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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Sweet Spot

Veteran political observer Mike Tomasky, from his new digs at Newsweek, does a good job of putting together the factors–demographic, geographic and psychological–that will dominate Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. He looks at three counties in swing states–Colorado’s Arapohoe, North Carolina’s Wake, and Ohio’s Franklin–that Obama won by surprising margins in 2008, and weighs some of the pros and cons about whether they can be won again next year.

The base vote can still emerge in large numbers, but the dominant factor this time won’t be hope and change. Instead, the factors will be fear of the other side, state and local political conditions (think of how motivated Democrats are to regain control of their politics in Wisconsin), and demographic changes that are still redounding to the Democrats’ benefit. And because we elect presidents by states, the place to assess Obama’s prospects is on the ground.

Arapohoe’s challenge is all about taking advantage of demographics:

In the last decade, the Latino population of Arapahoe County has more than doubled, to 105,249. If the Democratic Party can register and mobilize this key Obama constituency–Latinos gave him 67 percent of their votes nationally last time–the president would likely carry Arapahoe by a far larger margin than he did in ’08. But Olivia Mendoza, executive director of the nonpartisan Colorado Latino Forum, says the community’s temperature about Obama is awfully lukewarm. “This is very anecdotal,” Mendoza ventures, “but overall, in my experience? General dissatisfaction.”
Todd Mata, the county Democratic chairman, acknowledges that “a lot of people are a little disillusioned, rightly or wrongly,” with Obama, but he says that on the ground, the party structure is working much more closely than last time with Organizing for America (OFA), the Obama get-out-the-vote vehicle.

The “enthusiasm” factor is unavoidable, and it may simply be naive to think Team Obama can ever come close to recapitulating the atmospherics of the 2008 campaign. But fear of Republican rule–in some cases, as in Ohio, refreshed by recent state-level experience–can have almost as strong an effect.
And then there are campaign mechanics, and we are only beginning to be able to assess the extent to which Obama ’12 is or isn’t based on the appropriate lessons from the last two election cycles.

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