White House Cheat Sheet: Elevating Economic Messengers
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.
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.
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