I'm worried -- not panicked, but extremely worried -- about President Obama's reelection. The biggest problem we face is the avalanche of money being pumped into the political system by the right wing. As Democrats, we face a number of challenges heading into the election. Below is my assessment of the problems we face and how we can overcome them.
Problem #1: President Obama is not raising funds at the rate that he did in 2008 when he raised a record $778 million compared to McCain's $383 million. That 2-to-1 advantage allowed the Obama campaign to venture into -- and ultimately win -- states such as Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia. The Washington Post reported recently that, "Mitt Romney's fundraising significantly outpaced President Obama's effort for the first time last month, increasing the likelihood that the Republican presidential candidate and his allies will far outspend their Democratic opponents by November." Also being reported is that the right-wing Super PACs led by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are expected to spend $1 billion. Money, which was a huge advantage for candidate Obama in 2008, is shaping up to be Romney's greatest advantage in 2012.
Problem #2: Voters' perceptions of whether or not the economy is getting better or getting worse, and the president's ability to manage it, will largely determine how they vote in November, and those perceptions will be solidified over the coming weeks. The U.S. economy is limping along, as we saw in the May unemployment numbers. Additionally, sixteen million American homes are underwater, student loan debt continues to spiral out of control and growing income inequality continues to threaten the very foundation of the American middle-class. Add to that the teetering European economy and it paints a troubling economic picture. Ironically, Republicans, whose policies created much of this mess, are gleeful with every gloomy economic report.
Problem #3: National polls show the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney about even, with the president typically running a couple of points ahead. We all know the race for the White House is a state-by-state contest to win 270 electoral votes and it will be decided by just a handful of states. Looking at the polling in those states, we see a race that could easily go either way. President Obama is leading in four states (MI 47-42; PA 48-39; NH 51-40; NM 48-35); leading but within the margin of error in three states (NV 49-46; VA 48-45; WI 48-44); tied in three (CO 45-45; IA 44-44; NC 46-46); trailing Romney in two (AZ 43-50; MO 44-48); and in the two battleground states with the most electoral votes, we see essentially a dead heat: FL (46-46) and Romney with a slight lead in OH (46-45).
Problem #4: The right-wing Super PACs are already on the airwaves in key states attacking President Obama. Last week, Rove's Crossroads placed a $7 million ad buy in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In the meantime, Mitt "Corporations-are-people-I'm-also-unemployed-I-like-being-able-to-fire-people-My-wife-drives-a-couple-of-Cadillacs" Romney is getting a free pass because the progressive Super PACS do not have the money to get on the air and define him. Now imagine the right-wing Super PACs pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads into those states between now and November while the progressive super PACs lack the funds to respond and/or go on offense themselves. The polls in those states, which are close now, will likely switch to a Romney advantage soon if the negative ads against President Obama go unanswered. This is the single biggest impediment to President Obama's reelection.
Problem #5: The coalition that President Obama cobbled together in 2008 including unprecedented numbers of young people, African Americans, Hispanics, and women -- will face difficulty at the polls this year. Getting those voters to the polls again in 2012 will be a big challenge for the campaign under any circumstances. Republicans won sweeping victories in 2010, gaining control of state legislative chambers and governors' mansions in many key states. Over the past two years, these GOP legislatures and governors have passed laws and regulations demanding IDs at polling places, making it more difficult to register new voters, removing hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls, narrowing early vote calendars and attempting to eliminate same-day registration.
So, what needs to be done now to secure President Obama's reelection in November? Here is the Democrats to-do list:
To-do #1: Get money now and lots of it! Rove and the right-wing super PACs are using this period to define President Obama, define Mitt Romney and define the terms of this debate. If progressive Super PACs like the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action don't have the money to provide a counter-balance to the right starting NOW, it may be too late by the fall. The Obama campaign knows what it needs to do; focus on the president's accomplishments and explain to Americans where he will lead the county in a second term. The Obama campaign shouldn't have to worry at this point about responding to attacks from the other side or defining Romney. Sure, that absolutely needs to be done, but it should be the job of Priorities USA Action. Progressive donors -- big and small -- need to step up to the plate now and give as much as possible to make this happen.
To-do #2: Expand the Obama coalition through aggressive voter registration. The Republicans are attempting to close down the voting process for people of color; Democrats need to be expanding it. According to the 2008 exit polls, Obama won African Americans 95 percent to 4 percent over McCain; and Hispanics 67 percent to 31 percent. Using Census data and the voter files from secretaries of state, The Atlas Project estimates that there are between 400,000 and 600,000 eligible, unregistered African American voters in EACH of the following states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina -- and nearly one million in Florida alone (which passed a law making it difficult for organizations to register voters). There are huge numbers of African American voters in every battleground state that need to be registered. Additionally, The Atlas Project estimates that there are between 250,000 and 500,000 eligible unregistered Hispanics in EACH of the following states: Ohio, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada and Virginia - and hundreds of thousands more throughout the other battleground states. As strong as the Obama field program was in 2008, they cannot be expected to do it themselves in 2012 -- the job is too big. There are political and non-profit organizations in each targeted community ready and willing to get the work done -- they need the money to do it now.
