Archive for ‘Democrats’

May 31, 2011

Barack Obama president’s re-election campaign might hinge on re-registration of voters that moved …

Obama prospects might hinge on voter registration
May 30, 2011, 8:23 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In 2008, Barack Obama tapped into a record of nearly 15 million voters who cast ballots for the first time, a surge in registration that may be difficult to replicate next year.

Recent voter registration data show that Democrats have lost ground in key states that Obama carried in 2008, an early warning siren for the president’s re-election campaign. While Republican numbers have also dipped in some states, the drop in the Democrats’ ranks highlights the importance of the Obama campaign‘s volunteer base and the challenge they could have of registering new voters.

“When you look back at 2008 there has to be a recognition that it was a historic election, a historic candidate, a historic moment in time and potentially some type of a ceiling — I’m not sure there is ever a hard ceiling — in terms of voter registration,” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. He said the political map in 2012 will likely look more like it did going into the close contests of 2000 and 2004, which hinged on swing states like Florida and Ohio, respectively, than in 2008, when Obama won traditionally Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina.

Obama will have to re-ignite the passions of some Democrats who had high hopes going into his presidency and may be ambivalent about him now. Several states with Republican governors have tried to reduce the number of early voting days and required photo IDs, a move that Democrats say will disenfranchise poor and minority voters. Polls have shown some political independents drifting away from Obama since 2008, meaning Democrats need to register and turn out more Hispanic and black voters, college students and women.

While Democratic registrations ballooned prior to the 2008 election, the numbers have declined in several important states, including:

— Florida: Democrats added more than 600,000 registered voters between 2006 and 2008, giving Obama about 4.8 million registered Democrats to help his cause. Registered Democrats now number 4.6 million in the Sunshine State. Republican registrations have slipped from 4.1 million in 2008 to about 4.05 million in mid-March, the most recent data available. Nearly 2.6 million voters in Florida are unaffiliated.

— Pennsylvania: Democrats maintain a 1.5 million voter advantage in registrations over Republicans, but their numbers have dwindled since Obama’s election. There were 4.15 million registered Democrats through mid-May, compared with about 4.48 million in 2008. Democrats added about a half-million voters to their rolls in the two years prior to the 2008 election. Republicans currently have more than 3 million registered voters, compared with 3.2 million in 2008. About 500,000 Pennsylvania voters are unaffiliated.

— Iowa: Republicans have gained ground in the state that launched Obama’s presidential bid. GOP registrations increased from about 625,000 voters in 2008 to nearly 640,000 in early May. Democrats, meanwhile, have fallen from about 736,000 voters in 2008 to about 687,000 in May. Nonpartisan voters remain the largest bloc in the Hawkeye State, representing more than 762,000 voters.

Democrats’ numbers have also fallen in North Carolina, where Obama became the first Democratic nominee to carry the state since 1976, and Nevada, a high-growth state that has been battered by the recession.

Several Democratic-friendly cities have not been immune, either. Philadelphia had 880,000 registered Democrats in 2008; that number has fallen below 800,000. Denver, where Democrats held their 2008 convention, had about 200,000 registered Democrats in November 2008 — that’s now down to about 120,000. In Mecklenburg County, N.C., whose county seat, Charlotte, is the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Democrats’ numbers have fallen after major gains leading up to the 2008 election.

Obama officials said voter registration will be a top priority. Obama adviser David Axelrod said the campaign would “mount a major effort and it’s not just about registering new voters but it’s also re-registering people who have moved because there is a high degree of transiency among young people and often among minority voters. We want to make sure that not only new voters but people who have moved are registered again.”

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said the president “has demonstrated a consistent ability to reach new voters and voters who don’t identify as Democrats, so party affiliation isn’t the only factor to evaluate. The campaign’s efforts to expand the electorate to new voters and voters with less consistent voting histories was one reason why the president was elected in 2008, and as we continue our organizing efforts it’s certainly something we’ll take into consideration.”

Finding new voters has been a longstanding goal of Obama, who ran a successful voter registration drive in Chicago when Bill Clinton sought the White House in 1992. Sixteen years later, Obama’s campaign was fueled by a massive grassroots campaign and advocacy groups who registered millions of new voters and then turned them out in record numbers.

