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Campaign Notes: Kick-off in the main game

By John Barron

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, has marked the start of his re-election campaign with “kickoff” speeches in two potentially crucial states: Ohio and Virginia.

After more than six months where almost all of the attention has been focused on who would be his Republican opponent, Obama is set to try to remind Americans why he became President in the first place, and ask them to double-down on that bet.

But in doing so he will also be asking voters to accept he has failed to deliver on agenda items like the closing of Guantanamo Bay and a cap and trade scheme on carbon pollution; compromised on incomplete or endangered reforms like Healthcare and financial regulation; and overseen an insipid recovery from the worst financial crisis in eighty years.

Speaking on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, just a day after unemployment data for April came in just 0.1 per cent lower at 8.1 per cent, President Obama pointedly reminded Ohioans this was not a mess of his making: "It was a house of cards that collapsed in the most destructive crisis since the Great Depression. In the last six months of 2008, even as we were campaigning, nearly three million of our neighbors lost their jobs. Over 800 000 more were lost in the month I took office alone."

Obama revealed the fine line he treads, trying to win credit for turning the US economy around without claiming things are yet back to where they should be: "…our auto industry is back on top of the world, manufacturers started investing again, adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s, businesses got back to the basics, exports surged … and over four million jobs were created in the last two years — more than one million of those in the last six months alone."

But then the President asked the crowd of around 14 000, "Are we satisfied?"

"No!" they duly chorused.

"Of course not," the President concurred. "Too many of our friends and family are still out there looking for work. The housing market is still weak, deficits are still too high, and states are still laying off teachers, first responders. This crisis took years to develop, and the economy is still facing headwinds. And it will take sustained, persistent effort — yours and mine — for America to fully recover. That’s the truth. We all know it.”

The contrast between Obama’s themes of 2008 and 2012 could not have been starker. Instead of “Hope and Change” it is now “Things are a little bit better than they were, and it wasn’t my fault.”

And little wonder, with such a tepid recovery on his record, that Obama’s main point of attack is on the alternative. Mitt Romney will be a puppet of congressional Republicans who want to cut the heart out of Medicare, tear up Obamacare, and give tax cuts to millionaires while stripping government programs for the poor.

The national polls currently give Obama the edge over Romney by an average of 3.3 per cent. In Virginia, Obama leads Romney by 7 per cent; in Ohio, Obama leads by just 2 per cent; while in the other recent battleground Florida, Romney has a 1 per cent lead.

Obama was the first Democrat to win Virginia since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide, while no Republican has won the White House without taking Ohio. And we all remember the role Florida played in 2000.

Less than six months before Election Day 2012, the bookmakers are putting Obama’s chances of winning a second term at a far-from-certain 59 per cent.

“We are not going back,” the President insisted as the Saturday crowd at Ohio State University cheered its approval.

But the crowd itself may tell an interesting story of its own. OFA, the erstwhile “Organizing for America,” which has reverted to its original “Obama for America” moniker for the campaign, announced on Twitter on Friday they’d received about 25 000 RSVPs for the President’s speech, in a venue that only holds 18 000.

Maybe put off by the prospect of a crush, in the end there were 4000 conspicuously empty seats. Now, to be fair, that is still about twice the crowd even the college-kid favourite, Republican Ron Paul, has mustered at a rally this year, but an empty seat is an empty seat — and someone who says they support you but stays at home should be a legitimate worry for the Obama campaign.

But as Obama’s kick-off speech reached it’s climax, that crowd of 14 000 was making more than enough noise to fill those empty seats. “If you’re willing to stick with me,” Obama proclaimed over their applause, “if you're willing to fight with me, and press on with me; if you’re willing to work even harder in this election than you did in the last election, I guarantee you — we will move this country forward”.

And so it begins.

7 May 2012