And They’re Off

Posted by By at 24 February, at 09 : 30 AM Print

There are many signs that the race for 2012 is well under way. Notable Republicans are helping the economies of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, making frequent visits and hiring staff. Almost all of the news sites I frequent are handicapping the field, and we are starting to hear who is in and who is out with a little more certainty.

And then, of course, we have the President. All indications are the White House is in full blown re-elect mode.

It started shortly after the GOP tidal wave, with some key staffers – and political consultant David Axelrod – leaving the Administration and moving back to Chicago. At the time, the buzz was “Obama is running as an outsider to Washington again,” something that I find a little hard to grasp given he is going to arrive on that big plane and stand behind the Great Seal.

Then there was the lame duck – a smattering of fairly safe moves, from repealing DADT (never a big voting issue with the crucial middle block of independents) to extending the Bush tax cuts in spite of pledging not to do so in 2008.

These were moves that looked to throw a bone to left and shore up the middle. And it worked – following the lame duck the President was above water in his approval rating for the first time since the summer, peaking shortly after the State of the Union.

But the President knows he needs something two very important things to win re-election: high turnout and cold, hard cash. He raised a lot of it last time — $745 million to McCain’s $368 million –- so he knows the importance of money to victory. And if he needed a lesson in the importance of turnout all he need do is look up the street to the new class of legislators in the big domed building.

How do you raise money and drive turnout? Rev up your base. Which makes the events of the past week perfectly logical, politically speaking.

First there was the aggressive foray into the Wisconsin matter. More than just supporting the cause from the bully pulpit, President Obama sent in the DNC and Organizing for America to, well, get things organized. After all, Community Organizer was his most notable resume point in 2008 – but I digress.

The actions of the White House were a clear signal – “we know you are mad at us, and we know we need you.” It’s a fair point – the President will never be re-elected without strong Union turnout – and his cut of the $400 million they spent in 2008 – to win in key Rustbelt states.

States that flipped from Bush to Obama in 2008 – like Indiana and Ohio – are key to any strategy and have populations with disproportionate Union membership compared to national averages.Furthermore, the list of states the Unions are planning to spend $30 million opposing right to work laws include Florida, Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire and Missouri, a fact that certainly has the White House’s attention. After all, the President’s fate might very well be decided in those states.

Which is why, in the end, the issue wasn’t about principle (thousands of federal employees have stricter restrictions on bargaining rights by operation of executive order) or policy – it was politics, pure and simple. That isn’t to say he doesn’t believe in the politics, but the fact is the political considerations are what made the call so knee-jerk.

But even that pales in comparison to what the White House snuck into the already over-crowded news cycle. After softening the ground several months ago by stating “my views on gay marriage are evolving,” the President today announced that the US Government would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

What does this mean? Well, for starters, gay marriage is essentially reality nationwide. Why? The only thing that prevented states from being forced to recognize another state’s same sex marriage under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution was the DOMA.

Essentially, under the Constitution, each state is required to recognize legal distinctions from other states – except where exempted by law. DOMA was that exemption. So a couple married in Massachusetts can move to Nebraska and demand recognition of their marriage regardless of the laws of Nebraska.

Good, bad or indifferent, the President is making a huge leap by essentially deciding to invalidate a law passed by the US congress, signed by President Clinton, and deemed constitutional on more than one occasion.

Why did the White House choose to do this now? Simple – it must shore up its base, and like DADT, gay marriage is only a hard core voting issue for the 35% of the electorate that was never going to vote Obama/Clinton 2012 anyway (you really think they keep Biden around for round 2?).

These two acts – jumping in with all hands on the Union bandwagon and invalidating DOMA – will surge the hearts of liberals across the nation like a Reagan speech used to fire me up. Its sprouts and tofu (I assume that is the liberal equivalent of red meat) to his vegan masses, like “we want him dead or alive” was for neocons.

In short, it is the loud crack of the starters’ pistol – the race for 2012 is on.

This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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