In a strategy video released in April, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina noted that Democrats registered about two-thirds of the new voters in 2007 and 2008 in states that allow for party registration. Obama, in turn, won nearly 70 percent of the nearly 15 million first-time voters in 2008.

“That made real differences in very close states across this country. We’ve got to do that again in 2012,” Messina said.

Both political parties maintain private voter databases that allow them to closely monitor registration changes, but public data is more difficult to ascertain. Nationally, more than half the states allow registered voters to indicate a party preference when registering while many states in the South and Midwest don’t provide for a party preference.

Voter registration and turnout were critical to the last president running for re-election — George W. Bush in 2004. Bush’s operation registered an estimated 3 million new voters, helping it drive up vote totals in the areas straddling key suburban regions in Florida and Ohio.

Blaise Hazelwood, who ran the Republican National Committee’s voter registration effort in 2004, said campaign officials pored over Excel charts tracking new registrations on a daily basis and used the mail, door knocking and supermarket stands to find voters in places more inclined to support Bush. She said it would be difficult for Obama’s operation to replicate 2008.

“There’s no way they can get all those voters back,” Hazelwood said.

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Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.

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Ken Thomas can be reached at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

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May 26, 2011

Jubilant Democrats demanded Republicans abandon their sweeping plans to remake Medicare on …

Dems rejoice over NY; will Medicare redo 2012?
May 26, 2011, 2:59 a.m. EDT
Associated Press
Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,
Hello Reader, What Party Do You Want Running The US Government 2013? Selection Poll B.O.Page!WASHINGTON (AP) — Jubilant Democrats demanded Republicans abandon their sweeping plans to remake Medicare on Wednesday after casting a House race in upstate New York as a referendum on the popular program and emerging victorious.

“The top three reasons for the election of a Democrat in one of the most conservative Republican districts in America are Medicare, Medicare and Medicare,” declared New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the party’s congressional campaign committee.

House Republicans made little if any attempt to demonstrate widespread support for their controversial proposal during the day. And the National Republican Congressional Committee offered no explanation for having let hundreds of thousands of dollars in Democratic-funded attacks on the proposed Medicare overhaul go unchallenged in its own television advertising.

GOP officials said the presence of a third-party contender and other factors contributed to their unexpected defeat in New York.

They accused Democrats of campaign scare tactics, while the Medicare plan’s author, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., released a five-minute video defending his work.

Under Ryan’s plan, for anyone younger than 55 the basic Medicare program for medical and hospital care would be replaced by a system in which insurance companies would offer coverage while the government contributed toward the cost of premiums. The program would remain unchanged for anyone 55 or older, including millions who currently receive benefits.

Kathy Hochul’s victory over Republican Jane Corwin in a multi-candidate race was the best political news in months for Democrats, who were voted out of power in the House and lost seats in the Senate last year in what President Barack Obama memorably dubbed a shellacking. She gained 47 percent of the vote, to 43 percent for her rival and 9 percent for Jack Davis, a former Democrat who ran as a tea party contender.

At the same time, Democrats stressed they did not view the race as a reason to walk away from high-profile bipartisan deficit-reduction talks being led by Vice President Joe Biden.

For Republicans, the New York race provided fresh evidence of turbulence for a Medicare remake they tout as a long-term answer to the program’s financing. In the weeks since they unveiled it, the proposal has been less than enthusiastically received by the public, judging from polls.

GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich criticized it, and while he later apologized to Ryan he has not recanted his opposition. A second contender, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said during the day he will have an alternative that differs in unspecified areas from the one in the party’s budget in the House.

Israel and other Democrats said Hochul’s victory showed that the Medicare-overhaul proposal would prove a political dead weight for Republicans in dozens of races in the 2012 congressional elections.

It also is likely to embolden liberals who are not generally supportive of deficit cuts now under negotiation on the order of trillions of dollars.

Yet public opinion polls show strong support for reining in deficits, particularly among independent voters. And Obama, readying for his own re-election campaign, has dispatched Biden and other top officials to negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise with Republicans.

