By: Kelsey Thomas
As the Republican presidential candidates crisscross Florida leading up to the state’s primary next Tuesday, President Obama will be wrapping up a three-day tour of five key battleground states. To get an idea of how Obama’s 2012 campaign is expecting things to play out, we need look no further than the State of the Union address delivered Tuesday night. In this speech, the president name-dropped many industries and cities, all in key battleground states. With this, we can look ahead at how the Obama campaign sees this race and also if things will pan out as they are anticipating.
Michigan: In perhaps his most obvious display of courting since meeting Michelle, President Obama’s State of the Union address was largely targeted at reproducing his 2008 victory in this state. The President mentioned both Detroit and the automobile industry separately, while also emphasizing his desire to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. After remarking about the decline in industry in Detroit, he also named Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Raleigh as cities from which manufacturing jobs could be out-sourced (look for these states to be highly targeted closer to the election). This trend is sure to continue as Obama makes the last stop of his swing state tour in Detroit today. Despite all his effort in this state, the president may find this a harder sell than it was four years ago, particularly if the Republican nominee is Mitt Romney. Mitt’s father, George W. Romney, served as governor in Michigan, where the younger Romney grew up, giving him as close to a home-field advantage as can be had in this particular presidential match-up. Additionally, a mass exodus of potential voters – particularly African-Americans – out of Detroit leaves Obama with less favorable prospects than in 2008.
Arizona: Way back in 2011, Obama’s re-election campaign manager Jim Messina called Arizona as being a new battleground state. Due to the influx of Hispanic voters to the state and a relatively close loss here to McCain in 2008, this strategy makes some sense (or at least is better than Plan B: Georgia). Taking over a state like Arizona is nearly essential to the Obama campaign, which will probably be forced to cede the traditionally GOP-leaning states like Virginia back to the right after scooping them up in ’08. In his SOTU address, Obama concentrated on the decrease in illegal crossings over the border during his presidency and his plans for a new path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in hopes of garnering some Arizonian support. Unfortunately for O
bama, the voters in this state don’t appear to be looking for plans such as this, instead passing some of the strictest and broadest anti-immigration laws in the nation. This is a state that an anti-immigrant conservative should be able to hold onto, despite Obama’s campaign courting. Rather than attempting to convert Arizona and potentially go beyond his electoral victory in 2008 (which would probably be a long shot), the president should focus on keeping his hold on states like Indiana and North Carolina, particularly with the Democratic National Convention happening in Raleigh.
Florida: While there was only one mention of a Sunshine State city in the SOTU address, President Obama is clearly setting his eyes on the prize in Florida, which will likely return to its quadrennial position as the battleground state of the nation. Prior to his SOTU speech, the president gave a speech at DisneyWorld in Orlando touting his plans for increasing international tourism to states such as Florida. While I myself predicted this might come up in his SOTU address, his campaigning for Floridian votes was far more subtle (edging on subliminal). At the beginning of his speech, the president made a comment regarding the branches of the military:
“They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.”
While nearly all State of the Union addresses contain a push for bipartisanship, this one is especially important due to the volatile goings-on in the Republican nomination process. By aiming these statements at his Republican opponents and those in Congress, Obama frames Republican attackers with crucial character flaws on their part, blocking opportunities for bipartisanship. This subtle campaign strategy may help him to turn voters off from the Republican candidates as they vie for the Florida primary win (although if any GOP candidates are looking here for a strategy on how to win Florida, I have two words for you: Marco Rubio).
2012 is almost certainly going to be a close election. While President Obama obviously has the advantage of incumbency, he still has an uphill battle to fight if he hopes to be re-elected. Assuming that Obama is going to allocate a fair share of his resources to these three states, the best thing that the Republican candidates do is pick a nominee – and soon. The longer the Republican Party takes to choose a nominee, the more time Obama will have to campaign in these states without having to worry about direct opposition from a singular Republican nominee (I’d also like to invoke Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment here). In battleground states like these, face time is key to victory, something that the Obama campaign knows all too well.