White House Cheat Sheet: An Economic (Re)Focus?
President Obama will address the state of the economy in a major speech today at Georgetown University even as some Republicans are increasingly skeptical that his message is reaching the American people.
"The president wants the opportunity to update the American people on where we are, what we have to do going forward, and lay out the steps that are being taken to help our economy recover," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at Monday's daily briefing when asked about the goal of the speech.
Obama also wants to reaffirm -- in a highly visible way that is sure to lead every newspaper and evening news broadcast in the country -- that he is deeply engaged in bringing the economy out of its doldrums despite having spent much of the past two weeks either traveling internationally or dealing with the pirate crisis.
Carter Eskew, a senior Democratic strategist, explained that "the economy is [Obama's] leverage for his entire agenda ... so he should lean into it."
Republicans retort that today's speech is an attempt by Obama to convince a skeptical public that the economy is his first priority.
"The president is finding it's tougher to drive a message in the White House than advertised," wrote Alex Conant, a former communications operative at the Republican National Committee, in a blog post titled "Obama's MIA Economic Message."
Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster, added that the content of Obama's speech today and how he frames the crisis are critical in determining how the message is received by the public.
"If he gives another speech like those he has given so far, the actual message America perceives will quickly change from 'it's the other guy's fault' to 'I don't know how to fix this,'" predicted Wilson. "When that happens, not only does Obama 'own' the problem, he starts to drown in it."
What's clear -- no matter where you come down on whether Obama has been focused too little, just enough or too much on the economy -- is that the American public cares about almost nothing else at this juncture.
In a Gallup survey conducted at the beginning of March, 80(!) percent of the sample said economic problems were the most pressing issue facing the country. Those numbers echoed the Washington Post/ABC polling done in January that showed more than one-third of Americans said the economic situation was causing them "serious stress."
Those kind of numbers suggest that no matter what else happens between now and November 2010 (unless it is an event of historic catastrophe) the economy and how the Obama administration handled it will be the critical issue on voters minds in the midterm elections.
Given the stakes, expect the president and his staff, as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, to search for the high political ground on the economy every day between now and next November.
What To Watch For:
Tuesday's Fix Picks: The transition ends Friday. Not to digital television (that's June 12), but to finding the Fix Picks in this space. The top left of the Fix homepage is where they will be starting Monday.
1. President Obama eases travel restrictions with Cuba.
2. Is the Democratic stranglehold over Congress and the White House permanent?
3. California Democrats hope to channel Obama in 2010.
4. Is Chuck Todd getting a weekend show? We hope so.
5. Phil "Wall of Sound" Spector: Guilty.
New Enviro Ads: The Environmental Defense Action Fund and the United Steelworkers are combining forces for a multi-million dollar ad campaign in eight states (Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) urging members of Congress to support President Obama's plan to cap carbon emissions -- one of the most controversial elements of his broader budget plan. The ads, on which the to groups will spend $2 million over the next month, feature the mayor of Braddock, Pa. -- a goateed and tattooed John Fetterman making the case that the bill will help create rather than eliminate jobs in the Rust Belt. "We're doing it now because the debate on a cap is reaching a critical moment," said Keith Gaby, communications director for the Environmental Defense Fund. "Along with health care it's at the top of the president's agenda ... and the opposition seems to be ramping up." The bill, which is being carried by Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Ed Markey (Mass.), will be taken up by Congress next week when it returns from its Easter recess.
Chocola to Club: The Club for Growth formally named former Indiana congressman Chris Chocola as its new head on Monday -- roughly a week after Roll Call reported the move. Chocola, who held the 2nd district from 2002 to 2006, told the Fix that he took the gig out of because "what's going on in the country gives me great concern." He chalked up the GOP losses in 2006 (of which he was one) and 2008 to an insufficient commitment to Republican core principles. "In large part we are where we are because Republicans strayed," said Chocola, adding that if the Republican majority in Congress had moved on entitlement reform, tax reform and tort reform "we would have picked seats up." Chocola added that during his time in Congress "the enemy was not Democrats, it was Republicans" who would not support the GOP agenda. Given the Club's willingness to challenge sitting Republican incumbents (see Specter, Arlen), Chocola should fit right in.
Click It!: The best photo from yesterday's Easter egg-travaganza at the White House.
Guinta (Likely) to Run for House: Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta (R) is leaning heavily toward challenging Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D) in 2010, according to sources familiar with his thinking. Guinta has told local news organizations that he will not seek a third term and instead will run for higher office but has not yet publicly revealed what office that will be. The state's governor -- John Lynch (D) -- remains extremely popular and would be a tough target and those who know Guinta suggest he might struggle to raise the sort of money required to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Judd Gregg (R). House Republicans have put on a major recruitment pitch for Guinta to challenge Shea Porter and all indications are that he is headed in that direction. Shea Porter won her 1st district in an upset over then Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) in 2006 and then beat Bradley far more convincingly in 2008. Shea Porter runs, um, unconventional campaigns and ended 2008 with just $35,000 in the bank. Republican recruiters are touting Guinta as a rising star. We shall see.
Feeney to Heritage: After losing his reelection bid by a whopping 16 points in 2008, former Republican Rep. Tom Feeney is joining the Heritage Foundation as a visiting fellow. At Heritage Feeney will "participate in selected government, media and community relations projects," according to a release announcing the news. Feeney is also a partner in his former law firm in Orlando. Did we mention that Feeney remains under investigation for his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff?
San Francisco -- Political Doormat No More: New polling conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal Daily Kos blog shows that the often-derided locales of San Francisco (as is "San Francisco Liberal") and France (as in "freedom fries") are actually quiet popular. Two-thirds of those polled nationally had a favorable opinion of San Francisco while just 24 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the City by the Bay. The same trend held when asked about their views on France; 66 percent felt favorably toward the country while 26 percent felt unfavorably. One fascinating sidepoint in the data: the South had widely less favorable opinions of San Francisco and France than did the other regions of the country. The South's view of San Francisco (48 fav/42 unfav) and France (46/44) were some twenty points lower than in the Northeast, Midwest and West.
Miller Heads to Clean Coal: Lisa Camooso Miller, who cut her political teeth at the sides of New Jersey Govs. Christine Todd Whitman and Donnie DiFrancesco as well as then House Speaker Dennis Hastert, is joining the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity as its communications director at the end of the month.
Say What?: "They might have bitten off a lot more than they could chew." -- White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on the Somali pirates.
April 14, 2009; 5:55 AM ET
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