Obama wants an election about the economy, not him

AP Photo/Luis M. AlvarezPresident Barack Obama walks with with Col. John C. Millard

AP Photo/Luis M. AlvarezPresident Barack Obama walks with with Col. John C. Millard

President Barack Obama is all in with his economic pitch. The American public is not. Over the next 27 days, either the public or the president is going to get the message.

In a midterm campaign strategy fraught with risk, the White House is betting that Obama's tight embrace of the economic recovery and populist proposals for gender pay equity and a higher minimum wage will galvanize his core supporters and persuade fence-sitting independents to help Democrats retain narrow control of the Senate in November.

Addressing young entrepreneurs Thursday at a start-up center in California, Obama will be highlighting his economic record for the third time in eight days.

While noting that he's not on the ballot in this election, Obama has become fond of saying that his policies are at stake. The line has prompted a reflexive flinch from Democrats who are trying to fend off a concerted Republican campaign to link Democratic opponents to the president.

For Democrats, the problem is not Obama's message; it's the pitchman. “The messenger is not the most popular guy on the planet right now,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

Public opinion polls show substantial support for Obama's proposals to raise the minimum wage, seek pay equity for women and close corporate tax loopholes. But on the economic issues he's most associated with — the fitful recovery from the Great Recession and his health care law — the American public is not with him.

A September AP-GfK poll found 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy, and that 41 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove of his handling of health care. Overall, Obama's national approval ratings are 44 percent, compared to 51 percent who disapprove, according to the latest numbers from Gallup.

That said, Obama does have an economic story to tell. Unemployment has dropped from a high of 10 percent in 2009 to 5.9 percent last month. The economy grew last quarter at a better clip than many expected. The stock market has rallied to record highs. He inherited a federal deficit of more than a trillion dollars; the deficit has been cut by more than half to $486 billion.

But, to the frustration of the White House, that message hasn't gained much traction against a headwind of nearly stagnant wage growth.

“An awful lot of Americans, they read in the paper that the economy is growing, but they haven't seen their own paychecks advance, they haven't seen their old opportunities grow and they haven't seen their own children get good job offers,” GOP pollster White Ayres said.

Ayres recently conducted a joint poll with Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg for NPR and discovered that in states with closely contested Senate races, both Republicans and Democratic voters were equally energized

“It's all about the independents in those states,” he said. “The independents are going to be moved more than anything else by the reality of the economy they feel in their daily lives. At least at this point, far too few have felt a significant recovery.”

It's a point not lost on the White House. Last week, after describing the recovery's trajectory, Obama added: “The facts that I just laid out don't mean that there aren't a lot of folks out there who are underpaid, they're underemployed, they're working long hours, they're having trouble making ends meet.”

As a result, Obama is also pushing his proposals to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, to ensure equal pay for women, to overhaul the immigration laws and provide universal pre-school for children as an effort to create contrasts with Republicans who have opposed those efforts.

“The president does believe there is a clear choice for voters across the country between candidates who are supportive of policies that will benefit the middle class, and candidates who are supportive of policies that will benefit those at the top in the hopes that the benefits will trickle down to the middle class,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

On Thursday, Obama was aiming his pitch to young people born after 1980, an age group that has been reluctant to vote in nonpresidential contests.

Obama was to hold a town hall at Cross Campus, a Santa Monica, California, hub for startup companies and entrepreneurs, where he was to highlight policies such as college aid and health care that officials say have especially benefited members of the millennial generation.

Thursday's speech is one of several White House efforts to draw the attention of demographic groups that are crucial components of the Democratic voting coalition, including women, African-Americans and Latinos.

But as he promotes the economy and his policies, Obama faces yet another disadvantage: Of the 10 closest Senate contests, seven are in states he lost in 2012.

As a result, he has been forced to make his case from a distance, as he is Thursday in California.

Barack ObamaUSUS economy

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

After the pandemic hit, Twin Peaks Boulevard was closed to vehicle traffic, a situation lauded by open space advocates. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
New proposal to partially reopen Twin Peaks to vehicles pleases no one

Neighbors say closure brought crime into residential streets, while advocates seek more open space

Protesters rally at the site of a proposed affordable housing project at 2550 Irving St. in the Sunset District on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Ming Vong/S.F. Examiner)
Sunset District affordable housing discussion flooded with ‘scare tactics and hysteria’

Project would provide 100 units, some of which would be designated for formerly homeless families

Members of the Sheriff’s Department command staff wore masks at a swearing-in ceremony for Assistant Sheriff Tanzanika Carter. One attendee later tested positive. 
Courtesy SFSD
Sheriff sees increase in COVID-19 cases as 3 captains test positive

Command staff among 10 infected members in past week

Rainy weather is expected in the coming week. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Rainstorms, potential atmospheric river expected to drench Bay Area in coming week

By Eli Walsh Bay City News Foundation Multiple rainstorms, cold temperatures some… Continue reading

U.S. Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s powerful reading was among the highlights of Inauguration Day. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Inauguration shines light in this never-ending shade

Here’s to renewal and resolve in 2021 and beyond

Most Read