President Obama is heading straight into the lion’s den tonight with his joint address to Congress on jobs, an obvious but bold use of a televised primetime address to lay out his ideas for getting people back to work while shifting some of the onus for turning the economy around to his Republicans critics in Congress.
Less than 24 hours later, the President may appear to be venturing into even hotter enemy territory when he tries to drive his economic message home in a speech in Richmond, Va., home to one of his biggest critics in Congress, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).But holding the Friday speech in Richmond is an aggressive tactical maneuver and marks the official beginning of the serious post-Labor Day campaign season. Bolstered by strong support from black and Hispanic voters, Obama managed a win in Virginia over Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the 2008 presidential election. It was the first time a Democratic nominee had taken the state in 44 years, and a repeat performance in the key state in 2012 would boost Obama chances of holding onto the White House.
“He needs Virginia,” GOP strategist John Feehery tells TPM. “And he needs to get out the vote in certain parts of Richmond. Like everything else this President does, it is all about the politics.”
Other Republicans predicted the move would backfire, motivate the right and turn off Virginia voters tired of the last few months of rancorous political debate in Washington, which often featured clashes between Cantor and Obama.
“Obama’s trying to go on offense with his plan to show the left wing that he can take on his nemesis and go after GOP leaders,” added Ron Bonjean, a longtime Republican operative. “This action will simply fire up House Republicans, and the Tea Party and could cause problems for Obama in Virginia where his support is now questionable in 2012.”
Obama knows he can count on Northern Virginia, a reliable liberal stronghold, and the southernmost areas will always go Republican. It’s what happens in the counties in between that matters, and Richmond voters will play a key role. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by more than 40,000 votes, nearly flipping the results of the previous election when President George W. Bush beat Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) by nearly 55,000 votes.
If Cantor was put off in any way by Obama’s decision to take his message outside the beltway and into his district, he wasn’t showing it Wednesday. Cantor seemed acutely aware of the sinking poll numbers of both Congress and the President in the month after July’s ugly debt crisis played out on the national stage. Cantor used his Wednesday press briefing to downplay partisan sniping and differences and passed up the opportunity to question the political motives of Obama’s trip to Richmond.
“I welcome the President to come to Richmond,” Cantor said. “The focus now is jobs. I think all of us and, certainly, my constituents are no different than people around the Commonwealth and the country. We are in desperate need to see an economy that grows again. And I look forward to his speech tomorrow night, as well as his remarks in Richmond.”
Yet, even in calling for greater civility Cantor couldn’t stop himself from pushing back against a recent Obama line that Republicans were putting politics ahead of country during the debt ceiling fight.
“It is imperative that we work together in the spirit of trying to produce results and stop impugning motive or calling people out as insinuating they are putting politics above country.” He said. “That is not helpful. That is not helpful. We all want to produce results here.”