Democratic strategists have been raising red flags about the Obama campaign’s messaging recently, worrying that Obama is spending too much time explaining why the economy has improved over the past three and a half years and not enough time talking about the next four years.
But the Obama campaign seems loath to take their advice, or at the very least, acknowledge publicly that they need to adjust their message.
Appearing on several Sunday talk shows, senior White House adviser David Plouffe doubled down on the president’s message: After eight years of Republican rule culminating in the financial crisis, the nation is now on the right track to recovery.
Democrats’ concerns have been on display over the last week.
“I’m worried that when the White House or the campaign talks about the progress that’s being made, people take that as a signal that they think that things are fine and people don’t feel they ought to believe that,” Democratic strategist James Carville said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Carville is the co-author of a memo, along with Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg and Erica Siefert, which uses findings from focus groups to argue that the president needs to articulate a vision moving forward with “minimal discussion of the recovery and jobs created and maximal empathy for the challenges people face.”
Democratic pollster Peter Hart conducted two focus groups and came up with a similar finding. “[The public] need a sense of a vision, they need a sense of hope,” Hart wrote, “they need to be able to see that it’s not just the old Obama giving them the charisma and the cool.”
But the Obama team isn’t fazed. On “Fox News Sunday,” Plouffe argued that Carville and his chorus of Democrats are wrong.
“Those other Democrats are not paying attention to what the president is saying,” Plouffe told host Chris Wallace. “Which is every day, not just in what he says but what he does, he understands our economy is not as strong as it needs to be, that this didn’t happen overnight, it’s going to take us a long time to recover, there’s a lot of people out there hurting. So we are making progress and we need to make a lot more.”
Plouffe’s retort did exactly what the critics warn the campaign not to do: focus on the president’s economic record for his first term, rather than what he would do in a second term.
On “Meet The Press,” Plouffe denied that Democrats were panicking after a few rough weeks and poor economic news. But he called on Democrats to quit the “hand wringing” and focus on winning the election. What Democrats and any other supporters of the president need to do, Plouffe said, “is work like heck to win this election. That’s where we need our energy focused. Not on kind of some of the hand wringing that sometimes occurs in our party.”
On the Republican side, Mitt Romney continues to hammer the same economic message: that Obama has made the recovery worse. “Right now, we’re dealing with twenty-three million people out of work or stopped looking for work or underemployed,” Romney told CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Sunday. “Homes are still bumping along the bottom, foreclosures are at very high levels, median income is way down. The President has, frankly, made it harder for our economy to reboot.”
In Ohio on Thursday, the president hewed to his original focus in a major speech on the economy rather than introduce new proposals. He spent almost an hour laying out a detailed account arguing that Republicans have led the nation off an economic cliff — and how Mitt Romney would lead America back over it just as Democrats have begun to turn the economy around. Obama reiterated his plan for creating jobs in the short term and sustain the economy in the long term.
“I believe we need a plan for better education and training and for energy independence, rebuilding our infrastructure, for a tax code that creates jobs in America and pays down our debt in a way that’s balanced. I have that plan, they don’t,” Obama said in Ohio. “And if you agree with me… then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as president.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.