By DeWayne Wickham
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As I watched Barack Obama walk alone across the south lawn of the White House to his waiting helicopter, I had something of a political awakening.
It was in that moment, following the president’s one-hour meeting with me and nine other black columnists, that I understood the campaign strategy Republicans have cleverly crafted and their Democratic counterparts are struggling to counter. For the GOP, the central issue of the midterm election is Obama.
It didn’t start out that way. Early on, the Republican strategy was to avoid any mention of the president as they probed the political landscape for vulnerable House and Senate Democrats whose defeat would put control of the Congress in Republican hands. Back then Obama’s job approval rating was high and most Americans thought the nation was headed in the right direction.
But after months of withering, right-wing attacks on the Obama-led efforts to bail the nation out of the economic mess that took root when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, and a nagging concern about broken promises among elements of Obama’s political base, Republicans are using the president’s declining popularity to rally support for GOP congressional candidates.
They are buoyed in this effort by those on the rabid fringe of the right wing who chant: “I want my country back,” as if slaves have taken over the planation. And they are financed to a great degree by right-wing donors who pour money — much of it untraceable — into the GOP coffers.
“If the election is posed as a choice between Republican policies that got us into this mess and (my) policies that are getting us out of this mess, then I think we can do very well,” Obama said during his meeting with members of The Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists. “And, frankly, I would feel very confident about our position right now if it weren’t for the fact that these third-party independent groups, funded by corporate special interests and run by Republican operatives, without disclosing where that money is coming from, are outspending our candidates” by big margins.
Obama said the floodgates were opened for this massive infusion of money into political campaigns by what he called the Supreme Court’s “profoundly faulty” decision last year in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Now money, gushing in from right-wing donors who want their country back, is fueling Republicans’ hope of winning control on Congress this year — and the White House in 2012.
To stop them, Democrats must energize their base. They’ve got to get young whites and Hispanics to the polls in numbers that are not usually seen in midterm elections by making them understand what’s at stake if Republicans win the Congress.
And they’ve got to make blacks understand that while Obama is not on the ballot next month, he is under attack.
“Our numbers and our ability to organize the grassroots have to counter those millions of dollars” Republicans are using “to try to take this election,” Obama told the black columnists.
A day earlier, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said a large black turnout could put a big dent in the loses Democrats are expected to suffer in the midterm election.
But that won’t happen unless Democrats make it clear that what is at stake in this election, more than the Congress, is Barack Obama’s presidency.