Obama takes his case to the swing states

The president retails his general election message in five key battlegrounds

Topics: 2012 Elections, Iowa, Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, ,

Obama takes his case to the swing states Running man

The day after delivering his “America built to last” State of the Union address, the president began his own three-day, five-state unofficial campaign tour in search of a second term. The selection of states for the trip—Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan—was anything but random. Four of the five will hold their Republican primaries or caucuses in February, and a fifth, Iowa, recently voted. At least four of the five are considered swing states, and a fifth, Michigan, could be competitive if native son Mitt Romney is the GOP nominee, as the White House has been anticipating for the past year. All five states feature key blocks of blue-collar white and Latino voters, and four of the five (save Colorado) elected or re-elected Republicans governors in 2010. Obama’s 2012 re-election bid is now underway.

As the White House’s list of SOTU talking points confirms, the not-so-secret theme for both the speech and companion trip is building a durable economy that rewards middle-class workers. The president will no doubt emphasize and empathize with the economic pain that residents of each state feel. According to “economic distress measures” published by the Kaiser Foundation’s statehealthfigures.org website, all five rank among the 18 states with the worst monthly employment losses between November 2010 and November 2011. Four of the five states rank among the top 11 nationally in mortgage foreclosure rates, and although the economy in the fifth, Iowa, is better than most, last year it ranked seventh nationally in food stamp dependency growth.



The Republican National Committee began criticizing the trip before Obama even left town, with Republican National Committee spokesman Ryan Mahoney issuing identical statements that merely substitute the name of each state’s residents. “Iowans [ditto Arizonans, Nevadans] need a president focused on their jobs, not a campaigner-in-chief solely focused on his own reelection,” said Mahoney. “Barack Obama should be more focused on getting Arizona’s economy back on track and putting the millions of unemployed Americans back to work, instead of constantly campaigning.”

A closer look at the five states on Obama’s itinerary shows what he hopes to achieve.

Iowa: Obama starts his re-election campaign today in the state that gave birth to his 2008 presidential victory with his first stop since July 2008 to Cedar Rapids, where he will visit Conveyor Engineering & Manufacturing, a 35-year-old company that makes “screw-type” farm conveyors. The theme of the stop will be manufacturing revival.

One of just two states (New Mexico) to flip from blue to red and back to blue again between 2000 and 2008, Iowa could again be a swing state despite Obama’s somewhat comfortable, 9.5-point victory there four years ago. Unlike the subsequent four stops on the trip, however, Iowa is different in two major ways. First, its non-white population is very small. And although political scientist Michael Lewis-Beck identified Iowa as the state most representative of the overall U.S. economy during the 2008 cycle, the second is that rising farm prices and the state’s relatively small number of foreclosures sheltered it from the economic crisis unlike the others. It’s current, 5.6 unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation.

That said, because he cannot rely on a base of minority voters, among the five states Iowa is where Obama most needs to make his case to working-class white Americans that he has been and will continue to be the best steward of the nation’s slow, but steady recovery. According to a late November poll, he led the entire Republican field, but his margin over Romney was a mere seven points.

 Arizona: To complement to the traditional manufacturing stop in Iowa, the president stops in Chandler, a sprawling suburb southeast of Phoenix, for a tech-economy event at Intel’s Ocotillo Campus. Chandler’s Maricopa County is ground zero for the mortgage crisis. Although foreclosure rates there peaked in late 2009, foreclosure continues to be a problem; the county has a special hotline and webpage for residents facing foreclosure.

Arizona gained two electors from the 2010 Census, ranks fourth nationally in Latino population share and, along Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, represents the Democrats’ missing, fourth jewel in burgeoning Southwest. Obama lost Arizona in 2008 by about the same, 9-point margin he won Iowa, but in 2012 the GOP will not benefit from having native son John McCain atop the ballot. A late November statewide poll showed Obama with a 41 percent approval/54 percent disapproval split, but another poll two weeks ago showed him beating all Republicans challengers except Romney.