“Budget talks are proceeding in good faith and will continue,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

The party’s second-in-command in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, has said repeatedly that changes to Medicare should be on the table as part of deficit reduction talks, although he and others in his party remain implacably opposed to the Republicans proposal.

In an interview, Israel said Democrats would work with Republicans to strengthen Medicare “but not to do away with it.”

Republicans want “to end Medicare as we know it,” the president told an audience of invited guests last month, Ryan and other GOP lawmakers among them.

Democratic strategists have privately urged the party’s leaders to criticize the overhaul plan, in part to try and regain the allegiance of older and independent voters who helped Republicans in the 2010 elections.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chair of the Senate Democratic campaign organization, said she, too, intended to make use of the issue in the fall.

“I’m confident that Senate Democrats will be able to play offense in races across the country by remaining focused on the Republican effort to end Medicare in order to” cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations, she said.

In the race in New York, Hochul injected the GOP Medicare plan into the campaign weeks ago. Running in a conservative district, she aired ads saying she wanted to reduce government spending while accusing Corwin of favoring Medicare cuts to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Corwin quickly counterattacked, accusing Hochul of wanting to cut Social Security as well as Medicare.

Both the Democratic campaign committee and the House Majority PAC, an outside group aligned with the Democrats, also aired ads critical of the GOP Medicare plan.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee did not mention the issue in running as much as $400,000 worth of television advertising in the district around Buffalo and Rochester. Instead, the group ran a commercial linking Hochul to Pelosi, an echo of the type of ad that proved effective in the 2010 campaigns.

Paul Lindsay, a spokesman, declined to say whether the organization wished it had acted differently. But in the future, he said, “Republicans will take this result as a call to action to challenge Democrats at every turn on their irresponsible plan to bankrupt Medicare.”

American Crossroads, an organization aligned with Republicans, spent more than $600,000 on television ads without seeking to counter the Democratic attacks.

Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman, said polling showed Medicare was the largest policy issue in the campaign “by a superslim and superlow plurality of 21 percent.”

He said one out of five voters said it was the most important issue, yet five out of ten voted for Hochul. “When you look at it that way, it’s really not the big deal that everyone made it out to be.”

Hochul will be sworn in within days, the first Democrat to represent the district in four decades. She replaces Chris Lee, who resigned after shirtless photos he sent to a woman he’d flirted with on Craigslist surfaced online.

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May 20, 2011

Tim Pawlenty: A laid-back Midwestern Republican is running for president and will declare his candidacy on …

APNewsBreak: Aide: Pawlenty running for president
May 20, 2011, 2:49 p.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a laid-back Midwestern Republican who governed a Democratic-leaning state, is running for president and will declare his candidacy on Monday in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa, an adviser told The Associated Press.

The adviser, who disclosed the plans on the condition of anonymity in advance of next week’s announcement, said Pawlenty will formally enter the race during a town hall-style event in Des Moines, Iowa.

He’s choosing to make his long-expected bid official in a critical state in his path to the GOP nomination. Advisers acknowledge that Pawlenty, 50, must win or turn in a strong showing during next winter’s caucuses in the neighboring state of Iowa to have any chance of becoming the Republican who will challenge President Barack Obama, a Democrat, next November.

After Monday’s announcement, he will head to Florida, New Hampshire, New York and Washington, D.C.

The move is no surprise.

Pawlenty been laying the groundwork for a national campaign since John McCain passed him over in 2008 as his vice presidential nominee. He has worked to boost his national profile, assemble a staff, travel the country and build a fundraising network, all while positioning himself as a Republican with a record of resisting increases in taxes and government spending. He left the governor’s post in January and he took the first step toward the presidency two months later by setting up an exploratory committee.

In the early stages of the campaign, he has struggled to raise his standing in polls or attract a niche constituency as Republicans with more star power — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and celebrity businessman Donald Trump — dangled themselves as possible candidates, only to opt out of bids.

Pawlenty has some big obstacles as he seeks the GOP nomination in a wide-open field.

