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Morning Fix: Of Superdelegates and Health Care

President Obama has adopted his superdelegate strategy to sell health care. Photo by Jim Young of Reuters

The White House's strategy on health care over the past week -- leaking out the names of a handful of prominent Republican supporters each day -- closely resembles the way then candidate Barack Obama used his cache of superdelegates to build momentum during the prolonged fight for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

The similarities between the two situations are clear. Both were protracted -- and high profile -- fights that featured daily skirmishes for territory and momentum.

In the campaign, Obama's team carefully managed their greatest asset -- a treasure trove of superdelegates who had privately committed to him -- to do three things: 1) control the narrative of the day by leaking out new supporters early in the news cycle 2) build a daily drumbeat of momentum and inevitability by parceling out new backers over days and then weeks and 3) blunt negative news cycles by releasing names to show that nothing had structurally changed in the race.

Fast forward to the fight over health care. For the first three days of this week, names of Republican supporters of getting some bill passed -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist -- began to find their way into the hands of reporters early each day. (Sources within the White House insist the trickle of prominent Republican supporters will continue in the days ahead.)

The result? A series of stories -- and, more importantly, cable chatter -- about the Republican support the bill was drawing outside of Washington

Within 72 hours, the narrative had changed from the divisions among Democrats on the bill to the rancor among Republicans.

"This helps change the narrative to a discussion of when health care will pass, not if," said one senior White House aide granted anonymity to speak candidly.

To be clear, the White House's strategy to bring pressure to bear on congressional Republicans by touting the support of outside-the-Beltway GOPers has its limits.

There remain real fissures within the Democratic Party -- particularly over whether the final health care bill should include a public option -- and polling suggests that the American public remains far from sold on the plan.

But, momentum matters in policy matter just like it does in political fights. And, the White House is using the lessons it learned in campaign 2008 to try and win the major fight of the president's first year in office.

Friday's Fix Picks: Huge game for Catholic field hockey tomorrow. H-U-G-E.

1. President Obama: Nobel Prize winner.
2. Ethics Committee expands Rangel investigation.
3. The White House's attempt to keep the left in line.
4. A primary challenge to Bill McCollum in Florida?
5. Babe Ruth at the bat.

Corzine Leads in N.J. . . . : Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has opened up a narrow 41 percent to 38 percent lead over former U.S. attorney Chris Christie (R) in a new poll conducted by Democracy Corps, a Democratic-affiliated operation. Neither candidate is well regarded by voters. Thirty-seven percent have a favorable opinion of Corzine while 46 percent regard him in an unfavorable light; 30 percent of the sample feel favorably toward Christie, 42 percent unfavorably. Voter distaste toward the two major party nominees may be fueling the rise of independent candidate Chris Daggett who stood at 14 percent in the survey.

. . . Or Christie Leads in N.J.: A Survey USA (auto-dialed) poll conducted for WABC-TV showed Christie at 43 percent to 40 percent for Corzine and 14 percent for Daggett. In the Survey USA poll, Christie held a 44 percent to 32 percent edge among independents, a critical piece of his win strategy given the Garden State's strong Democratic inclinations.

Clinton Casts NY-23 In National Light: Former president Bill Clinton argued that the Nov. 3 special election in New York's 23rd district will be a "referendum on President Obama's agenda for health care" in an e-mail solicitation for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Polling suggests that the race between businessman Bill Owens (D), state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman is a toss-up. The DCCC has spent $231,000 on independent expenditures in the contest while the National Republican Congressional Committee has already dropped $313,000.

Click It!: The Democratic National Committee calls out Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) on health care. (Flashback: The DNC calls out the Fix!)

Coleman (Not That One) Takes a Pass on MN-Gov: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (D) will not run for governor in 2010, he announced late Thursday. "I'm going to work on the business of St. Paul," Coleman said, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Coleman's decision to back away from the race takes one high-profile potential candidate out of the mix but adds further confusion to what is already an extremely crowded field. Many state and national Democrats continue to wait on Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak who is openly mulling the race and, according to smart party insiders, is likely to run. The Republican field is equally muddled and will stay that way until former senator Norm Coleman makes a final call on whether or not he will run.

Chat Time: The Fix will go live for an hour today at 11 a.m. to take questions from readers on various and sundry topics. You can ask questions in advance or follow along in real time. See you there!

