President Obama officially launched his re-election campaign on Monday, filing papers with the Federal Election Commission and releasing “It Begins With Us,” a video pitching his 2012 bid as a grassroots effort powered by the people. It worked once before, so why not try it again?
The president himself is absent during the two-minute spot, which instead focuses on supporters who make up his target demographics. Gladys, a Hispanic mother from Nevada, stresses that many issues must still be addressed in the country, and that she wants President Obama to be the one to handle them. Mike, a white college student, is eager to volunteer. Ed, a white man from North Carolina, says, “I don’t agree with Obama on everything, but I respect him and trust him.” Katherine, a white woman from Colorado, explains that re-election will be determined by individuals at the grassroots level.
Then there's Alice, a black woman from Michigan with only this to say: “President Obama is one person—plus, he (sic) got a job. We’re paying him to do a job, so we can’t say, ‘Could you take some time off and get us all energized?’ So we better figure it out.”
As the only African American featured in the video, and compared to the optimistic voices from everybody else, Alice’s argumentative tone struck an odd note. The message that comes across, whether intended or not, is that black folks better motivate themselves to vote for Obama again because he’s too busy to ask for our support. It’s not the most inspiring selling point. Moving forward, a better tactic might be to acknowledge the jobs and housing crisis disproportionately facing African Americans and illuminate what he’s actually doing about those issues.
On the other hand, the campaign is just getting started.
“This was just an announcement. It’s not indicative of what will happen over the course of the next 18 months,” David Bositis, senior research associate for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, told The Root.
Bositis also says, however, that despite dismal jobs numbers and more recent disappointment over his decision to hold military tribunals for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, most of Obama’s base will likely return to the polls for him. “All evidence shows that there is strong support by African Americans for President Obama, and I think his campaign is going to be counting on that,” he said. “In certain respects, he’s also blessed by his opposition. It’s pretty clear that the potential Republican candidates will pursue policies that are outright hostile to the interests of African Americans.”
Obama’s re-election problem lies, then, with appealing beyond his base. He’ll have to reach white men like Ed, and residents of the cornfield-lined small towns and middle class row houses featured in the video’s opening montage. “To win a presidential election, you have to put together the right mix of supporters, and in many states that’s going to involve getting a significant amount of the white independent vote,” said Bositis.
It will be a hard slog to win those voters. Over the past two years we’ve seen rampant fear and resentment toward Obama, from never-ending questioning about his citizenship to charges that he’s shoving the country toward socialism. It may be less a matter of guys like Ed who disagree with but trust the president — and more of a question of what to do with birther conspiracy theorists.
But Obama has experience in successfully running an unlikely campaign. As we move into his new "It Begins With Us" chapter, we’ll see whether he can do it again.