He is not nearly as well known nationally as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and even libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul. And others with even bigger names — Sarah Palin — still may enter the fray. So too may a fellow Minnesotan, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is a darling of the tea party and has indicated she’s likely to launch a campaign soon.

The low-key Pawlenty also is fighting an impression at least within the GOP establishment that he’s too bland to excite voters. He also has no personal wealth and isn’t uniquely aligned with any one Republican faction — like social conservatives or fiscal Republicans — as are other candidates.

But in a GOP field with no clear favorite, Pawlenty hopes that he can cobble together a winning coalition of voters by attracting a wide array of Republicans, from religious conservatives to tea party adherents to establishment figures. As he travels the country, he boasts of reining in state spending and blocking tax hikes during two terms as Minnesota’s governor, as well as stressing his working-class roots and evangelical Christian faith.

“I’m the only candidate in the field who can unite the whole Republican Party, not just one part of it, in a genuine and authentic way, and then go out an appeal to the whole country,” Pawlenty said this week before a fundraiser in Minnesota.

He points to his record in Minnesota as proof that he can have appeal across the ideological spectrum.

Pawlenty, who passed up an opportunity to run for a third term as governor to seek the presidency, won the governors’ office twice without a majority of the vote in races that included third-party candidates. During his tenure, Pawlenty had to contend with a Legislature that was partly or fully controlled by Democrats the eight years he was governor.

Minnesota’s divided government led to repeated legislative battles and a partial government shutdown one year. Pawlenty also frequently vetoed tax and spending bills, earning a reputation in the GOP as a fiscal conservative. He pleased social conservatives as well by signing new abortion restrictions and laws favored by pro-gun groups.

But some of his past actions also have drawn tea party skepticism.

Even some Republicans flinched when he used billions in federal stimulus dollars and once agreed to hike state cigarette charges to balance Minnesota’s budget. And Democrats pound him frequently over the $5 billion deficit his Minnesota successor is coping with for the upcoming state budget, although the state will turn a small surplus this summer when the last fiscal year under Pawlenty’s direct control ends.

Pawlenty’s former embrace of energy policies scorned by conservatives — such as a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions of greenhouse gases — have also been problematic. Pawlenty has disavowed his former stance and apologized for the “clunker” in his record.

Even so, it’s not his record that’s likely to be his biggest challenge. It’s being heard in a crowded field.

Part of the reason: unlike others, he typically shies from the caustic comments and headline-grabbing issues. It’s part of a strategy to come off as a serious-minded candidate in sober times. But his approach has also played into the characterization of him as dull.

Advisers hope that Pawlenty’s ability to connect with small crowds in diners and living rooms will help him win over skeptics in the places where he needs to shine — Iowa and New Hampshire, where voters demand their candidates engage in that type of retail politics. He’s somewhat of a natural at it. He’s good with small talk, often makes goofy poses in keepsake photos and sticks around to shake all hands, helping explain why he’s notoriously behind schedule.

In those settings, he discusses not just what he’d do for the country but also much about his personal story: his boyhood in a blue-collar household in a meatpacking town, his mother’s death of cancer in his teen years. As an adult, he went on to a white-collar job as a lawyer and set down a political path took him from a suburban city hall to a seat in the state Legislature to, eventually, the governor’s post.

“He is doing the soft sell and the soft sell works in the long run,” said Andy Brehm, a Republican strategist in Minnesota. “This is an entirely self-made guy. I don’t think you could ask for a better spokesman for the free market ideas. He’s worked himself up really from nothing.”

Pawlenty and his wife, Mary, a former judge, have two teenage daughters, Anna and Mara.

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May 19, 2011

President Barack Obama: Pushing Congress to overhaul the immigration system …

Obama puts immigration in Congress’ court
May 19, 2011, 3:22 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — With a re-election campaign looming, President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to overhaul the immigration system, but lawmakers seems to have little appetite to take on the issue.

In recent speeches at the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, and the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Obama said his administration has followed through on demands to secure the border, and now it’s time for Congress to put revamping immigration back on the agenda and make something happen.

“Comprehensive immigration reform is not only an economic imperative or a security imperative, it is also a moral imperative,” Obama told the prayer breakfast.

