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David Plouffe led President Obama's winning 2008 presidential campaign. He's been called back into service to help the foundering Democratic Party hold on to congressional seats in the upcoming November elections. Can he save the day?
David Plouffe led President Obama's winning 2008 presidential campaign. He's been called back into service to help the foundering Democratic Party hold on to congressional seats in the upcoming November elections. Can he save the day? Francois Durand/Getty Images
Shanaysha Furlow Sauls is an assistant professor at American University, where she teaches courses in the history of political thought from classical antiquity to the present day. Her commentaries examine the nexus of theory, politics and policy, as well as the notions of freedom, equality and responsibility as they shape contemporary democratic politics in the United States and around the world.
The crushing loss of the Senate seat of Ted Kennedy — the venerable "Lion of the Senate" — to a largely unknown Republican, Scott Brown, is not a wound that will soon heal. The story out of the White House is that the Massachusetts race was about Martha Coakley's poorly run campaign. Others insist that this election was about local politics, not national politics. Therefore, the loss of a 60th vote and a filibuster-proof Senate was not at all a referendum on President Obama or his health care and economic initiatives.
That must be the reason President Obama sprinkled his recent speech before a Lorain, Ohio, audience with fighting-for-you words and the campaign-trail familiar cadence of down-to-earth, workin' class folk.
Despite the narrative out of Washington, there is every reason to believe that the White House raised the proverbial "WTH," especially since the president personally campaigned for Coakley. The White House is betting that Obama's presidential campaign manager, David Plouffe, would not have blundered a contest in a state with a Democratic governor and a seat formerly held by a Kennedy, for goodness' sake.
The political universe that Plouffe has re-entered is one where Sen. Obama is now President Obama — a president who had the exceptional privilege of almost impenetrable majorities in both houses; a president who pledged to deliver on any number of campaign promises, ranging from the Iraqi war to the faltering economy to same sex marriage to health care reform.
More than half of the country approves of the president's job performance, but 44 percent of Americans disapprove of the way President Obama is handling the job. And the rate of disapproval is growing: Just 25 percent disapproved of President Obama in February 2008; yet as of January 2010, the percentage of Americans with "no opinion" of the president's performance was just 3 percent. Obama is losing independent voters, now the largest voting group in the country, and is becoming an increasingly polarizing figure. Independents have fallen out of love with the health care reform that never was, disenchanted with spending and high deficits, wondering where the jobs have gone, and have sensed in the "change president" politics as usual.
With Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden out of the 2010 races, and at least 10 other Senate seats in play, the White House is just hoping to keep congressional majorities come November.
Plouffe has a talent for understanding what the people want, reading electoral maps and patterns, and helping candidates deliver votes. He's being sent in to help the president secure congressional seats — a president who can no longer distance himself from Washington; a president who had the majorities to deliver economic stimulus, but not jobs and health care reform; a president who is as good an orator as any, but who consistently fails to set the terms for his own initiatives.
The candidate who ran for president of the United States was methodical, deliberate, thoughtful and articulate. The president remains all of those things. The difference is that candidate Obama was an executive on the campaign trail; as the actual executive, this execution remains to be seen.
Can Plouffe save the day? Perhaps a campaign strategist can save some seats. But delivering the real results — that's the president's job.