Hot on HuffPost:

See More Stories

Obamas at Ohio State: Searching for Missing Magic of 2008

3 years ago
  0 Comments Say Something  »
Text Size
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Taking the stage to nostalgic chants of "Yes, we can," the best campaigner in the Democratic Party not named Bill Clinton made her 2010 political big-stage debut Sunday night on the Ohio State campus. After Michelle Obama evoked gauzy memories of the 2008 campaign ("Tell me, Ohio, are you as fired up as you were two years ago?"), the president of the United States spoke as well, using twin Teleprompters.

There was little news embedded in the president's words unless you care that Obama offered Ohio State condolences on its stunning Saturday night football defeat against Wisconsin. Or that, according to Ohio State campus police, the crowd was charitably estimated at 35,000. There were the familiar 2010 tropes, like his automotive attack line on the Republicans, "It's as if they drove America's car into the ditch." Once again, Obama warned about the implications of hidden corporate campaign spending because of a recent Supreme Court decision: "This isn't a threat to the Democrats, it's a threat to our democracy."

But chroniclers of the pageant of democracy that is the down-and-dirty 2010 campaign may be tempted to over-hype the importance of the Obamas' buy-one-get-one-free campus rally. What happens in the Columbus media market tends to stay in the Columbus media market. In Cincinnati, for example, where incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus is facing a daunting re-election campaign, I asked him about the spillover effects of Obama's appearance on his race. It was as if I were inquiring about how a presidential visit to the University of Wisconsin (where Obama held his first Big Ten campus rally last month) might shape Driehaus' campaign. "If Obama came to Cincinnati it would be different," said Driehaus. "But Columbus is 100 miles away. It doesn't matter."

Comments like these reflect the reality that political enthusiasm like an inexpensive country wine does not travel. Greg Schultz, the Ohio director for Organizing for America, the Democratic Party's offshoot from the 2008 Obama campaign, says, "Ohio is such a complicated state in which to campaign, it's so regionalized." This problem is not a reflection of any distaste for Obama or – more important Michelle Obama – among the strands of the Democratic mosaic. "If Michelle Obama comes to Cincinnati and makes a plea about how her husband has been treated, every woman in this city and every woman in the black community would kill themselves with enthusiasm," was the hyperbolic prediction of Alicia Reece, an African-American Democratic state representative from central Cincinnati.

But even in Columbus and surrounding Franklin County, mobilizing the Democratic base remains tricky. Three-term Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman spent Sunday morning making the rounds of four black churches. "In each of the churches, " he said in an interview, "I asked how many of them had voted in 2008. And 99 percent of them raised their hands. Then I asked how many of them had voted early this year. Eighty to eighty-five percent said they had not voted." By the end of his pulpit appearances, in the mayor's telling, almost all of the church-goers were pledging to vote this year. As Coleman put it optimistically, "The president's campaigning here today will light a fire under them."

Well, maybe. Facing an up-against-the-wall political environment, the Democrats may have no choice but to fantasize about the armies of 2008 miraculously reappearing on the battlefield. As Ohio Democratic strategist Greg Haas explains, "It takes a long time to change people's minds. But it takes only one news story for the alarm bells to go off – and to awake a sleeping giant to turn out to vote."

But in a larger sense, the entire rally at Ohio State was all about Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland's re-election race, in which he trails former GOP Congressman John Kasich by a potentially surmountable single-digit margin in recent polls. Doomed Senate candidate Lee Fisher, the current lieutenant governor, is discussed in hushed funereal tones when Ohio Democrats bother to remember that he is running for the seat held by the retiring George Voinovich. There was, for example, minimal applause when Fisher waved as he mounted the platform as an Obama warm-up speaker.

Columbus-based first-term House Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, who also spoke briefly at the rally, is the only congressional incumbent in a geographic position to benefit from any Obama-fueled increase in turnout. But Kilroy, like Driehaus in Cincinnati, is no longer on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's lifeboat list and she headed into October with one-sixth the available campaign funds of her GOP challenger Steve Stivers.

