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American Crossroads: Obama Is 'Eminently Beatable'

Ronald Kessler By Monday, 19 March 2012 11:00 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C. — President Obama is “eminently beatable,” Steven Law, president and CEO of the powerful political action committee American Crossroads, tells Newsmax TV.

American Crossroads and its affiliate, Crossroads GPS, which focuses on issues, will be major players in the November election. Together, they expect to raise and spend $300 million to defeat President Obama and congressional Democrats.

President Obama is vulnerable on issues like the burgeoning debt. (Getty Images)
Advised by heavyweights like former Bush White House aides Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan, American Crossroads will not only be placing political ads but conducting its own polling and research on how to focus those ads.

Law is a former chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnell, deputy secretary of Labor under George W. Bush, and chief counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. During the last congressional election, he oversaw the expenditure by American Crossroads and its affiliate of more than $70 million on ads.

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American Crossroads’ office in Washington is spartan, and Law is proud of the fact that the super PAC and its sister organization have been spending less than two percent of their revenue on overhead. Sitting at a black pressed wood conference table, Law provides insight into why Obama is beatable and how American Crossroads expects to deploy its resources in the coming election.

“Despite the fact that we have had a tremendously contentious and unsatisfying Republican primary so far, despite the fact that people are a little bit more enthusiastic about the direction of the economy, and despite the fact that there have been relatively few problems for this administration in recent months, every poll shows it at a dead heat between President Obama and the current front-runner, Mitt Romney,” Law says.

“The fact that that’s where this race is despite all of those other circumstances indicates that it is a very, very competitive race.”

In fact, “When we go out and talk to people who voted for President Obama in 2008, people who were right in the middle, people who could go either way, most of them will tell you that they really don’t want to blame President Obama for everything that has happened,” Law says.

At the same time, “They are terribly disappointed in him,” Law says. “They think his policies are not the right policies. They think that he has failed to fix Washington, and they are worried that he may not be the kind of leader that our country needs right now, but they are not quite yet ready to let him go.”

That tells Law that “the floor on which Obama is standing right now in the polls has rotten floor boards underneath of it, and he could definitely have a lot further to go down the road . . . ”

Columnist George Will has claimed that beating Obama is hopeless, and Republicans should focus instead on the congressional election. In response, Donald Trump called Will a “totally overrated fool.”

Asked who is right, Law says, “I actually think that George Will is one of the smartest political commentators. Every once in a while he is wrong, and I think he is wrong on this point, and he’s wrong not just because we think that President Obama is eminently beatable — and we’ve done a lot of research and analysis that suggests that that is the case — but it’s also a fight that we really, really need to have.”

Law points to the fact that America is facing “a perfect storm of debt that is approaching the size of our GDP, of a recovery that is really not a recovery, of our economy being passed up by countries like China, and of a quality of life that is degrading across the board in a way that we really haven't seen since the Great Depression.”

Another looming issue is Obamacare and its effects.

“Most of the Obama healthcare law has yet to be implemented,” Law says. “It will really start to come online in 2013. Millions upon millions of American families are going to lose their private health insurance and be dumped into government plans into a world that they have never experienced before, and if they like the Post Office, the Post Office will be running their healthcare.”

As Obamacare demonstrates, “President Obama has shown relentlessly, even after 2010 when he had a very, very bad election, that he leads from ideology. He does not lead from practicality,” Law says.

Obama “delivers controversy and not solutions, and the problems our country faces right now are so great that we cannot afford to simply say the presidential election is lost, we should turn our attention to something else,” Law says. “Besides, in our business, we’re not about describing what we think today’s reality is. Our business is to try and change whatever today’s reality is, and we’re going to make it a very, very important part of what we do this upcoming year.”

Contrary to popular impression, American Crossroads was not created in response to the Republican National Committee’s fundraising problems under chairman Michael Steele. Law says the idea for American Crossroads came out of discussions among himself, Gillespie, and Rove in the fall of 2009.

“We were all looking at the tremendous success of folks on the left in developing these outside independent organizations that would not only get involved in a particular election or on a particular issue but function in some ways like political parties on the outside,” Law says.

The idea was that these political action committees would be enduring.
“They would build institutional knowledge, and they would focus on winning elections, which a lot of groups tend not to do,” Law says. “We wanted to see more Republicans elected, and we wanted to figure out if there was a way to develop those same kinds of institutions that the Democrats had enjoyed with labor unions and and build the same thing to be effective on the right.”

News of American Crossroads’ founding in March and April 2010 happened to coincide with news of problems at the RNC under Steele, Law says.

In deciding which ads to run, “We do a tremendous amount of research,” Law says. “We talk a lot to people outside of Washington, D.C., whether it’s through polling or focus groups or a variety of other means.”

The idea is to “figure out what people are concerned about, how they view issues, how they view office holders, and that then distills down into a strategy for how we communicate about issues, the issues we choose, and how we talk about them, how we make the points that we need to make, and that’s a very long gestation process,” Law observes.

Asked how much Rove contributes, Law says, “He just gives us time when we ask for it, and we ask for it an awful lot, but I talk to him quite a lot about what’s going on in the country, about how he sees, for example, the presidential election, and he’s also a tremendous help to us on the fundraising side as well.”

In Law’s view, the best political ad is not a harshly negative spot featuring a scary, bourbon-voiced announcer. Rather, Law cites an ad his group ran during the debt limit fight featuring a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night concerned about her children’s future.

That ad “weaves in issues that are going on in Washington that feed that concern, and foremost is the debt, spending out of control, and it was done in a very natural way and a very compelling way,” Law says. “It does not come across as a negative ad, but it delivers negative information about what's going on in Washington, the agenda, the president, and how that impacts individual families’ futures going forward. That ad is tremendously effective, because it doesn’t hit people over the head.”

While American Crossroads will place ads primarily on television, it will also employ social media and online advertising as well as mailing and telephone calls to voters.

Besides the presidential race, American Crossroads will be focusing on Senate races in Nebraska, North Dakota, New Mexico, Missouri, Ohio, and Montana, among others.

What will help Republicans beat Obama is the fact that he and his advisers seem out of touch with what Americans are thinking.

“I’ve heard that people in the White House and in the inner circle of the president believe that President Obama is a sort of a unique political figure who transcends every past definition or category and that he has a unique set of skills and talents that will help him ride out whatever the circumstances are, and that by simply putting him out in public he’s able to just have a magnetic impact on voters,” Law says.

That theory disregards the Republican comeback in 2010 when they took back the House.

“My sense is that most of the people in the inner circle have not understood that at all,” Law says. “They don’t get the fact that someone who is viewed in the same tones and kind of imagery as JFK is now a Washington pol. He is someone who has polarized Washington. He promised to fix it, and instead he has made it worse. He is part of the problem.”

So, Law says, when key issues arise like gasoline prices, the problem for Obama is “not merely that he can’t seem to find a solution, but he is starting to sound like a politician when he talks about it. He is blaming other people. He is attacking opponents. That’s the sort of thing that diminishes him in the voters’ eyes and takes away the signature strength that a lot of people in the inner cycle assume that he still has.”

Beyond that, Americans reject Obama’s negative view of America and embrace Republicans’ positive view.

“When I have seen him go off script in press conferences, he tends to default to this view that there is a lot of inherent unfairness that needs to be stamped out with the heavy hand of government,” Law says. “In one press conference he gave some time ago, he went off script and said basically that doctors perform unnecessary surgeries on children to get more money. I mean that shows sort of a world view that kind of looks down on America and has a very dark view of it, and that’s not where most Americans are.”

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.

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Monday, 19 March 2012 11:00 AM
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