Articles

Obama's Campaign Is Off to a Rocky Start

May 16, 2012

May has been a bad month for President Obama's re-election campaign. Let's review some of the lowlights.

First, Team Obama politicized the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death on May 2 by releasing a video claiming that Mitt Romney would not have ordered the strike. The video didn't pay much tribute to the Navy SEALs who actually carried out the perilous mission. The whole thing came across as ungracious and egocentric.

On May 4, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 115,000 new jobs were created in April while 342,000 Americans became so discouraged that they dropped out of the workforce. When unemployment creeps down because people are leaving the labor force, it's evidence of a sick economy, not a robust recovery.

The next day, Mr. Obama formally kicked off his re-election campaign with a rally at Ohio State University. But "there were a lot of empty seats," according to the Toledo Blade. Vacant chairs and a nearly empty arena floor are not good optics for a political campaign. To add insult to injury, a New York Times reporter described it and a Virginia rally later that day as having at times "the feeling of a concert by an aging rock star."

On Sunday, May 6, Vice President Joe Biden said on "Meet the Press" that he was "absolutely comfortable with . . . men marrying men, women marrying women." The White House had to scramble, immediately reaffirming Mr. Obama's support for traditional marriage. But three days later, he told ABC's Robin Roberts, "I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Why the shift? Newsweek's Andrew Sullivan credits the need for campaign dollars from gay donors and votes from now apathetic young men and women under 30. New York Magazine's John Heilemann quotes unnamed White House aides who say that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signing of legislation legalizing same-sex marriage led Mr. Obama to shift privately early this year. According to Mr. Heilemann's reporting, Mr. Obama was going to wait a month or two to maximize the political payback from a public conversion, and the need for campaign cash and youthful voters was part of the equation.

Whatever the reasons, the president's announcement came across as political: 67% in a May 11-13 CBS News/New York Times survey said the president announced his public support for same-sex marriage "for political reasons" while 24% said he did it because "he thinks it's right." A USA/Gallup poll of May 10 found only 11% of independents said they would be more likely to vote for him because of his shift, and 23% said they would be less likely.

While this kerfuffle played out, West Virginia and North Carolina Democrats held their presidential primaries on May 8. In West Virginia, 40% chose Keith Judd, a felon in a Texas federal correctional facility, over Mr. Obama. In battleground North Carolina, nearly 21% expressed "no preference" for president.

Then on May 11, Mr. Obama traveled to Nevada to tout the success of his "Hardest Hit Fund," launched two years ago, in staving off foreclosures. But a government report that morning revealed it had helped only 30,640 homeowners, not the three million to four million the administration originally promised.

On Wednesday, the news was that Mr. Obama's fundraising dropped to $43.6 million in April from $53 million in March. At this stage, he will be hard pressed to reach his 2008 total of $750 million, let alone the $1 billion goal his campaign set last year.

The president has trailed or been tied with Mr. Romney in 16 of the last 29 Gallup five- and seven-day tracking polls. This during a period when, with significant organizational and money advantages and no primary opponent, he should be pounding his Republican challenger in the polls.

In 2008, Team Obama ran a first-rate campaign. They made relatively few unforced errors and capitalized on openings. Things look very different this time. The re-election effort is off-key and off-balance, making the president's strategic weaknesses more apparent. His record is uninspiring. He has no explanation for his first term and no rationale for a second.

Mr. Obama may have difficulty leading and governing but has been considered an effective campaigner. Events in May are starting to call that into question.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, May 17, 2012.

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