Obama campaign to Democrats: Be afraid, but not very afraid

Olivier Knox

President Barack Obama describes himself as the underdog one minute and in the next confidently predicts he'll have another four years to pursue policies like comprehensive immigration reform. His re-election campaign mocks Mitt Romney as a hapless candidate, then turns around and warns Democrats that anything short of an all-out push will hand him the keys to the White House.

The Obama campaign announced "Nurses for Obama" on Wednesdaymaybe to treat the head-spinning that could result from those mixed messagesa day after campaign manager Jim Messina sent around what may be the platonic ideal of the genre.

"Friend," his message begins (you're always a "friend" when a campaign wants your cash; Romney's campaign does the same thing), "If the general election were held today, President Obama would lose to Mitt Romneyaccording to the latest poll from Washington Post-ABC News."

Egads! But wait:

"Now, many other polls put the president on top, but all point to the same reality: We're looking at a race that will be tighter than you think," Messina adds in the next breath.

Phew! But wait:

"We cannot underestimate someone like Romney" and "we need to turn up the pressure now."

"If the idea of a President Romney scares you, it's time to own a piece of this campaign," Messina says, before asking for a donation of $3 "or more."

Egads! But wait:

"Of course, we have plenty of good news to celebrate, and we must not overreact to any one poll. But this one is a reminder that we have to remain vigilantalways focused on November 6th and the work we have to do to win."


Now, the messages aren't necessarily contradictory: Obama campaign strategists know well that they face a tough political headwind in the still-struggling economy. And with his job approval ratings generally below the 50 percent mark, which insiders generally regard as the key number for any incumbent, there's little doubt that the general election campaign will be a pitched battle. Messina has warned previously that Obama's biggest problem could be a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats.

That's where the mixed messaging comes in: Democrats need to be worried enough to be motivated but not so worried that they'll be dispirited.

And there's another reason:

"One of their problems is that Romney just isn't that scary. For a lot of people right now he could be their dad or grandad carving the turkey at Thanksgiving," Jennifer Loven, a former White House correspondent for the Associated Press and now a communications strategist with the Glover Park Group in Washington, told Yahoo News.

As for Obama himself, even as he has cautiously welcomed a series of relatively positive signs about the economy, he's mostly dropped the underdog riff.

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