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White House Cheat Sheet: Elevating Economic Messengers

The Obama economic team. Photo by Bill O'Leary/Washington Post

As President Obama jets off to the Summit of the Americas today, continued concern over the domestic economy has placed a premium on employing his stable of economic messengers to reassure the American public that the administration is on the case.

"The economy is a 24/7 story," said Anita Dunn, a Democratic media consultant with close ties to the president and his inner circle. "And the administration needs to field a full team to address the complex aspects of the economy constantly since the president needs to address other critical issues as well."

Over the past few weeks, a number of Obama economic surrogates -- from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to National Economic Council Chairman Lawrence Summers to Office of Management and Budget Head Peter Orszag -- have begun appearing more and more often on cable television during the week and on the Sunday shows.

That increased frequency in appearances is a clear attempt by the administration to raise the profile of some of the members of its economic team in the early days of Obama's presidency in hopes that when the president is otherwise occupied -- as he will surely be -- there is a person(s) who can fill the void and keep markets stable and people calm.

Is the strategy working? Democratic operatives offer widely variant takes.

"The administration has a deep economic bench, and they've been using their star players pretty well," said Doug Hattaway, a Democratic consultant based in Massachusetts.

But, several others strategists, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly, strongly disagreed with that rosy assessment.

One high-level party operative suggested Obama's financial message had succeeded in spite of the members of his economic inner circle, adding that "his team is politically tone deaf and spends too much time fighting for turf."

Another senior party strategist said the considerable gap between Obama and the rest of his economic team is glaring and problematic.

"They don't have a single person who is capable of talking publicly in a way that the private sector responds to -- and that has been a big, big problem," said the source. "To the private sector/market, when they talk about the economy is sounds like a high school student who speaks English translating into Spanish."

Geithner's unveiling of the bank bailout plan, which led to an immediate (and significant) drop in the market and questions regarding his efficacy and longevity in the job, are the most prominent example of the struggles of Obama's economic bench -- although administration officials are quick to note that Geithner has improved dramatically in recent weeks as a communicator.

And, not even Geithner, the best known of the members of the economic team, is close to being a well-recognized presence by the American public. In a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll conducted earlier this month, one-quarter of the sample said they didn't know enough about Geithner to offer an opinion about his performance; 18 percent had no opinion of Geithner in a late March Gallup poll.

It's worth noting that this problem isn't unique to the Obama administration -- presidents including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have struggled to find effective economic spokesmen other than themselves. (In Bush's case, he struggled in his own right to sell the country on his economic policies.)

"It's important that other credible voices reinforce the president's Georgetown speech message, and Geithner and Summers have gotten better, but it's tough to fill the void when the president is such a great communicator -- anyone would look mediocre in comparison," added one prominent Democratic strategist.

Fair point.

Watch the airwaves over the next five days to see who emerges as the leading Obama economic spokesman (or spokeswoman) and how effective he or she is in that role.

What to Watch For:

Thursday's Fix Picks: Left rail only starting Monday!

1. Alan Bersin, Border Czar.
2. The Internets are catching on in politics.
3. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine loses $3 million last year.
4. Major shakeup in Georgia governor's race.
5. Edith Roosevelt's reading list.

Mitt the Money Man: Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continued his aggressive fundraising (and fund spending) through his Free and Strong America PAC in March, affirming his much-speculated-about interest in a return run for president in 2012. Last month Romney collected just over $300,000, bringing his total haul over the first three months of 2009 to $871,000 -- a VERY impressive sum given the state of the economy and the donor fatigue within the Republican Party. Romney also continues to spend heavily, dropping $175,000 in March and $523,000 in the year to date -- only a small portion of which ($21,000) has gone to federal candidates and committees. Romney's largest expenditures come in the form of consulting fees to SCM Associates, a New Hampshire based direct mail outfit, and Spencer Zwick, a fundraising consultant. Romney's fundraising prowess -- coupled with his personal wealth -- set a high bar for any other Republicans looking seriously at the 2012 race. Given the likelihood that President Obama will raise in the neighborhood of $1 billion (or more) for his 2012 reelection, a demonstrated ability to raise tens of millions seems almost a prerequisite for the GOP nominee.

Cooper Contemplates, Polling Encourages: North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) will make a decision about whether to run for the Senate by the end of the month, according to sources familiar with his decision, even as a new poll shows him leading Sen. Richard Burr (R). Cooper holds a 41 percent to 37 percent edge over Burr in a Public Policy Polling survey released on Wednesday. National Democrats have made a major push for Cooper and the bench, surprisingly enough, is relatively thin if he decides not to run. The 2008 race against then Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) is instructive, however. Democrats struggled badly in their candidate recruitment, eventually settling on then state Sen. Kay Hagan who beat Dole by eight points last November. Burr, unlike Dole, appears to be readying for a costly and high profile fight.

