American Prospect editor Harold Meyerson writes in today’s Washington Post:
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek,” candidate Barack Obama said in 2008. At the time, his comments came in for criticism: They were narcissistic; they were tautological; they didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
But in the aftermath of Obama’s 2012 reelection and his second inaugural address, his 2008 remarks seem less a statement of self-absorption than one of prophecy. There is an Obama majority in American politics, symbolized by Monday’s throng on the Mall, whose existence is both the consequence of profound changes to our nation’s composition and values and the cause of changes yet to come.
After back-to-back presidential victories, there clearly is an “Obama majority in American politics” … as long as Obama is on the ballot. But will that majority exist in the future? The evidence we have so far suggests not.
Take Prince William County in northern Virginia, which was recently identified by The New York Times as the poster county for the Obama Majority. In 2008 and 2012 over 160,000 voters turned out to give Obama identical 16 point margins over John McCain and Mitt Romney respectively. But in 2009, when Obama was not on the ballot, only 75,000 voters turned out to vote in Prince William and Republican Bob McDonnell crushed Democratic Creigh Deeds by an even bigger 18-point margin. Then in 2010, again with no Obama on the ballot, 91,000 Prince William voters turned out to vote and they voted for Republican House candidates, 52 percent to 46 percent.
If the Obama Majority supposedly arrived in 2008, where did it go in 2009 and 2010? Will it show up in 2014 or 2016? Even Obama’s closest advisers sound skeptical. “The organization doesn’t exist without belief in the candidate,” White House senior adviser David Plouffe told Politico after November’s election. “They turned out for Barack Obama. It was all because of him.”
Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, echoed Plouffe:
You know, this organization was built for people who supported this president … those people were involved because of the issues and positions the president took, and … you can’t just hand it to the next candidate. They have to have their own relationship with voters.
Democrats are even more concerned now that the Obama campaign has announced they will create a 501c4 non-profit entity to push Obama’s agenda. Fred Hudson, vice chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, told National Journal:
We need a unified organization that will bring about victories in 2013 and 2014, and we don’t need to be splitting our efforts. It’s a recipe for how to lose an election. We’ve been told there will be no competition for fundraising, but that’s difficult for me to accept, and there will certainly be competition for staff and volunteers.
Minnesota Democratic chairman Ken Martin voiced similar concerns to Politico:
I understand post-Citizens United the necessity to set up vehicles for different types of money to flow, but the reality is you can’t strip the party bare and expect in four years that we’re going to be able to pick up the pieces and get a Democrat elected president if you’ve completely stopped building capacity within the party.
Republicans currently control the governors mansion and legislatures of 25 states representing 53 percent of the American population. The Democratic Party enjoys similar control of just 13 states representing just 27 percent of the population. With Obama out of the picture, Democrats may find it difficult to add to those numbers.