Panic among the Democratic faithful

Democratic loyalists are beginning to panic about President Obama’s re-election prospects, according to this report in the Washington Post. The latest cause for alarm is a memo from Democracy Corps, a research group headed by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and political consultant James (“it’s the economy, stupid”) Carville. Based on their analysis of focus groups conducted in late May among swing voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Greenberg and Carville say that the current campaign message — which stresses progress made towards economic recovery — is out of touch with the daily pain voters are feeling.

The authors urge Team Obama to switch to a new narrative that focuses on what Obama will do to make a better future for the middle class. Otherwise, they say, “we will face an impossible head wind in November.”

Greenberg and Carville are not alone in feeling pessimistic. According to the Post, eight other prominent Democratic strategists interviewed share that sentiment. They also view Obama’s team as resistant to advice and assistance from those who are not part of its core.

My sense is that the “panic” of these Democrats represents a correction to the overly optimistic view most of them held earlier this year. Back in the days of when Republican candidates were beating up on Romney and Romney was struggling to connect with voters, it was easy for Dems to underestimate the task they would face in November. Now, with the Republican Party behind Romney — as it was always going to be — and the candidate hitting his stride, it is easy to panic.

The reality, I think, is that the odds of Obama winning in November are about 50 percent. Considering the stakes of the election, both sides should probably panic.

As for the notion that Obama should emphasize what he will do going forward, as opposed to what he has accomplished already, this may be naive. If voters don’t believe that Obama’s remedies have worked during the past three-and-half years, they aren’t likely to embrace claims that the new remedies he has in mind will succeed. In fairness to Greenberg and Carville, though, their focus groups reacted positively to ads that acknowledge the economic problems of the past four years and propose solutions like increasing taxes on people making more than $200,000 a year. Republicans underestimate the power of class warfare in a bad economy, I believe.

Ultimately, though, Obama’s fate is largely out of his hands. His prospects depend primarily on how the economy — especially the job market — does during the next four months or so. Secondarily, they depend on how well Romney presents himself to the public.

The White House is coming to realize that it can’t define how well the economy is doing. However, it would like to believe it can define Romney. To a considerable degree, this is wishful thinking. The public isn’t likely to take Obama’s portrayal of Romney at face value. What, after all, has Obama done to earn that level of trust?

However, the Greenberg-Carville focus groups show that Romney does have vulnerabilities. People in the focus groups tended to hold his wealth against him, believing that it makes him out of touch with their problems. And when they found out that Romney has embraced the Ryan budget, and that budget was described to them (in what manner, I don’t know), they viewed Romney less favorably than before.

So Romney has no easy task when it comes to defining, or re-defining, himself. As I said, it’s anyone’s election and both sides have plenty to worry about.

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