Putting the ‘Outside Game’ to the test

After President Obama’s jobs speech on Thursday night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, “The message [from the president] was: either accept my package as it is, or I will take it to the American people. I would say that that’s the wrong approach.” By some assessments, this made it seem as if the GOP leader is worried, at least a little, about the president taking his message to the electorate.

With this in mind, Cantor probably won’t care for this news at all.

President Obama will continue to promote his jobs bill this week, following up on Friday’s visit to Virginia with stops in Ohio on Tuesday and North Carolina on Wednesday.

Obama is seeking to build momentum for the jobs plan he presented to Congress on Thursday night, which includes tax cuts, new spending measures and an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

The promotional tour has implications for the president’s reelection campaign, since all three states are likely key swing states in 2012. All three went to Obama in 2008.

Obama may soon after head to Colorado, another swing state he carried three years ago.

It’s hard to miss the 2012 subtext with these scheduled appearances, but there’s more going on here than just campaign-related stops in key battleground states.

For one thing, Obama is entirely serious about rallying the public, leveraging voter support to try to give the economy a desperately-needed boost. For the first time in a long time, the White House has something specific it can urge Americans to fight for, and the president appears eager to make his pitch and urge the public to follow.

For another, Obama is also showing the follow-through that the left has demanded, and which has occasionally been lacking. The Americans Jobs Act is a long-shot anyway given Congress’ makeup, and if the president is going to change the landscape, he’s going to have to make a sustained effort. Scheduling a joint session speech, followed by at least three or four big events in key states suggests the White House is fully invested in this push. That’s a good thing.

Jonathan Cohn calls this “the outside game.”

…Obama has at least given the public a clear sense of who stands for what. And make no mistake: That’s a worthwhile endeavor. The approaching presidential election will offer voters stark choices about the country’s future. The best thing Obama can do – not only for the sake of his own candidacy but for the sake of the public discourse – is to make sure the voters understand those choices.

But it will take more than one speech. It will take a sustained campaign – one Obama cannot wage alone, but one only he can lead. As a senior Democrat on Capitol Hill told TNR last night, “It was a strong speech. It’s what comes next that matters. Will he stay tough and keep hammering the Republicans, or will he go back to staying ‘above the fray’ “?

It appears “what comes next” is the most forceful White House offensive of 2011. Whether this moves a single vote on Capitol Hill remains to be seen, but it’s a campaign worth waging — not just because of an election that’s 14 months away, but because strong public demand for an ambitious jobs bill improves the odds of it actually passing.