Obama's Campaign Isn't Worried About 2012
Despite lows in polling and the economy, the president's re-election team is confident he'll win; here's why.
"There are 8 million young Americans from 18 to 21 who weren't old enough to vote last time," said Messina. "Their brothers and sisters started this whole thing, and they're going to finish it." And despite speculation that the voters who "started this whole thing" in 2008 are so disillusioned by unemployment and overall disappointment that they'll stay home in 2012, the campaign thinks otherwise.
"They're disappointed at the pace of progress, but they're also aware what some of the obstacles have been," said Axelrod. "The people who have been for us in the past are very open to us again. They are not flocking to the Republican Party now."
Johnson added that the campaign's deliberate focus on key constituency groups isn't a new strategy -- after all, they had targeted outreach the last time. But what's different now is not having the backdrop of a crazed primary contest cutting into their time. "We have the time and resources to be even more detailed in this approach of engaging people early and keeping them engaged," he said.
A "We're All in This Together" Message
Still, one shift from 2008 is the campaign's message. It's tougher to pitch Obama as a community-organizing newcomer when he's been president of the United States for the past three years. The crux of Obama's message now can be found in the speech he gave in Kansas last week on the widening wealth gap's crippling impact on the economy, as well as the plight of the middle class and poor.
"We all agree that the economy is the issue in 2012, but [the Obama campaign looks] at it differently," said Axelrod. "We believe that the mission is not just to recover from the recession, but it's also to restore the economic security that Americans have lost over a long period of time, when wages have been flattened and the middle class has been hollowed out."
The president outlined in his Kansas speech that the key to doing that will be investing in education and innovation while having the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes. He cast the economic agenda of Republicans, meanwhile, as being centered on cutting taxes for the wealthy, with the expectation that it will trickle down -- a time-tested theory that the president said doesn't work.
Although critics of the president's speech saw it as a divisive sign of class warfare, his re-election campaign is willing to bet that enough voters will see it differently. "It was a unifying theme ... about the fact that we're greater together. We're a stronger country when success is broadly available to people who are willing to work for it," Axelrod said. "We offer a hopeful vision of the future, one that holds up the hope of a broad prosperity, and theirs does not."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.