On Friday, I was part of a group selected by the Obama campaign to join a conference call with the President to discuss what supporters can do to help him to victory this fall in his re-election campaign. Most on the call had contributed the maximum amount for the primary season.
The call was hosted by Rufus Gifford, the campaign's national finance director. He gave some introductory remarks about the stark choice we face in this election. His remarks were quite similar to President Obama's stump speech. It is a choice between whether we give the middle class a fair shot at the American dream or whether we allow a return to the trickle down economics that will provide amply for the wealthy at the expense of working Americans.
After those remarks, the White House operator called in and introduced the President of the United States. The President spoke to the call attendees for about 15 minutes. He spoke personally and directly, communicating that he was going to work as hard as he has ever worked during these remaining 80+ days in this campaign to win this election, but that we needed to help.
The big take-away from the President to the attendees was that those of us who have the ability to contribute to the campaign need to do so sooner rather than later. The primary reason for this is to enable the President's team to reserve the advertising space through October. If we wait too long, all that ad space will have been purchased. The optimal time to max out or to give whatever you can in order to ensure that we have ads on the air in October is essentially between now and the convention.
He said that the campaign can manage a 2:1 or 3:1 ad spend deficit with Romney, but not a 5:1 or 10:1 deficit. He implied that there was a diminishing return to the Romney ads because 'we have a better story to tell' and a lot of their ads are over the top.
He also answered a few selected questions. One question was about what supporters in non-battleground states can do to help. His answer was to volunteer to work for the campaign in a neighboring battleground state. If you live in California, go to Nevada and Colorado. If you live in Illinois, go to Iowa, and so on.
The President sounded determined and serious. He sounded as if he had his game-face on. He did not seem concerned about the current polling, but was more focused on having the resources to be able to compete with Team Romney during the last 3 weeks of the campaign.
He is very confident in his grassroots organization. He mentioned that he thought they were in a better position today in terms of voter outreach and GOTV efforts than they were 4 years ago.
What the President is essentially saying is that money now buys ad space down the road. Money contributed in October can help in some ad markets, but most of that money would likely go into other GOTV efforts and support. If we are serious about countering Romney's ad blitz (which really kicked into gear this month) in October, the campaign needs the money now in order to essentially neutralize the GOP's biggest weapon. Without a volume advantage, Romney can't beat Obama in most of the key battlegrounds. That's why Romney has not yet attempted to expand the battleground map thus far.
The President believes the race will be close and will be decided in the last few weeks.
The question or concern I have is how many of the 2008 voters or newer voters that have a high likelihood of supporting Obama will turn out to vote. I believe that can be the difference between a narrow victory or loss and a more comfortable win. For their part, the Obama team does not seem to view that as a huge concern, but is feeling the heat on the ad spend. If that is in fact the case, I'm pretty optimistic about getting a win in November. I don't believe ad money will be the determining factor that we have been conditioned to assume all these years.
I would recommend anyone on this site who has not given money to do so and to tell your friends, family and neighbors to do so. Every last dollar counts in this election where for Romney money is no object. I spoke with my dad and urged him to max out. If you're reading this diary you need to do the same to the people you know who like the President and want to see him get re-elected.
As an aside, I took the call in Southern California as I was driving with a good friend. We had a 2 hour drive each way to attend a lunch. On the way down, he argued politics with me for most of the drive. (I took the call on the way back using my iphone headphones).
My friend was an agnostic Obama supporter in 2008 and has generally been starkly negative towards the President during his first term. He will likely either sit out this election or vote for Romney though he does not consider himself a GOP supporter. He has a rosy view of Bill Clinton and an overly jaded view of the President (though I managed to point out that Clinton made many concessions to circumstances just as Obama has had to do, and both are actually quite similar in policy terms).
I, of course, defended the President and tried to call out the factual errors that were the basis for many of his negative feelings without denying his right to have his opinions about the President. It's possible that the convention and debates could sway him back, but I would consider my friend a lost cause. He is one of the true undecided voters of this election, and I can tell you it is not worth one dime trying to convince such voters to do anything. The better bet would be on getting newer or unlikely voters to turn out.
That's why Team Obama released an education ad this week before the medicare ad. The education ad will have a higher return on investment. The education ad is focused on young voters and the families who support them. Those folks very likely have much more in common culturally with the President on a whole range of issues and will be receptive to the idea that we need a President who will be a guardian of the middle class.
The medicare ads' impact is less certain. It will certainly buoy Democratic leaning seniors and give ammunition to counter their GOP senior friends. It could also cause some seniors or soon to be medicare eligible folks to think of their personal circumstances and not vote GOP. However, seniors have trended Republican over the past 4 years because of cultural issues. They view Obama as too socially liberal. The culture issue will therefore limit the number of Romney-Ryan defections and net gains to our side. Romney and Ryan could lose voters in places like the Villages in the Orlando area. If they even lose 1% of that vote, they will likely lose Florida by a bigger margin than in 2008. However, that can be addressed in a targeted ad campaign. In order to guarantee victory, even in a place like Florida, we need to turn out more folks who are more culturally aligned with Obama's values.
The election is about culture, identity and personality, not about Obama's performance or even the performance of the economy. Obama has essentially battled the GOP to a draw on the question of his job performance and that of the economy. GOPers did not support Bill Clinton in 1996 even though he delivered on his promise to fix the nation's economy. That's why Clinton did not get 50% of the vote in a 3 way race that he won easily. Those GOP voters remembered gays in the military, gun control, health care, and manufactured scandals.
Those are my thoughts. Would love to read yours.