Immigration issues cut both ways for Obama, helping him among Latinos while hurting him among Minutemen-sympathizing voters who applauded Gov. Jan Brewer’s 2010 immigration law and subsequent lawsuit against the Obama Administration. As is so often Obama’s wont, in the SOTU he aimed for the voters in between, calling for a comprehensive reform bill while also making a veiled reference to his administration’s record levels of deportation. But at Intel, expect Obama to dodge the subject altogether in favor of sticking closely to his jobs-and-growth script.

Nevada: On Thursday, the president heads to southern Las Vegas to reiterate his blue collar—or in this case, brown collar—renaissance message with a stop at a UPS freight facility near McCarran Airport. It will be his second stop at a UPS facility in less than a year. Nevadans are really hurting: With foreclosures up and gambling-based tourism losses only recently rebounding, the state’s 12.6 unemployment rate is one of the country’s highest.

In 2008 Obama captured Nevada handily, by more than 12 points, after Bush twice won it. Obama led the Republican field in a pre-Christmas statewide poll, but only by single digits over Romney and Ron Paul. The Silver State gained one elector from the 2010 Census reapportionment. Like the stops in Arizona and Colorado sandwiched around it, Nevada has a significant Latino population. Like Obama’s final stop in Michigan, the union vote is essential for Obama to hold the state.

Colorado: Later on Thursday, Obama moves to Denver, site of his 2008 Democratic National Convention. He will address troops at Buckley Air Force Base, and his message will likely to shift to defense and security issues, as the president reiterates his SOTU.

Although Colorado experiences its own spate of foreclosures, the problem was less severe than it was nationally or in states like Arizona. But, similar to its other, fast-growing Southwest cohorts, Colorado features at least 100,000 age-eligible yet unregistered Latino voters. Like the Tucson-Phoenix corridor, the Boulder-Denver corridor is one of the pivotal, new-growth “ideopolises” identified by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira in their book, “The Emerging Democratic Majority.”

“We were also encouraged to hear the President talk so much about clean energy, as Colorado is leading the nation when it comes to renewable energy research and development,” Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper said of the president’s Tuesday night speech. “Many of the new jobs the President talked for this industry will be created in Colorado – and we are ready.”

Obama cruised to victory in Colorado in 2008, and according to an early December statewide poll he led all Republicans challengers, if only by two points over Romney. Along with states like Montana, New Hampshire and Ohio, Colorado was one of the great stories of Democratic resurgence in the middle of last decade. The party has since lost back some of those gains in other states, and Hickenlooper’s 2010 gubernatorial victory was a notable exception. Obama needs Colorado—a state which derives its name from a bastardization of the Spanish “color rojo,” for its famed red rocks—to remain true blue this November.

Michigan: It’s not yet clear whether Michigan will be in play in 2012, even if Romney heads the GOP ticket. But a late November 2011 statewide poll did have Romney ahead of Obama by five points. Obama won it in a 16.5-point landslide four years ago. If Gingrich is the nominee, the White House can probably worry less about Michigan.

The details of the president’s Michigan event have not yet been released. Given his SOTU remarks touting the government’s role in saving General Motors and Chrysler from ruin, the location and theme is likely to be auto industry-related, even though the president recently completed such a Michigan victory lap in late-October. Still, it’s never bad politics for any Democrat to find an excuse to press the flesh with the folks who press bumpers.

For the past three months, political eyes have been focused squarely on the Republican White House contenders. But after his State of the Union speech, the commander-in-chief shifts himself into campaigner-in-chief mode, whether or not the GOP has settled on a candidate yet. There’s no point in Obama wasting a valuable head start on the general election he didn’t enjoy four years ago.

Before he left for the five-state swing, Obama’s White House released an eight-page companion document  for the speech entitled, “Blueprint for An America Built to Last.” With 48 combined electoral votes to be cast this November by this quintet of states, as President Obama begins his quest to amass at least 270 electors to win a second term the “blue” part of blueprint takes on special meaning.

 

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>