But Strickland is the centerpiece of Democratic turnout efforts in central Ohio. The reason is obvious: Anyone wonder why Obama has made 11 presidential trips to Ohio, the state where the 2004 election was lost for the Democrats? As Strickland put it bluntly, introducing the president and first lady, "Let's get ready for 2012 by sending Democrats back to Columbus and Washington this year." That is why Obama and Strickland, who enthusiastically backed Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Ohio primary, are locked in such a tight embrace. As Mike Brown, a campaign adviser to the Columbus mayor puts it, "The question is whether we can get 2 percent more turnout for Strickland than in a normal gubernatorial year. That's the Obama piece."

Yet watching the faces in the crowd at the Ohio State rally and listening to the chatter afterward as the largely student audience wandered toward the restaurants and bars on High Street, I had a sense that the Obama piece was still missing in action. But that is not to write off the Democrats' chances, especially those of Strickland, in Ohio. After all, this may be a year in which elections are won by following legendary Buckeye coach Woody Hayes' non-dramatic grind-the-down strategy of "three yards and a cloud of dust."

Follow Walter Shapiro on Twitter.

Our New Approach to Comments

In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum Comment Moderation Enabled. Your comment will appear after it is cleared by an editor.

138 Comments

Filter by:
miamigirl2000

Bischoff/DDN: Kasich’s Private Sector “Experience” a Sham by Joseph on September 12, 2010 "What he conveniently forgets to mention here is that, before he “decided to remain in Westerville” to spend more time with his family, HE RAN FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. A “challenge and experience” that would have specifically required him to move his family to Washington had he won. Which pretty much makes this part of the bio a complete and total lie. The reason is obvious: no one wants to talk about their failures – which is exactly what his presidential campaign turned out to be." "With funding from a number of high-profile conservative business owners in Ohio along with the extra money left over from his failed presidential campaign, John Kasich was able to assemble millions in funding for his New Century groups which kept his core political team salaried and ready to go once the political tides turned favorable." "Among those who contributing to the tax-exempt groups were John McConnell of Worthington Industries, Mal Mixon and Joseph Richey of Invacare, and Jay Schottenstein of Schottenstein Stores Corp. The four men and their spouses gave a combined $116,667 to the groups, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political contributions." "Kasich serves on the corporate board of directors of both Worthington Industries, a steel processing company based in suburban Columbus; and Invacare, a maker of medical equipment based in Elyria. Schottenstein Property Group also hired Kasich, paying him $61,538 a year in 2008 and an undisclosed amount in 2009. "..... Bischoff/DDN: Kasich’s Private Sector “Experience” a Sham Kasich hopes revealing pay quiets critics By Dennis J. Willard Beacon Journal Columbus Bureau Apr 03, 2010 "COLUMBUS: In his final year on the job as managing director for Lehman Brothers, Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich was paid $614,892, which included a base salary of $182,692 and more than twice that amount in a bonus, $432,200. Part of his salary included about six weeks with Barclay Capital, the company that purchased a portion of Lehman Brothers after the infamous global financial services company filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008. His tax returns also reveal that Lehman Brothers and Barclays were not his sole source of income in 2008. He was paid $265,000 as a Fox News commentator, $165,719 in speaking fees and $61,538 as an associate at the Schottenstein Property Group. Kasich earned $45,426 as a lecturer and presidential fellow for Ohio State University and $77,273 to sit on the board of directors for two companies: Invacare and Worthington Industries. According to his financial disclosure statement, Kasich continues to work for Schottenstein and Fox News, and earns money as a lecturer and author and on investments. The gifts he listed show Kasich has endeared himself to a diverse group, ranging from the (Bill) O'Reilly Factor show staff to Paul Hewson, whom most of the world knows as U2's lead singer, Bono."...... WHY HAS JOHN KASICH HELP OHIO COMMIT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND LAUNDER MONEY THROUGH HIS NEW CENTURY PROJECT WITH JUDGE JAMES MASON? DOES THE SEC AND IRS KNOW OF HIS INVOLVEMENT IN BANK FRAUD AND TAX FRAUD SCHEMES? Kasich’s backers helped him keep team in place long before his return to politics Kasich’s backers helped him keep team in place long before his return to politics "COLUMBUS — In the years after Republican John Kasich left Congress, roughly $3.57 million flowed into the New Century Project, which was designed to promote Kasich and his conservative ideas even though he was out of office." "Money flowed in from coast to coast for the New Century Project leadership PAC and the New Century Project 527 group. In 2005 Kasich’s team added the New Century Project Issues Forum, a non-profit think tank that Kasich himself helped bankroll with $430,000 from his presidential campaign account money between 2005 and 2009, according to IRS and campaign finance records" Worthington Industries: John R. Kasich "John R. Kasich has served as an associate with Schottenstein Stores Corporation, a retail holding company since November 2008." http://www.newsmakingnews.com/teenscourage12,15,01.htm Click here: http A TEEN'S COURAGE IN THE FACE OF HER FATHER'S ABUSE

