Team Obama Outlines Grass-Roots Operation as Key to Race

BY Christina Bellantoni  August 23, 2012 at 11:52 AM EST


President Obama waves to supporters at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday. Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

President Obama’s re-election team sounded a confident note Thursday, but acknowledged a few days before the Republican National Convention that they are counting on demographic shifts and an expensive grass-roots operation to carry the Democrat on Nov. 6.

Six Obama aides who asked to be identified as senior campaign officials offered a picture of the state of the race at a briefing for reporters in Washington, with one labeling the contest between the president and Mitt Romney as “stable.”

“The truth is that this race has been stable for months and months and months and it continues to be heading into these conventions,” one official said. What does that mean? Consistent polling that has the candidates within a few points of each other in most battleground states, in part, and voter views of the candidates that have wavered little.

The officials said they believe the Democrats can get-out-the-vote among Hispanics and African Americans. “The base has grown of Hispanic voters, so we’re drawing on a larger base to begin with, particularly in Nevada, Colorado and Florida,” an official said.

They also stressed voter registration efforts are paying off, noting that 56 percent of the campaign’s new voters in 2008 were registered after Labor Day. “While we feel good about our registration goals and what you’ve seen so far, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” an official said. “While the numbers are good, we continue to believe it will get even better in the fall.”

The officials said President Clinton’s expanded role as noted in the Morning Line will hold through Election Day. Clinton will be “one of our principal surrogates,” an official said. “We want as much of his time as he’s willing to give.”

“President Clinton has extraordinary credibility on these issues of how you build a strong economy,” the official said. “We believe he’s an important messenger and obviously he’s going to play a significant role in our convention and beyond our convention because of his credibility on these issues.”

Mr. Obama’s team also used the briefing to knock Romney and his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, repeatedly referencing polls showing Romney is more unpopular than other nominees in history. They said they view the convention as the GOP’s attempt to “remake” Romney.

“Obviously they’ve brought in a triage unit from Hollywood and Madison Avenue to try and take on that task,” an official said. “It’s a doubtful proposition the new dog food will sell any better than the old dog food.”

One official quipped that he was pleased the Republicans are showcasing controversial figures in the immigration debate such as Kris Kovach and Sheriff Joe Arpaio during the convention. “I may pay to livestream that, that’s going to be a great moment for the Obama campaign,” the official said. (And don’t forget, the NewsHour will be livestreaming the whole thing for free.)

But the officials still admitted the former Massachusetts governor would leave Tampa with a stronger standing. They said they would not let up during the GOP’s events, with multiple surrogates and Vice President Biden planning to make noise in Tampa, followed with the “almost instant ability” to offer “spontaneous rebuttal” from the Democratic stage at the convention in Charlotte.

In contrast to other presentations from this group, the officials did not walk through a view of the Electoral College map. When the NewsHour asked specifically how they view the state of play in Wisconsin, an official said it was a wait-and-see proposition.

“Let’s get a couple of weeks down past the Ryan pick before we see where Wisconsin is in this whole thing,” the official said. Specifically, the Democrats believe they have a winning message on manufacturing, outsourcing and the auto bailouts across the midwest that will keep Wisconsin in their column come November. When asked if the Obama campaign would invest money on television ads in the Badger State, the official added, “We’ll continue to watch Wisconsin … if we need to we will.”

One official present offered a preview of the Democrats’ convention, saying that the podium will be “populated with people who look and sound like middle class Americans.” The team will use the president’s acceptance speech at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium to “expand our grass-roots operation” to get people to sign up.

The officials made a specific case for why they think North Carolina should continue to be competitive through November, despite most analysts ranking it as favoring the Republicans. The president won the Tarheel State by fewer than 15,000 votes four years ago, and things have trended away from Democrats ever since.

The officials showed a chart depicting that the Obama campaign has registered 9,000 more new voters than the Republicans in North Carolina, a bigger advantage than most states.

That’s one reason you’ll see such a major push during the convention, one official said, adding: “Part of our mission is to come out of North Carolina in better shape than we came in.”