rally in Springfield, Va.

Obama is also likely to bring up guns, partly because he needs to persuade worried suburban moms to get out and vote. “These are our kids … what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing — not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country,” Obama said last January, shortly after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.

He’ll find a way to talk about abortion, contraception and the social status of gays, because those topics can goose turnout among millennial voters burdened with low-wage jobs, high-cost college debts, Obamacare expenses and tepid hopes of future improvements.

A December poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics showed Obama with only 40 percent approval among people age 25 to 29.

Obama faced similar terrible polls in 2012, yet he used predictable GOP opposition to his free contraception plan to create an emotional “War on Women“ theme that spurred election day turnout by single women.

The speech starts at 9:00 p.m., Eastern time.

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