Jones to Mercury: Emil Jones Jr. (D), the longtime president of the Illinois state Senate, has signed on to oversee the Chicago office of Mercury Public Affairs. "Emil Jones is, quite simply, an institution in Chicago and throughout Illinois, and he will bring our clients a level of knowledge and expertise that is unmatched in the field," said Mercury managing partner Kieran Mahoney. Jones Jr. joins a stable of high profile ex-pols -- former California state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D), former Missouri senator Jim Talent (R) among others -- who have joined Mercury in recent years.

Say What?: "It's opinion journalism masquerading as news." -- White House communications director Anita Dunn on the Fox News Channel.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 9, 2009; 5:34 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Obama, the Nobel Prize and What It All Means


I thought Republicans equate antics with results? If not, all of their 2012 hopefuls are in deep trouble already.

Posted by: shrink2 | October 9, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

trl618 is right. I cannot imagine any kind of machine rallying itself around Norm Coleman. His party encouraged him to look ridiculous for 7 months and that is an image that cannot be erased.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | October 9, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

As for the Minnesota Governor's race, the comment that the race will be muddled until former Senator Norm Coleman decides what to do is an outsider's perspective. Norm is done in Minnesota politics and most people in the State know that. He burned up what goodwill he had with his antics during the recount.

Posted by: trl618 | October 9, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Concerning the New Jersey Governor's race, I use SurveyUSA alot and I think their the most accurate polling agency out there. So if they say the NJ race is tight, I believe it is. What's striking is that in about every poll out now, Daggett is running with 14% of the vote. Daggett is making a major push to try to win this thing. His problem is that Christie & Corzine is both running around 40%, not in the 30's. This would suggest one of the major parties will win. In the poll, Christie leads with 43%-Corzine 40%-Daggett-14%. 1% of NJ voters say they will vote for other candidates. 2% are undecided. With that said, Christie is in great shape right now. Christie must have strong turnout's in the Southern & Central parts of the state. In my view, Corzine should hammer Christie hard in those areas with negative ads. On the other hand, Corzine is ahead in the Northern part of the state and Christie should hammer Corzine hard in that part of the state, to hopefully discourage turnout. Neither guy is loved, so they have to motivate their supporters to turn out and discourage their opponents supporters. It may be 40+1 that wins this race, not 50+1.

Posted by: reason5 | October 9, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

If "they" just wanted to pass "something" it would have been done by now. But health care is a big deal, and it seems that at least some in congress are taking it seriously. They want to get the best bill they can get. And that takes stamina and persistence. I think the bill that *will* pass in November or December is going to be better than we would have gotten in July. Patience, patients.

Posted by: mikenmidland | October 9, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Any time you do a "good Cop / Bad Cop" routine - someone has to play the "bad cop."

Just part of the job description.

Posted by: gary4books | October 9, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Republicans support healthcare reform. In fact, a Coburn/Burr bill was created but was never given much of a chance. A good many of ideas have surfaced from Republicans, but many of them have been rejected by the Dems. Since they have all of the control in Washington, healthcare reform is basically on them. Democrats can blame Republicans all they want, but the bottom line is that the Democrats control the White House and control the House & Senate by fillibuster proof margins. Why can't they get something passed?

Posted by: reason5 | October 9, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

It is called "pithy", right?
Cramming more meaning into every sentence.
It's good.

Posted by: shrink2 | October 9, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

We tend to forget what disciplined, intelligent people run the WH. Thank you for the reminder!

Re: Link nr.3

This is a brilliant piece! SO revealing of the true behind-the-scenes motivations at the WH. Very strategic, making the nonsense the media has focussed on (the Sen. Finance Committee shenanigans, for example).

What is it about you blokes named 'Chris' that makes you so insightful?

Posted by: sverigegrabb | October 9, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I like Anita Dunn too, Margaret.

Posted by: drindl | October 9, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Mark, speaking of moving goal posts, aren't you being as little hard on Barak? Sure, he has caused no actual peace to happen, but there have been past winners of this prize that have actually fomented violence (Arafat) and numerous winners who may have been good people, but peace? Al Gore?

It is true, this prize is a PC popularity contest and I think that goes straight to your other point, there is not enough peace to award the prize to an actual peacemaker every year.

Posted by: shrink2 | October 9, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

I agree that the Nobel Peace Prize has been handed out somewhat prematurely. I mean, the Physics prize was given for work done in the 1960s, which has led to digital cameras and fiber optics. It took this long to see the impact.

The politics of war and peace often evolve much more quickly, but there has to be more than just intent here. Yes, this prize, like Gore's, is a slap at the Bush Administration. So be it.