October 20 2010 at 1:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
valwayne

9.6% UNEMPLOYMENT! Higher in Ohio! Obama has failed! Gov Strickland has failed! A vote for Sen Strickland is a vote for Obama, Nancy Pelosi, trillions of dollars of corrupt spending and debt, and 9.6% and higher UNEMPLOYMENT! Obama promised to be a moderate pragmatic bipartisan President who would focus on jobs and the economy. He lied! He is the most arrogant extreme left wing President we've ever elected to the White House. He hasn't focused on jobs and the economy at all. Instead he decided not to let a good crisis go to waste and crammed an extreme left wing agenda down our throats while millions were losing their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of them in Ohio! If we are every going to recover we have to end this insanity by firing every Democrat on the ballot in Nov!!!

October 19 2010 at 12:29 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
joe the engineer

What happened to the separation of church and state? Black pastors involved in a "get out the (black) vote"? What do you think would happen if the Catholic Church encouraged their members to get out and vote against the pro-choice candidates?

October 19 2010 at 12:00 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
greatbirdusa

It Is Over.

October 18 2010 at 8:36 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
xeotm

who is paying for all this democratic campaigning? Air Force One, secret service for partisan politics...........spend more money Obama !!!

October 18 2010 at 5:01 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

The "magic" is gone because people now recognize Obama for what he really is...

October 18 2010 at 4:17 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
ezek37

Yes we can? can what? Put America into bankruptcy? Destroy the jobs that we need to pay are bills? Or is Pelosi right when she says getting food stamps create jobs? Is this the hope and change Americans want? Socialism here we come.

October 18 2010 at 4:00 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
martinejkd

The Magic has died... He can still stir up smaller crowds but getting them to the polls during a midterm election is another matter. A lot of Obama's new voters of 2008 are now back home living with their parents and unable to find a job. Even Budding Young Liberals get that.

October 18 2010 at 1:07 PM Report abuse +18 rate up rate down Reply
wlr523

Oh, the "08" magic is so over. Too late to get it back. If Obama wins a second term it will be by some horrible mistake at the polls. While Europe cleans the swamp, so must we. This grand liberal experiment has failed miserably

October 18 2010 at 12:32 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wlr523's comment
martinejkd

Obama 2012...later. I've already voted and if you haven't, why not? The "horrible mistake" would be a No Show at the polls in 2010.

October 18 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
wlr523

obama must really be AFRAID of losing Ohio !!! it's his 11th trip

October 18 2010 at 12:22 PM Report abuse +21 rate up rate down Reply

FEATURED VIDEO

View All »

Discover inspiring videos on TEDWomen where people are reshaping our future with ideas.

View the Video »

Follow Politics Daily


Politics Home Page : Roll Call