A Woman's Nation: Maria Shriver, California's first lady and scion to the Kennedy political legacy, is lending her name to a nationwide effort to document the state of women in society -- the first such major project since the Eleanor Roosevelt led a similar project for President John F. Kennedy. A Woman's Nation, as the effort will be known, will combine the forces of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at the University of Southern California and Shriver's California Women's Conference. The goal of the endeavor will be to produce a full report to Congress and the president, according to a release announcing the group's founding.

Carney for Congress: Former Delaware Lt. Gov. John Carney (D), who lost a primary race for governor in 2008, has decided to challenge Rep. Mike Castle (R) in 2010. Carney cast himself as a Democrat in the mold of Vice President Biden and Sen. Tom Carper (Del.); "I will work with President Obama and his administration to get out economy moving again and to address the significant challenges we face as a country," Carney said in a statement announcing his candidacy. Carney's announcement is the first in a series of political dominoes expected to fall in the First State over the next two years. Castle, who has held the state's lone House seat since 1992 without serious challenge, must decided whether he wants to run for the Senate, seek reelection to the House in a very difficult race or retire. Carper's Castle's weak fundraising in the first three months of 2009 -- $75,000 raised -- suggests he is not ramping up for a Senate race. But, Castle's $841,000 campaign warchest buys him some time to make a decision. Carney's announcement also clears the way for state Attorney General Beau Biden to run for his father's seat in 2010 upon his return from Iraq, a race in which he will be heavily favored.

Rubio Tries to Smoke Out Crist: Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, itchy to figure out what office he will be running for in 2010, told the St. Petersburg Times that he would not wait for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to make a decision on a Senate bid before making his own announcement. "My decision, which I'll announce shortly, will not be predicated on what anybody else does," said Rubio. That statement is aimed directly at Crist who continues to mull whether or not to run for seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez (R) in 2010, a pondering that has effectively frozen the Republican (and Democratic) fields. Would Rubio really make good on a primary challenge to Crist? Probably not. If Crist ran for the Senate, state Attorney General Bill McCollum would almost certainly run for governor, opening that office for a Rubio candidacy. And, at 37, it's hard to see how Rubio would risk his rising star status in a primary against the popular Crist with another statewide office sitting open. Still, Rubio's comments reveal the rising frustration within some parts of the Republican Party about Crist's "should I or shouldn't I" debate about the race. Conventional wisdom in the state suggests Crist is an almost certain Senate candidate but until he formally announces, politics in the Sunshine State is in a state of suspended animation.

Best iPhone Apps (Part 2): Day two of our roll-out of best iPhone apps (courtesy of followers of "The Fix" Twitter feed). Today's trio of recommendations: Google (never heard of it), Public Radio, and Around Me.

Say What?: "I have a better chance of winning a general election in Pennsylvania than Senator Specter." -- Newly announced Senate candidate Pat Toomey.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 16, 2009; 5:28 AM ET
Categories:  Cheat Sheet Share This:  E-Mail | Technorati | Del.icio.us | Digg | Stumble Previous: Toomey Time in Pennsylvania
Next: Wag the Blog: Did the Tea Parties Succeed?

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Blubbering and sputtering libs can't understand why there are crowds in the streets, why the lib papers are broke, why no one watches lib tv.

What a shame the protesters weren't union or acorn or anti war so the libs could kiss their feet. Obfuscation and denial is sinking the libs and Paris hilton, the TelePrompTer prez.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 17, 2009 12:29 AM | Report abuse

Oh please let them run Romney. The only more assured way they might self-destruct is by running Palin. When Romney dropped out of the primary race he was almost bawling, I've never seen such a shameful display of self-pity from anyone out of adolescence.

Romney is an empty suit stuck in the 80s. Fred Thompson was tall, Romney has big hear and wears executive suits. Neither is enough.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | April 16, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse


can i have your bone structure?

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 16, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

come on chris..
what is this...

what the heck do you need to know "about the man".....?? That he puts his pants on one leg at a time...

If he comes in, does his job, so what if he wears Calvin Klein underwear.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 16, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I like Doug Hattaway. He was on Gore's team in 2000.
quotes: (a source)
"his team is politically tone deaf and spends too much time fighting for turf."

PUHLEEZE, nothin' like mis-representing. They already have their "cabinet post"....they don't need to fight for turf.
Repulsives are the ones that are fighting at every turn of the road.
"They don't have a single person who is capable of talking publicly in a way that the private sector responds to -- ""
HELLO ! Would that be "explaining to the common man/layman? WASH DC has never been good at translating to the common man.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 16, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Make Allen a pal of yours, CC? along with Drudge?