But Republicans say any effort to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country or any effort that doesn’t address the inadequacies they see in border security is doomed to fail.

Although legislation has yet to be introduced, many lawmakers agree the most likely first step toward immigration legislation is a requirement that all businesses use E-Verify. The E-Verify program lets businesses know whether employees have the necessary papers to work in the U.S. Such legislation could give Democrats political cover by addressing immigration requirements that preclude tough crackdowns on immigrants, and give Republicans an opportunity to say they provided a new enforcement tool to stop illegal immigration.

The president’s recent push, which started in April with a White House meeting on immigration issues and other events involving Latino celebrities, prompted Senate Democrats this month to reintroduce the DREAM Act. The bill would give a path to legal status for law-abiding young people who were brought into the United States without documents as children and who either plan to attend college or join the military.

“Our immigration laws prevent thousands of young people from fully contributing to our nation’s future,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement announcing the bill he drafted. “These are honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists and valedictorians. These children are tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, soldiers and senators, and we should give them the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., has introduced a similar bill in the House.

Republicans, who control the House, insist the DREAM Act will never pass.

“It’s amnesty for up to 2 million people,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has some jurisdiction over immigration legislation. “I just don’t see it when you are still talking about amnesty.” Smith said the bill rewards the undocumented parents and is “an open invitation to fraud.”

But GOP House members have pledged to introduce an E-Verify bill for employers.

Some Democrats have suggested a compromise bill incorporating elements of both DREAM and E-Verify, even as they acknowledge the prospects for such a deal are dim.

“We are at a stalemate, but I am willing to sit down and work through issues to accomplish something in the interest of the country,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. “But it takes two to do that.”

Smith said there is no room for compromise with any bill that includes a path to legalization.

The DREAM Act passed the House last year before falling five votes short in the Senate in December. While three Republicans supported it, five Democrats opposed it.

What support it had among Republicans has eroded as some face primary challenges from the right. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, dropped his support of the DREAM Act last year because he said Americans are more concerned with border security. And Indiana’s Sen. Richard Lugar backed away from the most recent version because the president’s speeches turned immigration into a “divisive election issue,” said his spokesman, Andy Fisher. Lugar is facing a Tea Party primary challenge.

Smith said the reintroduction of failed legislation doesn’t seem like a serious effort and chided Obama for focusing on the issue again in hopes of scoring campaign points with Hispanic voters.

Winning the Hispanic vote is thought to be critical in Obama’s bid for re-election. In 2008, Latinos made up more than 7 percent of voters, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and their numbers are greater in swing states such as Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida.

The Obama administration has made a point of highlighting enforcement efforts, though they differ dramatically from those of former President George W. Bush’s administration.

The current administration has shied away from the high-profile immigration raids at businesses that routinely yielded large numbers of arrests of illegal workers. Instead, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has shifted strategies, focusing instead on audits of the documents employers must maintain that show their workers are eligible to work in the United States. The audits, officials have said, put the focus on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.

Speaking in El Paso, Obama said his administration had done what Republicans in Congress have asked by adding Border Patrol agents, intelligence analysts and unmanned aerial vehicles.

“We’ve gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement,” Obama said from a national park not far from the violent Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez. “All the stuff they’ve asked for, we’ve done.”

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Alicia A. Caldwell can be reached at http://twitter.com/acaldwellap

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May 11, 2011

He mocked Republican lawmakers for blocking immigration over border security

Obama mocks Republican position on immigration
May 10, 2011, 9:35 p.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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EL PASO, Texas (AP) — In search of Hispanic votes and a long-shot immigration overhaul, President Barack Obama on Tuesday stood at the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time since winning the White House and declared it more secure than ever.

He mocked Republican lawmakers for blocking immigration over border security alone, saying they won’t be happy until they get a moat with alligators along the border.

“They’ll never be satisfied,” he said.

Stymied by both chambers of Congress, the president ditched lawmakers in favor of voters who might pressure them, making an appeal to the public on a hot and dusty day far outside Washington. He told a friendly El Paso crowd that it’s up to them to tell Congress to pass legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

The approach also allowed the president to make clear that it’s Republicans — not him — standing in the way of immigration legislation. As his re-election campaign approaches it’s a message he wants broadcast loud and clear to Latino voters who don’t like his administration’s heavy deportations and feel he never made good on his promise to prioritize immigration legislation during his first year in office.

