Obama losing Michigan?


Don’t let Monday night’s CNN/Tea Party Express sponsored Republican candidates debate  make you believe that Democrats have it all together for 2012.
    Don’t go to sleep thinking that because Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Social Security a Ponzi scheme during the NBC/Politico debate, and then modified his description of it on Monday to reforming Social Security, the GOP cannot make gains in 2012.
     And If you think President Obama’s visit on Labor Day to Detroit was enough to be the 2012 energizer to get the vote out, think again. You might be making a bet too soon that could bring you the same surprises that we saw last year in November which catapulted Republicans to congressional leadership in the House.
    The bare facts are that Democrats and voter advocates are very concerned about the lackluster attitude from  the leadership of their party, some labor groups and the organizing group attached to the Obama campaign in Michigan.
    They are concerned  that the UAW is calling too many shots in the party, which in turn is handicapping the issues the party needs to trumpet for their battleground campaigns. Labor has always and continues to play an important role in the party as its bedrock to help the working class. But the question that remains is whether labor has really delivered through the party when it comes to issues dealing with African Americans and other minority voters. Has the interest of labor always been the interest of African American voters?
    Do they share a common agenda or just some agenda?
    For example, during last year’s election neither the Michigan Democratic Party nor the financially strong UAW made congressional redistricting a major campaign issue to get the vote out. Now  Detroit stands to lose one congressional seat. Who do you blame?
     One party insider told me that the only reason Mark Brewer is still head of the Michigan Democratic Party after last year’s election losses is that the powerful UAW is opposed to any change at the top of the party.
    This year two Democratic heavyweights, Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, and Tina Abbott,  secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, will retire  during the organization’s state convention Oct. 3-4. Their exit marks a significant changing of the guard  because the two have been effective in delivering for their constituents.
    But will the same happen at the Michigan Democratic Party?    
    The bigger picture in this is the future operation of the Obama campaign in Michigan, and whether it can really  get disappointed and economically depressed voters out to the polls.
    Organizing for America, the grassroots arm of the Obama campaign in Michigan, according to some Democratic voter advocates, is doing little or nothing to galvanize a broad-based coalition for the Obama campaign in places like Detroit, which votes 90 percent Democratic.
    They described what they call a skeleton crew in Detroit charged with reading the pulse of voters, when the “Yes We Can” campaign in 2008 was won by a multi-coalition of support city-wide and across the state.
    If Organizing for America is sleeping in Michigan, it needs to wake up and read the tea leaves  because the campaign will have to work ten times harder this time around to get the vote out.
    The campaign will need to weave its message into the political fabric of the city, more than just setting up shop in Detroit to please voters.
    Most people I’ve talked to so far don’t even know that there is an Obama street presence in Michigan called Organizing for America.
    Unless this grassroots organization has decided that President Obama will lose Michigan, it should be pounding the pavement and offering alternative to what the Republican candidates are saying on television.
    But we’ve read this kind of bureaucratic and lethargic script before during last year’s midterm election when the White House made President Obama only available to African American journalists three weeks before the election, after absentee votes had been mailed in.
    Maybe Organizing for America is following the same script that comes out of the aged Democratic playbook that African Americans and other minority voters have nowhere else to go anyway. So why engage them early or even talk to them because they will vote Democrat at the end of the day?
    However, if that’s  the thinking that’s guiding Democrats in Michigan, they will be greeted with a rude awakening:  a dangerous high number of their voters will likely stay at home on Election Day.  
    Lavonia Perryman, who has worked on presidential and statewide campaigns, said Obama’s new low in polls gives Michigan Democrats work to do.  
    “The economy is so dismal that the Michigan Democratic leadership will have to rewrite history if we are to reelect President Obama. The party and organizations charged with getting voters out will have to change their strategy,” Perryman said. “They will need to use all the vehicles available to them to encourage and excite not only Democrats but the masses in Michigan.”
    Perryman believes the campaign needs to send the message that the livelihoods of people depend on who is in the White House.
    “That’s the mindset they need to instill in voters,” Perryman said. “That means putting together  a precinct delegate program where they build their own team of 100 or more voters, and make a commitment to getting them out to the polls.”
    Perryman said a major part of building the campaign is building relationships with local groups, community organizations and people in the neighborhood.
    A Democratic campaign contributor at a lunch meeting recently complained about the lack of a sense of urgency in the party leadership nationally, and the inability to articulate a message that resonates with voters.  
    Bankole Thompson is the author of “Obama and Black Loyalty, Vol. 1,”  and the forthcoming books, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” and “Obama and Jewish Loyalty.”  Listen to him Thursdays at 11:45 a.m. on “The Craig Fahle Show,” WDET-101.9FM-NPR affiliate. He is a member of the “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable program on WLIB-1190AM-New York, simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail  bthompson@michronicle.com.


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