White House Cheat Sheet: The Fight Is On
President Obama's economic stimulus plan may now be on the glide path to passage in Congress but the fight over what the legislation means for average Americans and how it will impact the political landscape for both parties is only just beginning.
Already interest groups on each end of the political spectrum are hammering away at the politically vulnerable and it's clear that both Obama and congressional Republicans are sticking to their respective positions on the legislation.
All of that sets up an old-fashioned message battle with Obama and, to a lesser extent, House and Senate Democrats, pitching the stimulus bill as a much-needed job creator and Republicans casting it as a partisan, pork-laden mess that does little to stimulate the economy and lots to please Democratic interest groups.
"The bottom line is jobs, jobs, jobs and more jobs," said one White House adviser, adding that the bill in Congress was a "hard fought compromise" but the end result is "a plan that will save or create more that three million jobs and that has been the president's goal all along."
House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) explained the Republican position in a press conference shortly after the announcement that a compromise had been reached on Wednesday. "It appears that Democrats have made a bad bill worse by reducing the tax relief for working families in order to pay for more wasteful government spending," said Boehner.
As we have written before, Obama has a major leg up in the message battle because of the bully pulpit, which ensures that everywhere he goes and everything he says will draw huge attention from the media. (Need evidence? Look at how Obama dominated the news cycle on Monday and Tuesday.)
And, polling suggests that voters are inclined to side with the popular Obama right now -- giving him the benefit of the doubt on his biggest priority. The latest Gallup survey showed roughly six in ten (59 percent) were supportive of Congress passing an $800 billion stimulus package.
But, an advantage does not mean a victory and Republicans should feel confident in the political viability of opposing Obama on the economic stimulus, said Mark Salter, a longtime aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Salter called the bill a "target rich environment" for Republicans due to the various spending measures in it, adding: "Obama has set up a false choice, a vote against it is a vote to do nothing. The challenge for Republicans is to communicate they are for something better."
And, even some Democratic strategists are expressing some doubt that the legislation will be a clear win for the President.
"We expected the now-legendary Obama message machinery to sell the recovery package to the public," said one senior Democratic strategist. "It didn't happen, not on the front end where messaging matters most."
The next few weeks will be critical when determining the winners and losers of the economic stimulus fight. In truth, what (if anything) the bill does to turn around the economy is the biggest factor in determining who wins. But, both sides will still work overtime to shift the political landscape in their favor. It bears watching.
Sked Stuff: The president has never been terribly subtle about his admiration for and interest in Abraham Lincoln. So, it's no surprise that Obama travels to Springfield, Ill. today to deliver remarks at the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association Annual Banquet in honor of the Great Emancipator's 200th birthday. The Fix is something of a Lincoln buff (read: nerd) and, to our mind, the best Lincoln biography out there is David Herbert Donald's "Lincoln." Fred Kaplan, who wrote a GREAT summary of the must-read Lincoln books in the Post's "Book World" over the weekend, agrees.
Jindal vs. Obama: The news that Bobby Jindal will deliver the official Republican response to President Barack Obama's Feb. 24 address is evidence of two things: Jindal is THE hot thing in the GOP right now and Jindal wants it to stay that way. The choice, announced yesterday by congressional GOP leaders, is evidence, explained Republican Governors Association executive director Nick Ayers, of a new way of thinking within the party. "Republicans in D.C. finally understand our message can't come from D.C.," said Ayers. "This signals a change in tone and strategy for the Party, and its the right one." It also signals that Republicans understand the need to counter Obama's historic presidency with new faces of their own -- from Michael Steele, the first African American chairman of the Republican National Committee, to Jindal, the Indian-American boy wonder governor. And, while Jindal continues to downplay any interest in a 2012 race, gigs like this one (and his keynote at the National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in March) will put him at the front of the line when the next presidential cycle rolls around -- if he wants to reconsider.
Gerlach for Gov?: Rep. Jim Gerlach (Pa.), one of only a handful of Republicans seen as potential "yes" votes for Obama's economic stimulus plan, is formally weighing a run for governor in 2010. Gerlach has formed a gubernatorial exploratory committee and said in a statement recently that he would make a final decision by "late spring." With Gov. Ed Rendell (D) term limited out of office in 2010, a free-for-all is expected in both parties. From Gerlach's perspective, a wide open field could be attractive as he has base in suburban Philadelphia and a demonstrated ability to raise the millions of dollars any candidate running statewide in Pennsylvania would need. If Gerlach leaves his 6th district seat, it immediately becomes a prime Democratic pickup opportunity as, according to Swing State Project, President Obama carried it by 17 points last November.
Nick and Fred: Brian Nick, a longtime aide for former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R), has been hired by GOP media guru Fred Davis to open a Washington, D.C. hub of his Hollywood-based firm Strategic Perceptions. Nick, who will take on the title of Director of Strategic Development and Communications (not bad), joins a firm that served as the lead media consultant for Sen. John McCain's (Ariz.) presidential bid and also handled the ads for now National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas).
Meanwhile in the Democratic Consulting World....: Jon Vogel, the man who oversaw the massive independent expenditure operation at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last fall, has signed on with the Global Strategy Group as a partner -- joining pollsters Jef Pollock and Harrison Hickman at the firm. Vogel served as the political director at the DCCC during the 2008 election before moving over to direct a the spending of $85 million on television ads, direct mail pieces and phone calls into a series of congressional districts. GSG handles polling for -- among others -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) as well as Govs. David Paterson (N.Y.), Chet Culver (Iowa) and Brian Schweitzer (Mont.).
Click It!: The Post's Paul "PK" Kane pens a profile of the unassuming but increasingly admired Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) and, in doing so, gives us a window into her critical role in forging a deal on the stimulus. The Fix has long been a Collins admirer; any Republican who can win 60-plus percent of the vote in a state where Barack Obama was taking 58 percent -- as Collins did last November -- deserves major kudos. It's why we gave Collins an "honorable mention" in our rankings of the best Senate campaigns of 2008.
Say What?: "I would like to apologize for a joke that was in no way an official response from Congressman [Eric] Cantor, but instead an inappropriate email." -- Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring on sending this to a reporter when asked to respond to ads knocking his boss.
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