Jim Messina, the battle-tested Obama campaign manager, has a simple message for Democrats: Don’t panic.
In his new campaign “update” video, Messina tells supporters not to be worried about polls that show President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney locked in a tight race for the White House.
Messina certainly has great timing. A new CNN/ORC International survey has found that 49 percent of registered voters say they would vote for Obama if the November election were held today, while 46 percent say they would choose Romney.
But Messina argues, perhaps correctly, that the electoral map favors Obama and that an organized, grass-roots strategy will give Obama the upper hand.
“We knew this was going to be a tough race,” Messina says in the video. “Here’s one more thing you can tell your friends when they ask you about the latest polls: we’re actually ahead of where we were at this point last time around.”
Messina closes out the video with a solid piece of advice for voters: “The only poll that really matters is Nov. 6, Election Day. We can’t pay attention to anything else, good or bad.”
A seasoned political strategist who studies numbers for a living, Messina makes a convincing argument that Obama begins with 243 electoral votes to Romney’s 191. Messina believes that Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Minnesota are likely Democratic states and Indiana, Arizona, and Missouri are Republican states.
So the battleground states — Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire – are critical to Obama’s re-election efforts and black voter turnout in several of these states are essential.
Messina may be correct in his strategic outlook for Obama, but it’s up to black voters to turn out in large numbers and help put Obama over the top.
Democrats, however, should not underestimate the Republican voter suppression movement that is sweeping the nation.
State by state, Republicans are systematically – and successfully – changing voting laws in an effort to suppress the Democratic vote in the 2012 presidential election and oust President Barack Obama from the White House.
Thirty states now require all voters to show ID before voting at the polls. In 14 of these states, the ID must include a photo of the voter; in the remaining 16, non-photo forms of ID are acceptable. Some of the states that require or request ID for voting include Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
“African-American voters have to pay attention to their state voting laws because they may find some rude awakenings when they try to vote next year, particularly if they haven’t voted in any election since 2008,” Neil Foote, editor and co-founder of PoliticsInColor.com, told me recently.
“These new laws in several states may raise the hurdles for some, requiring government-issued IDs, which needs to be taken care of now – not on Election Day,” Foote said. “The sad part is that these rules are crudely designed to confuse, scare and hamper strong turnouts of African-Americans and Hispanics, a critical block of voters that President Obama will need to get re-elected.”
Foote is right.
In Florida, for example, the Republican voter ID laws are having some impact and black ministers throughout the state are rallying parishioners and registering black residents to vote. Obama won Florida in 2008, but even Democrats predict a close contest in November.
In North Carolina, Obama won the White House by only 14,000 votes – the first Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina since 1976. Obama received 95 percent of the black vote in 2008 and he’ll need that unprecedented support from black voters in November to win the state again.
And in Ohio, Obama won 97 percent of the black vote in 2008, but with Ohio becoming a more right-leaning state, Obama, again, will need black folks to flood the polls in record numbers.
But Messina isn’t taking any chances. Through the power of video, he is reminding voters that the November election will be a close contest and supporters should continue to work in the field, help raise money, knock on doors — and remain calm.
It’s a solid grass-roots strategy in principle. We’ll know in five months if it was effective.