He's suggesting, along with the rest of the rightwingmedia, that Janet Napolitano's department is not the 'real America." My, such creeping McCarthyism we have in media today. Funny that, we once had a media that fought McCarthyism. Now we have a press corps that is creating and enabling it.

"On Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Tuesday night, Politico’s Mike Allen added fuel to the outrage fire, claiming that the report couldn’t have been written by someone from “the real America”:

ALLEN: I think it’s a big story — I don’t know, I think some bureaucrat who wrote this report like misstated in a way that doesn’t comport with your or my observations about the real America. I think it was somebody, who written inside the Beltway, who maybe has fantasies about what happens outside in the real America. But I think it was obviously overstated that I can only get so like excited about that."

Allen’s “real America” rhetoric is ridiculous. In fact, it is reminiscent of far right talker Michael Savage’s claim yesterday that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should be fired over the report and replaced with a “real American.” Funny how much alike Allen and Savage sound.

Posted by: drindl | April 16, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I've said it before and I will say it again: if it's okay with "the private sector" (Wall Street) to hear from a woman, and surely this is 2009, after all, the answer for me is Christina Romer, head of the Counsel of Economic Advisors.

She's always on top of the facts, always upbeat but with the information to back it up, ultra-confident, very convincing. I feel my blood pressure drop a few points whenever she comes on the TV because I trust her and find her positive and to the point.

Is it rude to say Romer reminds me a little of Susan Boyle, the new British singing sensation? Like Boyle, she may not look the part just at first, but she delivers 150 percent.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | April 16, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

we have met our enemy, zouk, and it is you-- and all the other deadbeats and parasites whining selfishly all the time becuase someone asked you to pull your weight.

Posted by: drindl | April 16, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

bsimon posted:

"I'm a bit surprised that Fed Chairman Bernanke isn't a very large voice in the economy discussion."

Good point - his predecessor dominated all public finance discussions for a VERY LONG time.

It is also true that , as a public speaker,is more compelling than Geithner, less threatening than Summers, less giddy than whatshername1,at CEA, and far better organized than whatshername2, the budget czarina [?]. Orszag [who is compelling and does not say TOO much] and Bernanke for spokespersons.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 16, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

zuke, honey, are you trying to prove that Gresham's Law applies to the marketplace of ideas, too?

Why not spread that devalued "currency" somewhere else?

Posted by: mattintx | April 16, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I'm a bit surprised that Fed Chairman Bernanke isn't a very large voice in the economy discussion.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 16, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse



OR (if link is corrupted / disabled):


Posted by: scrivener50 | April 16, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Should say "...INSTEAD,seeing themselves...

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 16, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Prez has proposed some big-ticket savings from reforming agricultural subsidies,
the college loan program,
and the private insurance end of Medicare,
and he wants to change tax laws that would
end special treatment for oil drillers, hedge fund operators + multinational corporations. Gates has outlined how an increased DOD budget can be spent without hundreds of billion of waste.

Congress seems deeply unenthusiastic. Cap-and-trade is DOA, of course.

So we will need some sort of fine instrument to convince Rs and Ds in Congress to
refrain from representing their districts and seeing themselves as representing all of us.
That probably should not happen under our Constitution. But it is thus that our form of
government guarantees huge wasteful spending, in any admin.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 16, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I am pleased to see that Chris is not following Drudge anymore because their headlines don't match at all! However, in order to salvage his reputation as a Drudge wannabe and to become his own man, we need to see him say in print that Drudge is not relevant anymore. Because I still remember all the times during the campaign that Chris wrote, "Drudge, still relevant, still driving the news and still my hero!"

Posted by: MadAsHell3 | April 16, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

King of Zouk: You lost your job, your house, and your 401k since last year, and you still support the GOP? What are you, an idiot?

Posted by: hiberniantears | April 16, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

The 'Economic Messengers' took to the city streets yesterday.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 16, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

but then again last year I had a job, a house, a 401k. But change is in the air. But with libs In charge, this was expected.

Last year all it took was 8 anti war protesters to get wall to wall coverage on msdnc and CNN. No wonder they are headed for bankruptcy while fox rules the top ten. Poor clueless libs.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 16, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

The White House must elevate someone other than Obama to the high trust levels the American people give the president. POTUS can't sell the economy alone...


Posted by: parkerfl1 | April 16, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

At least we know who our enemies are-

Veterans and Christians

And I thought it was violent Muslims. I am so last year.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 16, 2009 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Poor barry. Way over his head:

Don't know much about economy.
Don't know much foreign policy.
Europeans suppsed to love me
But Korea shot a missile at me.

But I do know how to fool you
There's no telling what my prompter can do
But I see the people in the street
Don't they think my excuses are neat?

If only socialism could rule
What a wonderful world this would be.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 16, 2009 7:22 AM | Report abuse

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