Call it the Obama two-step.
President Obama reignited his base earlier this month by appointing Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
A week later, Obama put Republicans on guard by stealing a page from their playbook and calling for the merger of six federal agencies, a move that could appeal to independents during his reelection battle.
The step to the left and hop to the center shows Obama is determined to rally liberal voters to help his reelection bid but that he won’t cede the political center to Republicans as the GOP moves closer to nominating Mitt Romney in the presidential race.
It’s a dance step likely to become common for Obama in 2012 as he and his campaign work to recreate the patchwork of support that led to his victory four years ago, when Obama won over liberal voters but also beat Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Finance: Senate Dems call for investigation of acting SEC chairman | Wyden: Russia probe should focus on Trump financial ties | Dems seek more money for IRS Overnight Defense: Top general talks Afghanistan, civilian casualties | Defense hawks slam short-term funding McCain and Graham: We won't back short-term government funding bill MORE (R-Ariz.) among independents by eight points.
If he continues to emulate the move he made on Friday, by proposing to streamline the federal government, “Obama’s message will play to independents and the president can use it over and over on the campaign trail and say, ‘I’m trying to get these practical things done,’ “ said Martin Sweet, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University. “And it’s a rhetorical point that he can pull out in a debate versus Romney.”
One of Romney’s chief attributes is his appeal to independent voters. Though conservative rivals like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich light more of a flame with the Republican Party’s conservative base, it is thought that Romney could win more votes in a one-on-one race with Obama.
Polls appear to bear this out. In the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Obama bests Romney by an average of 1.7 percentage points, but has far wider leads over Gingrich, Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Obama must also get his own supporters out in the fall, however, so as he appeals to independents he must also make a run at exciting his base.
Bringing out young voters in states like Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada broadened the battleground for Democrats in 2008, and Obama needs them to come out again in 2012.
Moves like Obama’s use of his recess appointment powers to place Cordray at the new consumer bureau, which angered Republicans, are aimed squarely at the “hope and change” crowd, who might not be as excited about their candidate four years into his administration.
While it is still unclear what tack Obama might take going forward, the two-step approach could be a “useful model” for Obama, Sweet said.
“By taking those juxtapositions one after another, it allows him to not be pigeonholed with any one group,” Sweet said. “It allows him some legislative victories and political capital that he can then spend to appease his base.”
Speaking before a crowd of small-business leaders on Friday, the president asked Congress to grant him the authority to merge the trade and commerce agencies in a cost-cutting plan that would save $3 billion — a message similar to the spending slashes Romney has touted on the campaign stump.
David Meadvin, president of Inkwell Strategies, which specializes in strategic communication, said it was a proposal that could appeal to both parties and independents. “If there’s one thing that unites Democrats, Republicans and independents, it’s the idea of reducing government red tape,” he said.
After Obama announced his proposal, centrist Republicans, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, were quick to offer support for parts of the president’s plan — a sign that the strategy to secure independents could work.
“Streamlining the federal government and making it more efficient, transparent and responsive to the American people is a goal I share,” Snowe said in a statement, before commending Obama for elevating the Small Business Administration administrator to a Cabinet-level position.
Other Republicans were less complimentary.
“This is another example of a failed promise from President Obama,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “It’s a familiar tune from Obama, who has been promising to restructure government for the past four years and finally gets around to it as he campaigns for reelection.”
While it’s unclear if the president’s proposal will give the campaign the political mileage it’s looking for, it doesn’t have much to lose, Democratic strategists say.
“[Obama aides] have decided they’re going to take a bunch of process-oriented actions to make it look like he’s doing something to help the economy,” one strategist said. “A lot of this is optics and perception. If they can create this idea that they’re doing everything they can to tackle the economy, and unemployment numbers keep going down, they have a pretty good chance to win in November.”
Whether the actual proposal to streamline the government will come to be remains to be seen.
“The devil is in the details,” Meadvin said. “Right now the only thing President Obama’s proposal guarantees him is a bipartisan applause line in the State of the Union.
“We’ll see if he’s able to turn a proposal that currently is only a set of talking points into a feasible plan that has a chance to pass.”
This story was updated at 8:48 p.m.