(And since this is Fix Pick#1, it's not off-topic.)

Posted by: mikenmidland | October 9, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Brooks' NYT column today pretty much sums up what is left to argue about in the health care debate. But I think it is all over but the shouting. There will be plenty of shouting. Get ready to pay and pay, every interest in the industry is going to get paid, that is how it will get passed. Then we can only hope that it works out for the better, a generation or so from now.

Posted by: shrink2 | October 9, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Mark: I'm sure the Nobel Peace Prize will come up later. We're just being like the Nobel committee--ahead of the curve. :)

I have to agree with Mark on the peace prize being a bit premature. This was a hull shot by the Nobel committee at the Bush administration.

Granted, Obama has improved the overall international diplomatic climate relative to his predecessor, but it might have been more appropriate to wait and see if he can resolve Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, the world economic crisis, etc., before awarding him the Peace Prize.

If he does any of those things, the Nobel Committee will look prescient. If not, then the Nobel will become an albatross hanging around Obama's neck, a constant reminder of hopes unfulfilled.

If I were Obama, I would respectfully decline or defer acceptance of this until I'd actually achieved peace somewhere.

Then again, what does it say about the world at this point is that all we can find to reward is hope?

And, so I'm not completely off topic: I've said before that we need to see where we are in December on health care. Obama isn't playing football, where every play is based on the "now." He's playing Go, where seemingly random or wasted moves early in the game can have tremendous strategic impact dozens of moves later. He plays the Long Game. It's how he played the primaries and the election, and how he's managing his administration. I don't concern myself with current polls, because I'm pretty sure Obama is playing for what the electorate will think a year from now.

Posted by: Gallenod | October 9, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Mark, I know where you are coming from about the Peace Prize -- it's so premature. And the comittee acknowledges that it wants to spur the President on to profound accomplishments in foreign policy.

Well, the President has already got a lot of spurs in his side, and I feel that too many people wish (or demand, here at home) that he accomplish too much. It isn't right for one world leader to be expected to right the economy at home and around the world; fix unemployment at home and around the world; create political peace at home and around the world; etc, etc. Our own people expect him to right every wrong here THIS YEAR, or he's a failure.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | October 9, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

"It's opinion journalism masquerading as news."
I couldn't agree more. But I would also throw most of the programming on MSNBC, and many of the shows on CNN in that category too.
I started watching the Newshour recently, and if you compare that program to the nonsense on cable "news" then you'll agree with Ms Dunn's statement too.

Posted by: AndyR3 | October 9, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

The strategy that the White House is employing is aimed at helping one person vote her conscience next tuesday. If enough GOP supporters are put out there then it will create enough cover for Senator Snowe to hide behind when the Club For Growth come after her as a RINO(BTW not all growths are a good thing).

It is also good to see Bill Clinton getting involved in the NY-23 race, but I think it would be more helpful for him to actually drive up to Lake Placid and do some campaigning with Owens. Clinton is still well thought of in that area and could make a big impact if he wanted to.

Posted by: AndyR3 | October 9, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

While the Prez could be congratulated for winning the Nobel, it is incomprehensible as anything but a slap at the previous Admin. I favor the return to fact based realpolitik and the second coming of the Baker-Scowcroft world view and think the Prez has set the better direction. But there has been no accomplishment to justify a Peace Prize. Not yet.

The NPP has been criticized as a Scandinavian political statement by many over time. I suppose that was what Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, wanted.
Yet, there is nothing here, except to compare the prize to a lottery win.

I apologize for the threadjack and for my lack of enthusiasm.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 9, 2009 7:22 AM | Report abuse

From CC's link to health care poll:

"Two-thirds (66%) favor mandating that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those unable to afford it. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) favor requiring employers to pay into a government health care fund if they do not provide health insurance coverage to their employees. A similar majority (58%) also favors raising taxes on families with incomes of more than $350,000 as a way to pay for reforms. And 55% say they favor a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans, which is largely unchanged from late July (52%).

The disconnect between support for specific elements of health care legislation and overall opposition to the proposals in Congress appears to be driven by a lack of understanding about what is being proposed, the complexity of the topic, and declining trust in Congress."
Posters here are confused by the moving goal posts in this debate. How could we expect mere voters who are not Fix Followers not to be? There is no universal health care bill, even as we speak. I am still reading the various bills and I started more than a month ago.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 9, 2009 7:13 AM | Report abuse

I like Anita Dunn: more truth per word than any communications director ever.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | October 9, 2009 6:29 AM | Report abuse

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