“I am asking you to add your voices to this,” Obama said. “We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform gathering strength from coast to coast. That’s how we’ll get this done.”

Countering Republican calls to focus on border security before moving to a comprehensive overhaul, Obama boasted of increasing Border Patrol agents, nearing completion of a border fence and screening more cargo, among other steps.

“We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement,” Obama said. “But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I gotta say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.”

“Maybe they’ll need a moat,” he said derisively to laughter from the crowd. “Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.”

“The question is whether those in Congress who previously walked away in the name of enforcement are now ready to come back to the table and finish the work we’ve started,” he said.

Obama also tailored his argument to the times, making his case for immigration reform in newly sharpened economic terms. He said the middle class would benefit from bringing illegal immigrants out of an underground economy and drawing on the abilities of immigrants educated at American universities. Obama also noted that it’s not just Latinos who want an immigration remake, but also police chiefs, business owners, educators and others.

His speech broke no new policy ground, though, and he declined to offer a bill or call on Congress to send him one by a particular deadline — a bow to political realities on Capitol Hill. Republicans who control the House are hostile to overhaul legislation.

And as if to underscore how faintly his call for immigration reform would resonate in Congress, two key border state Republicans immediately responded with a statement demanding to know: “President Obama speaks about our broken immigration system; but what about our broken borders?” The statement was from Republican Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona, the latter Obama’s 2008 presidential opponent and a one-time supporter of comprehensive overhaul legislation.

Obama’s personal pitch was the latest step in a visible campaign to build support and pressure on Republicans to act. He went so far as to encourage people to sign up to help him at the White House website. He said it was up to the American people to drive the debate and isolate areas where both parties can agree.

Politically, Obama sought to have it both ways.

He said he would lead a “constructive and civil debate” on the issue but publicly questioned the motives of Republicans and their ability to keep their word.

And it remained unclear how mocking Republican calls for border security would get Obama any closer to his goal of bipartisan legislation.

Just across the Rio Grande from the Chamizal National Park, where Obama spoke, the Ciudad Juarez park has been used by criminals to dump the bodies of rivals. A nearby entertainment district, within sight of a major bridge into the United States, has been the scene of numerous shootouts among rival cartels and authorities.

The president made his pitch in a state he lost by more than 10 percentage points in 2008 and is unlikely to pick up in 2012. But Hispanic voters are critical to the president’s re-election. Latinos accounted for more than 7 percent of voters in the 2008 presidential election, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and their numbers are greater in certain swing states like Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida.

The trip had a more overtly political component too. From El Paso, the president headed to the relatively liberal bastion of Austin to raise money for the Democratic National Committee at two events. A total of about 800 people paid $44 to $35,800 to attend.

The president wasn’t able to get immigration legislation through Congress last year that would have provided a route to legal status for college students and others who were brought to the country as children. The so-called DREAM Act passed the House, then controlled by Democrats, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

The Senate is now even more heavily Republican, and Republicans control the House. That means immigration reform can’t happen unless they cooperate. Nonetheless, Senate Democrats plan to reintroduce the DREAM Act on Wednesday, with their counterparts in the House following suit. Given Republican opposition the bills likely won’t get far, but Obama will try to make certain voters know who to blame.

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Erica Werner reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Suzanne Gamboa, Jim Kuhnhenn and Alicia Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.

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May 5, 2011

A foreign policy void in GOP 2012 field

A foreign policy void in GOP 2012 field
May 5, 2011, 4:58 a.m. EDT

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The daring nighttime raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan draws a sharp contrast between President Barack Obama and a field of potential Republican challengers who have comparatively scant foreign policy experience.

That field includes at least six current or former governors, and three current or former House members. The Senate, an incubator for international affairs expertise, doesn’t have a single member running for president, although one former senator has taken steps toward a run.

