President Barack Obama posted a short video message on his website yesterday announcing his re-election campaign for president of the United States. The video featured supporters from battleground states across the country, and was followed by an official e-mail calling for a “campaign that’s farther reaching, more focused, and more innovative than anything we’ve built before.”
Enthusiasm for Obama among students was an important factor working in his favor in 2008. But this time around, students can’t be expected to support the president automatically.
“People like a David versus Goliath competition,” said John J. Pitney Jr., professor of politics at Claremont College. “Typically, people like to support David, but Obama’s no longer David – he’s Goliath, he’s setting the status-quo.”
Still, Obama enjoys considerable student support. In a recent Harvard poll, 38% of students said they would vote for Obama against a generic Republican candidate, a 7% increase from October of last year. Only 26% preferred the unnamed Republican, while 36% were undecided so far.
Students campaigning for Republican candidates are gearing up for a hard fight.
“First, we all know it’s going to be long and it’s going to be expensive,” Justin Higgins, volunteer coordinator to elect Governor Tim Pawlenty for president, said of the upcoming election. “We’re facing the most expensive re-election effort in the history of the United States.”
Higgins said that although Obama announced his candidacy yesterday, he never really stopped campaigning. He noted that Organizing for America, a Democratic National Committee organization that supports Obama’s legislative agenda and re-election campaign, continues to have a strong presence in his state of Ohio.
“With Organizing for America, the campaign never went away,” Higgins said.
Garrett Senn Sweitzer, chairman of students to elect Mitt Romney, said that Obama’s announcement was intended to take the focus off the current conflict in Libya and start raising money.
Obama’s campaign announcement, and the Republican announcements to come, are unusually late. Pitney noted that by this time in 2008, all of the presidential candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, had announced their candidacies. But the president is in no hurry, Pitney believes, since he is the only Democratic candidate running. By contrast, no Republicans have officially announced their candidacy.
Pitney said this reluctance to declare may be a legacy of the previous presidential campaign. In 2008, Republican candidates began campaigning early, forcing them to quickly burn through money.
Republicans also face different primary rules. The new rules, called proportional representation, make it difficult for a candidate to break away early in the primaries and earn the Republican Party nomination.
“The nomination will probably go to whoever can last the longest,” Pitney said. “If you narrowly win a primary, you’ll only get a narrow number of delegates.”
On the Democratic side, Pitney said that while there’s a good level of support for Obama on campuses, he won’t enjoy the same energy he did four years ago.
The video released by the Obama campaign sought to address this enthusiasm gap. A Michigan-based supporter identified in the video as Alice said it was up to Obama’s supporters to energize the base themselves.
“We’re paying [Obama] to do a job,” she said. “We can’t say, ‘hey could you just take some time off and come and get us all energized?’”