To-do #3: Be smarter about how we use our resources. If we are not going to match the Republicans on the airwaves, we need to target more carefully and effectively. The Obama Campaign, which developed a war chest full of sophisticated tools for targeting and reaching voters in 2008, has spent the past two years refining their systems and developing new cutting-edge tools. The arsenal of outside organizations that have been developed on the progressive side over the past few years is in-gear and providing the tools to allow outside organizations to do their work better than ever before. The next phase in this election is identifying large pockets of voters and appealing to them on issues that matter to them. For example, there are 16 million Americans whose houses are underwater. There are tens of millions of college students, recent college grads and their parents, who are being snowed under in debt. In both cases, President Obama and the Democrats have proposals to provide some relief, but the recalcitrant Republican Congress has stood in the way. By identifying and targeting these voters in key geographic areas we can maximize our electoral impact. Appealing to clusters of these voters we need to register and other clusters we need to turn out to vote will be critical. Like the single issue voters of other recent elections -- choice and guns -- there are blocs of these new "single-issue economic voters" that could be determinative in 2012.
To-do #4: Strengthen our voter contact programs. Research shows that the single greatest motivator to get a non-voter to the polls and/or to persuade a voter to support a chosen candidate is person-to-person contact from a neighbor, family member, co-worker or friend -- a reliable, trusted source of information. We need to use the coming months to strengthen the door-to-door, voter-to-voter communications of progressive groups. Some will argue that type of voter contact should be the purview of the Obama campaign and that it is redundant for outside groups to be doing it too. That's not the case for several reasons; a) there are plenty of target doors to knock on -- more than the campaign can reach on its own; b) oftentimes the message is better/stronger from a "less political" source than the candidate's campaign; c) many voters have a special relationship with a certain organization and therefore put more credence in contact from that organization; d) the Koch brothers and right-wing Super PACs with their unlimited resources are now planning to spend millions of dollars on voter-to-voter contact and there needs to be a strong ground game on our side to counter-balance them. There is much anecdotal evidence that their investment in voter contact in the recent Wisconsin recall election paid off and that it was a dry run for the fall. Now is the time for us to start to ramp up our ground game in every battleground state.
To-do #5: Unions must mobilize like never before. America's unions have taken a pounding from Republican-elected officials who understand the great value they bring to Democratic campaigns. y attacking collective bargaining, the very core of unions' existence and forcing unions to defend workers' rights, Republicans know that it's a win-win for them. They force unions to spend a fortune defending what they already have, and in the process, the unions have less money to bargain for better contracts, represent the workers in unions now, organize new workers and support union-endorsed candidates. Over the past several decades voters in union households have been among the strongest supporters of progressive candidates. According to polling done by Hart Research for the AFL-CIO in 2008, union members voted 67-30 for Obama over McCain. In several 2012 battleground states the union vote will be decisive. In 2008, 34 percent of the votes cast in Michigan were from union households, in Nevada it was 23 percent, in Ohio 28 percent, in Pennsylvania 27 percent and in Wisconsin 26 percent. Democrats need to stand strong and support unions. Unions need to dig as deeply as they possibly can and fully fund the programs they need to reach members -- worksite contact with released time organizers, mailings to members, phone calls and neighborhood walks. Unions need to be at the table in each of the battleground states in a very big way.
To-do #6: Build the gender gap. Going back to 1980, women have continued to be key for Democrats in presidential elections. Obama won women by 13 percent in 2008. Recent polling has shown that while he continues to hold a lead among women now, Romney has begun to narrow the gender gap. In April, the results of a USA/Gallup poll conducted in 12 swing states showed Obama leading Romney by 18 points among women -- giving Obama an overall edge of 9 percent among all registered voters in the poll. The same poll conducted again in May showed Romney closing the gender gap to 12 percent -- reducing the president's overall lead to just 2 percent. Organizations like Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Emily's List, NARAL and Women's Voices, Women Vote will play a pivotal role in persuading and turning out women voters, and Democrats must continue to draw a clear distinction between the parties when it comes to women's issues. From the ongoing debate over women's right to contraception (which most of us thought was settled over 30 years ago), to Republicans threatening to filibuster equal pay in the Senate, there's no shortage of Republican attacks Democrats can shine a light on.
The race for the White House is going to be close, but President Obama can win. The time to step up to the plate is now for those who want to see the country move in a positive direction -- and not go back to the failed policies of the past.