One by One, Obama Targets '08 Coalition for Boost

One by One, Obama Targets '08 Coalition for Boost

By Erin McPike - May 15, 2012

President Obama is attempting to shore up the 2008 coalition that helped him achieve a decisive victory over John McCain, but he is doing so in a more piecemeal way this time around.

As an incumbent, Obama's method is to target various constituencies -- albeit ones that supported him four years ago -- and make the sale with this argument: On the issues they care most about, he has advanced specific policies to help them, programs opposed by the Republican Party and its presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney.

Throughout the spring, as the political conversation shifted from women to Latinos to young voters and most recently to the gay community, the White House had something to offer each group that Romney is not selling. This strategy could imperil Romney by defining him for each of these constituencies before his general election operation even gets off the ground. As Romney’s campaign has begun to ramp up, its responses have focused on the unemployment rate and other economic difficulties that each of these groups face under Obama.

Meanwhile, Latino audiences are informed that Obama’s Justice Department has challenged the state of Arizona over its anti-illegal immigration legislation, that he supports the DREAM Act that would grant citizenship to some young people brought illegally to this country as children, and that the president vowed to produce comprehensive immigration reform legislation if elected to a second term.

Women’s groups are reminded that feminists within the administration pushed successfully for provisions in the Affordable Care Act stipulating that birth control and contraception be included in federally mandated health insurance. College students have been promised the administration’s help in keeping rates low on some government-backed student loans. The gay and lesbian community needs no reminding that Obama himself finally endorsed same-sex marriage.

Mitt Romney’s answer to almost all of this -- gay marriage is a separate category -- is a vow to work tirelessly to improve the economy. Vulnerable Americans are in the same boat, he and his surrogates keep saying; and what Latinos, working women and college students all need is a vibrant U.S. economy that generates prosperity and creates jobs.

“President Obama can’t talk about the big issues facing Americans -- jobs and the economy -- because he knows, despite his promises, he hasn’t made things better,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “So, he is resorting to a campaign run on gimmicks and distractions.”

Countered Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt: “It’s no surprise that Governor Romney doesn’t want to talk about how his policies would impact women or Latinos, since he has committed to getting rid of Planned Parenthood, endorsed a personhood amendment that would ban many forms of birth control, and said he would veto the DREAM Act.”

These talking points are framed as though the two camps are having an argument. Actually, they are talking past each other, and deliberately so, in hopes of maximizing the respective strengths -- and philosophy -- of each candidate.

Romney really is most comfortable talking about job creation. And although they don’t publicly phrase it just this way, Obama’s team really is seeking to take advantage of demographic changes in the electorate that favor the president.

In 2008, the Obama voting cohort was a formidable mosaic of overlapping constituencies and demographic groups. He tallied significant majorities -- sometimes overwhelmingly -- among African-Americans, Latinos, social liberals, feminists, gays, government employees, environmentalists, organized labor and young people. If he can stitch these same voting blocs together again he can win re-election comfortably.

But in offering narrow appeals based on self-interest to different groups of Americans, Obama risks forfeiting the aspirational appeal that galvanized the country four years ago and rallied it behind the first African-American president in history.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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