10:24am

Tue September 4, 2012
Colorado Statesman At The DNC

Obama Looking To Mimic ‘Michael Bennet’s Campaign On Steroids’

Jim Messina starts by telling what feels like a well-worn anecdote about a 3-year-old. The tyke, it seems, can answer with authority when asked what President Barack Obama does. “He approves this message,” the youngster says.

“Welcome to life in a battleground state,” Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, tells a crowded restaurant filled with Colorado Democrats, who roar with laughter, because they know exactly what he’s talking about.

It’s a joke that was told — with some variation — by Democrat Michael Bennet, who bucked the Republican tide that swept the nation two years ago and eked out a win in Colorado’s fiercely contested Senate race, which was the most expensive contest in the country by some measures. And it’s one that Colorado politicos could be hearing at least a few more times before voters render a decision between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney, as spending on campaign advertising approaches the stratosphere in a close fight for the state’s nine electoral votes.

The reason those electoral votes are so dear, Messina said on Monday, is that he believes it’s very nearly impossible for Romney to win the presidency without them.

Katherine Archuleta, the national political director for the Obama campaign, discusses the importance of turning out the vote in Colorado at a meeting of the state's delegates to the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.
Credit Ernest Luning / Colorado Statesman

As Democrats prepared to launch the party’s national convention in another battleground state, Messina and Katherine Archuleta, the Obama campaign’s national political director — both were born in Colorado — were among those who briefed the state’s delegation, and the talk regularly circled back to Colorado’s key role in the presidential election.

“You all get to decide whether or not this is an early night,” Messina told the delegates, many of whom grinned and nodded — they’ve been hearing this for more than a year.

Based on Messina’s projections, Obama can count on 246 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win — counting the states John Kerry won eight years ago, states Democrats have carried for every election going back to 1992. Romney, he said, has 191 electoral votes in the bank. “And we fight over the rest,” he said. Obama needs 24 more electoral votes, while Romney needs 79 electoral votes, and the two campaigns are slogging it out in just a handful of battleground states.

“If we win Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Iowa, Barack Obama is president of the United States,” he said. He later mentioned that polling shows Obama well ahead in New Mexico, though he added that the Obama campaign takes “nothing for granted,” despite that the Romney campaign isn’t spending any money there. Likewise, Obama leads most polls in Nevada and Iowa, leaving Colorado as the state either campaign has to drag across the finish line to complete or foil that electoral vote scenario.

The same day, the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling reported results of its most recent Colorado survey, showing Obama ahead in the state 46-43 percent, reflecting a lead that had narrowed by 3 points since the company’s last poll in the state. Obama’s margin emerges from strong leads among independent and voters, Democrats, women, minorities and youth. Romney, likewise, polls ahead among Republicans, men, white and older voters, reflecting the same splits the pollsters say they’re seeing everywhere in the country.

“You all delivered the blueprint on how to do a convention four years ago,” Messina told the Colorado delegates, referring to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, where Obama accepted the nomination at Invesco Field at Mile High instead of inside the convention hall. It’s an event the campaign plans to repeat this year, as Obama and Romney appear to be locked in a persistent dead heat with just over 60 days to go until the election.

“What you’re going to see, especially Thursday night in the big stadium” – Bank of America Stadium, home to the Carolina Panthers – “is built on the amazing work you all did. You all decided to make Colorado a blue state, and you did. And you used the last night of the convention to be the biggest grassroots organizing involvement I’ve ever seen. We are going to take what you did and put it on steroids on Thursday night,” Messina said.

Just four days after Republicans nominated Romney in Tampa, Fla., national polls were showing little, if any “convention bounce” for the GOP ticket, leading some to speculate that the vast fortune already spent on the campaign has calcified the candidates’ support and left little room to persuade voters over the next two months. While Messina suggested that top Republican strategists believe otherwise — GOP operatives have told The Colorado Statesman that the election could most resemble the 1980 race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, when large swaths of voters got behind the challenger in the campaign’s waning days — the Democrat said he expects things to stay tight until the end, making it a game of inches won by superior voter turnout.

