Some Democrats balk at White House tactics

March 27, 2009|By Peter Nicholas | Peter Nicholas,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - A campaign to persuade Republicans to support President Barack Obama's budget is morphing into something broader, with the White House political machine and its allies focusing pressure on conservative Democrats and anyone else who might be tempted to vote no.

Targeted Democrats are balking at some of the tactics, a sign that campaign methods so effective in getting Obama elected might not be easily transferable to the policy realm.

Earlier this month, ads underwritten by Obama allies were directed more narrowly against Republican lawmakers opposed to the president's budget.

As an example, a tax-exempt group called Americans United for Change ran an ad in recent weeks mocking Republicans, saying they had simply said "No" to the Obama agenda rather than roll out policy alternatives of their own.

This week, the group is running cable TV ads in what it describes as "12 targeted states represented by Republican and Democratic members of Congress."

Obama's fellow Democrats caution that the ads can backfire in swing districts heavily populated with conservative voters.

MoveOn.org, a progressive group, is running radio and Internet ads focused on 10 Democratic members of the House and Senate considered potential no votes. The ads invite people to call lawmakers and urge them to vote for Obama's budget.

MoveOn has been in contact with the White House, including Obama aides Valerie Jarrett and Michael Strautmanis, to "keep them abreast of what we're doing," said Justin Ruben, executive director of the group.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said mobilizing such outside groups is crucial to Obama's agenda.

"Every single White House has had to build support for their ideas," said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "And we regularly meet with outside groups and explain what the bills are and ask them to be supportive and helpful. The other side has more money and we need more grass roots and more people."

On a parallel track, Obama's campaign group, now called Organizing for America, is using ZIP codes to reach supporters and ask them to call the person representing them in Congress. The organization also began airing a nationwide cable TV ad on Thursday in support of Obama's budget. Last weekend, Obama campaign supporters fanned out across the country to get people to sign petitions supporting the basic goals of Obama's budget.

Democratic lawmakers contend the ads won't work.

Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, said that none of the TV advertising would influence his vote. And he questioned whether the ads are consistent with the president's promise of collaboration.

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