Recently, David Axelrod spoke at the SkyBridge Alternative Conference in Las Vegas. A key architect of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, he joined other notables addressing hedge fund managers and investors. But while he was here, he not only spoke, he also listened — and he got an earful.
Axelrod spent an evening over food and drink with some local Democrats — part of the time with Jenna Morton and other bigwigs at La Cave at the Wynn, and part of the time with the Organizing For America. The OFA were Obama’s ground troops in 2008 and will be again in 2012. The group’s worker bees made clear that they are for Obama and the Democratic party. They also made clear that they aren’t happy.
Generally, a report on this kind of meeting will explain that they were liberal unhappy or conservative unhappy, meaning that Obama has done too much or too little, compromised too easily or not enough, or been too accommodating or not accommodating enough. And there was some of that.
Interestingly, though, a lot of what Axelrod heard was criticism of what he is best known for: the message. Namely, that he and the Obama White House have dropped the ball over the last couple of years.
“They let the Republicans and the Tea Party define the health care fight and left us standing alone out here to get whacked around,” said one of those present. They made clear to Axelrod that they expect better. And Axelrod admitted to them that they were right.
They also warned Axelrod that the foreclosure problem is something the Obama campaign needs to be careful of. The OFA group was critical of the major banks who aren’t doing much to help those in trouble with foreclosures after Obama did a lot to help them. Hm. Could that be part of the message in 2012, that it’s a dirty dog that bites the hand that feeds it?
The 2012 presidential campaign tends to be an underexamined factor in the pending races, most notably Dean Heller trying to retain the U.S. Senate seat he just acquired against Rep. Shelley Berkley. Democrats will have The House that Harry Built, meaning the organizational structure that worked so well in the 2008 presidential caucuses, which drew twice as many Democrats as even the most optimistic pundits predicted, and the 2010 Senate race that kept Reid in office, supposedly and presumably against all odds.
In 2012, they also will have Obama. His fair-minded critics will agree that he can deliver a flowery speech or a stemwinder superbly. None of the Republicans with what appears to be any chance of winning the nomination is noted for creating excitement. In 2010, some Democrats down the ticket felt that Reid’s re-election campaign sucked a lot of the oxygen—financial and otherwise—out of the air. It will be interesting to see how and whether Berkley and Heller benefit and/or suffer from the presidential campaign going on at the same time in 2012.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.