One of the key questions of 2012 is which party can make the stronger case to voters who, in Obama’s words, “feel the American dream slipping away.” Democrats are heartened by more favorable reports on employment, rising approval ratings, and their apparent victory in Congress on extending the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits. But, as the Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg notes, the Party’s base now consists mainly of young people, African-Americans, Latinos, single women, and affluent suburbanites. In 2008, Obama struggled to connect with voters he referred to as “lunch-pail folks”””the ones clinging to their guns and their religion. He lost them by eighteen points. As the conservative political analyst Michael Barone points out, even though Obama won a higher percentage of the total vote than any Democratic President except Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, he did it with “a top-and-bottom coalition”””holders of graduate degrees and high-school dropouts.
With the Republicans preoccupied by their race to the right, Obama has the luxury of honing a message aimed at the middle. The slogan he tried out in the State of the Union, “an America built to last,” sounded like an ad for a mattress company, or a car company””a little like Clint Eastwood’s “halftime in America” Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler. The Republican onetime mayor of Carmel, California, huskily declared that “all that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together?”
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