For Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager, rallying the troops and keeping the electorate energized is part of his round-the-clock job description.
When I interviewed Messina at the Obama campaign’s Chicago headquarters in October, Messina, the fast-talking strategist, predicted a very close presidential race this year –perhaps even tighter than the 2008 election — and warned Democrats not to get too complacent.
Messina was concerned – for good reason — that some Democrats may feel Obama will cruise to reelection and won’t need the unprecedented grassroots turnout from a multicultural coalition that sent Obama to the White House.
Six months after I spoke to Messina face-to-face, Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP opponent, has closed the gap among registered voters, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll, that shows Obama and Romney are in a dead heat – tied at 46 percent.
And that’s why Messina is pushing the envelope.
“We’re all going to have to dig even deeper, work even harder, move even faster,” Messina said in a video to supporters this week. “It’s going to take all of us working together.”
It’s an inevitable request that Messina has to make, but it’s also quite a paradox: Asking supporters to shell out even more money at a time when some Americans are telling pollsters that they are facing severe financial hardship.
Messina knows that Republicans are hoping to raise a staggering $500 million to oust Obama from the White House and that Obama needs a substantial war chest as well. So far, the president has raised $350 million for his campaign and raked in $54 million in March. Messina’s video features voters who have donated as little as $5 and it boasts that more than 567,000 people contributed to the campaign last month.
“This is really how this works, people building the organization five to 10 bucks at a time to take on Mitt Romney,” Messina said in the video.
But less than seven months before Election Day, recent polls show that the economy is still an issue where Obama is vulnerable. Nearly two-thirds of people are concerned about paying for their housing, according to the CBS/New York Times survey, and one in five people with mortgages say they owe more than their homes are worth.
That also includes African-Americans who support Obama overwhelmingly. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey shows that 95 percent of blacks say they will vote for Obama – the same percentage as in 2008.
The problem for Obama will be convincing white male voters –and Southern white men in particular — that he can create jobs and put American back to work. Obama may need another historic turnout from African Americans, white women, college students, seniors — and a huge coalition of Hispanic voters to help offset the number of white men who are abandoning Obama to support Romney.
Obama believes correctly that Fox News is partly responsible for white men turning on him because of Fox, according to the president, has perpetuated the myth that Obama is Muslim.
In “Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party,” journalist David Corn describes a private meeting where Obama talked about his ongoing frustration with Fox News and how the network continuously misleads white voters about the president’s religious beliefs.
In his book, Corn writes that after the 2010 midterm elections, Obama told labor leaders that he held Fox News somewhat responsible for “losing white males” in his approval ratings heading into the 2012 presidential race.
Meanwhile, Obama visited Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio this week to highlight how federal job training funding is providing critical services for unemployed workers and helping them to get jobs in high-demand industries.
“I meet business owners all the time who want to hire in the United States, but they can’t always find the workers with the right kills,” Obama told the crowd in Ohio, a key swing state in this year’s presidential election. “You’ve got growing industries in science and technology that have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. That makes no sense — openings at a time when there’s still a lot of Americans, including some on this stage, who are looking for work. So we’ve got to do a better job training more people for the skills that businesses are looking for.”
The president was clearly stumping for votes in Ohio – perhaps with white male voters in mind.