“Here’s the truth,” he told the Colorado delegates. “The best way to do this is run the grassroots.” In the face of what he described as “voter suppression laws” and effectively unlimited corporate spending on behalf of the Republican ticket, he said, the antidote is better organizing, door-to-door and person-to-person.

Delegates spent Monday navigating around Charlotte between a half dozen convention venues, attending caucuses devoted to various interest groups, and making appearances at a seemingly endless number of parties around town, all ahead of the DNC’s official opening on Tuesday. In what convention organizers call an unprecedented effort to involved the surrounding community, something called Carolina Fest dominated the official schedule on Monday. The sprawling street fair over much of Charlotte’s downtown neighborhood — known as Uptown — with regional food and music, including North Carolina native James Taylor, who played on during a sudden downpour that sent tens of thousands of celebrants scattering.

Colorado delegate Blanca O’Leary of Pitkin County said that Messina was telling delegates the same things she hears as a member of the Democratic National Committee — in other words, she wasn’t stroking anyone’s ego or hyping the state’s importance simply because he was addressing its delegation.

“It really shows you how doggone important Colorado is,” O’Leary said, with a wide grin that looked as though she relishes he state’s crucial role. According to the Obama campaign’s analysis, she said, the Obama-Biden ticket has 43 paths to victory in the Electoral College, and 41 of them run through Colorado.

“Since Michael Bennet won in 2010, especially at the (Democratic National Committee) everyone was walking around all sad, but not Colorado — we were happy, because we won with the grassroots with Michael Bennet,” she said. “What we’re doing with President Obama now is Michael Bennet’s campaign on steroids, because we have more money than a senatorial candidate and more troops than a senatorial candidate. That’s why I can sleep at night — because I know what our grassroots campaign is going to be like in Colorado.”

State Republicans say they are also assembling an unprecedented campaign on the ground and plan to beat Democrats at a game they’ve dominated for much of the past decade. But O’Leary scoffed at the notion, saying that the Obama campaign’s more than 60 field offices in every corner of the state leave a less diffuse Republican effort in the dust.

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia revs up the state's delegation to the Democratic National Convention at a breakfast meeting on Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.
Credit Ernest Luning / Colorado Statesman

A combative-sounding Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia — wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a local Pipefitters Union, a reminder that it was, after all, Labor Day — took some verbal swings at the Republicans and cranked up the partisan energy in the room before Messina and Archuleta spoke.

“We have a president that is for something — not like the other party, which seems to be against everything,” he said. “President Obama understands that you can want energy exploration but not be against the environment, that you can want business expansion and growth without being against labor, that you can want public education reform without being against public school teachers.”

Then he repeated a familiar charge that has dogged congressional Republicans since soon after Obama took office.

“The other side has made it their mission to simply stop the president from accomplishing anything — that’s their number one priority, is to stop the president from accomplishing anything. But when they do that, they stop our country from moving forward,” Garcia said, shaking his head in dismay.

As national pundits and the two campaign’s chief surrogates spent the day sparring over whether Obama or Republicans were to blame for the country’s economic woes — in many cases, the arguments took place just down the street, at temporary TV studios housing the major broadcast and cable network shows, as well as on the mobile devices wielded by dozens of political reporters roaming around Charlotte — the Colorado delegates heard a succinct version of the Democrats’ argument over their breakfast.

Messina summarized what he said was the message Democrats could use to try to persuade swing voters: “This election is about a choice,” he said. “It’s about a choice between moving this country forward, investing in things we all believe in, like education and job training, tax credits to make sure our jobs stay here and not overseas. The other side’s going to take us back to the same failed policies that got us into this mess — two wars, they got us the biggest budget deficits of our lifetime. That’s what I would say.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com

The Colorado Statesman, a weekly nonpartisan political newspaper, is reporting all week from the Democratic National Convention held this year in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can follow Ernest Luning in Tampa on Twitter @eluning.