Getting out the vote early was a major theme of President Barack Obama's campaign rallies in Urbandale and Sioux City yesterday. Democratic candidates for other offices need a strong early vote as well, but there's no sign the president is concerned about electing Democrats up and down the ticket.
Obama's campaign did a lot of crowd-building before the concert and rally at Living History Farms yesterday. Like many other Des Moines area Democratic households, I received multiple e-mail blasts publicizing the event, plus two robocalls and two calls from campaign volunteers offering me tickets. Officials estimated the crowd at around 10,000 people.
I didn't attend the rally, but I listened to the president's speech at the Radio Iowa site. I have to hand it to the Obama campaign schedulers: the president joked early in his speech that he would get supporters home in time to watch college football, and sure enough, he wrapped up about a half-hour before kickoff time for the Iowa State and University of Iowa games. Obama's Sioux City rally at Morningside College took place yesterday evening, after the football games ended. But the president made an unscheduled stop in a Sioux City sports bar during the afternoon.
Many stump speeches go on too long, but Obama kept it short as he joked about the Republican National Convention.
"What they offered over those three days was more often than not an agenda that was better suited for the last century," Obama said. "It was a rerun. We'd seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black and white TV."
Obama suggested little substance had been revealed at the GOP affair.
"There was a lot of talk about 'hard truths' and 'bold choices' but nobody ever actually bothered to tell you what they were," Obama said, laughing along with the crowd. "And when Governor Romney had a chance to let you in on his secret, he did not offer a single new idea, just retreads of the same old policies that have been sticking it to the middle class for years."
In Urbandale and in front of roughly 2,800 supporters in Sioux City, some people in the crowd booed as the president talked about the Republican policy agenda. Obama responded with a pretty good slogan: "Don't boo, vote!" He then framed the election as a choice between two paths going forward.
Obama reminded supporters that Iowans can start voting on September 27 and urged people to visit campaign websites designed to help people get registered and obtain an early ballot. Campaign staff were "roaming around with clipboards" at Living History Farms yesterday in an effort to sign up early voters.
However, the president said nothing during his speeches to encourage people to vote for Democrats all up and down the ballot.
The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler wrote recently about how the president rarely campaigns for Democratic Congressional candidates or invites them on stage with him at his events. Near the beginning of his speech in Urbandale, Obama acknowledged three Democrats in the audience: Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Leonard Boswell, and Attorney General Tom Miller. Harkin and Miller are not up for re-election this year. Although most of the people in the crowd probably live in the third Congressional district, I didn't hear a word from Obama encouraging supporters to help Boswell in his tough race against Republican incumbent Tom Latham.
Several competitive Iowa House and Senate races are close to Living History Farms, but the president didn't put a word in for Democrats in any of the nearby suburban districts, like John Forbes in House district 40, Kelsey Clark in House district 39, Susan Judkins Josten in House district 43, or Desmund Adams in Senate district 22. While I haven't listened to his Sioux City remarks, I think it's safe to assume he didn't make a push for Congressional candidate Christie Vilsack or for Democratic candidates Chris Hall and David Dawson in Iowa House districts 13 and 14.
After the 2008 election, many Iowa Democrats grumbled privately and at least one complained publicly about the lack of GOTV help from the Obama campaign. Democrats picked up a few state House and Senate seats but left several close races on the table. Even the president's general election campaign manager in Iowa, Jackie Norris, later admitted that more should have been done in 2008 to educate new voters on the need to vote the whole ballot.
Speaking to Democrats around the state this summer, I get the impression that for the most part, Obama organizers are not doing much to help down-ticket candidates. That's too bad, because the Obama campaign has an extensive network of field offices up and running, and the Iowa Democratic Party is making early GOTV a priority.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Wow, the Obama campaign is really pushing hard in Iowa. On September 7, the day after the Democratic National Convention ends, Barack and Michelle Obama are doing an event in Iowa City with Joe and Jill Biden. The four will visit New Hampshire for a campaign rally earlier that day.
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan will headline a rally in Cedar Rapids on September 4.