The stunning news of bin Laden’s death has temporarily focused attention on foreign policy over domestic issues, and highlighted the lack of international experience in the prospective GOP field compared with the president, a Democrat who has spent more than two years overseeing two wars and, more recently, military action in Libya.

None of the Republicans weighing candidacies is a foreign policy heavyweight, and all are working to boost their credentials by traveling to distant lands and weighing in on overseas matters.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, seen within the GOP as a credible voice on fiscal issues, bluntly acknowledged earlier this week to reporters that he was “probably not” ready to debate Obama on foreign policy. He was saying publically about himself what other Republicans say privately about the entire field.

A handful of likely contenders planning to attend a GOP debate Thursday in South Carolina are likely to get at least one question dealing with national security, diplomatic affairs or bin Laden’s death. Continued criticism of Obama’s Libya policies is expected. And the dramatic killing of the al-Qaida leader may force the White House hopefuls to sharpen their international talking points and proposals sooner rather than later.

Bin Laden’s death is likely to “increase calls for us to leave Afghanistan and cut off aid to Pakistan,” Republican consultant John Feehery said.

Foreign policy plays a big role in every presidential election, even if domestic issues usually dominate.

Americans typically say they want a president with a solid international resume, but they don’t always vote that way.

With few exceptions, governors have little or no meaningful foreign policy experience. Yet since 1976, three governors (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton) have defeated incumbent presidents. And Texas Gov. George W. Bush defeated a vice president. Obama himself had thin foreign policy credentials when he defeated Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam war hero who was heavily involved in national security matters for years.

Among this crop of Republicans weighing candidacies, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman may have the most immediate and concentrated foreign experience, having just finished his stint as U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman was a young Mormon missionary to Taiwan, and he speaks Mandarin Chinese. He also has served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore and U.S. trade ambassador.

Conversely, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is in her third term, may have the most modest international experience of those weighing bids. She has traveled to Iraq and has been a member of the House Intelligence Committee since January.

A look at how others stack up:

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist, traveled to more than 30 countries as a businessman, Olympics official and politician.

Recently, he has said that Obama “has been unable to construct a foreign policy” because of his “fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism.” America is seen as weak, Romney said, because “we’re following the French into Libya” to support those rebelling against Moammar Gadhafi.

—Tim Pawlenty made trade missions and troop visits as Minnesota governor to Iraq, India, China, Brazil, Chile, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Germany, Israel, Kosovo, Kuwait, Poland, Spain and other places.

He was among the first to call for a no-fly zone to protect Libya’s rebels from Gadhafi’s forces. And he criticized Obama for taking almost two more weeks to take that step.

—Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker best known for his interest in domestic issues such as tax policy and health care, sits on the Council on Foreign Relations’ terrorism task force, and teaches at the National Defense University.

He calls for a muscular approach to combating terrorism. But he was widely mocked recently for an about-face on Libyan policy. First he said he would “exercise a no-fly zone” and get rid of Gadhafi. Two weeks later, he said: “I would not have intervened. … I would not have used American and European forces.”

—Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and 2008 Iowa caucus winner, has traveled extensively, including numerous trips to Israel.

He was criticized in 2007 for saying that, as president, he would strike at terrorists inside Pakistan with or without permission from that country’s leaders. It looks rather prescient in light of this week’s events; Obama didn’t notify Pakistan before authorizing the raid that killed bin Laden.

—Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, spent much of his Capitol Hill career serving on committees covering agriculture, banking, housing and urban affairs, and other domestic matters.

Lately, he has accused Obama of “dithering” in Libya and creating a “morass” because he let the international community take the lead in aiding Gadhafi’s opponents.

—Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee and former Alaska governor, was widely ridiculed for suggesting she had foreign policy credentials because “you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.”

She has worked to expand her foreign experience, including trips to Iraq, India and Israel.

___

Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn., Andrew Miga in Washington, Jay Root in Austin, Texas, and Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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April 26, 2011

GOP Gov. Haley Barbour bowed out of presidential contention Monday

Barbour out, GOP ponders as 2012 field takes shape

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Republican Gov. Haley Barbour bowed out of presidential contention Monday with a surprise announcement just as the 2012 campaign was getting under way in earnest, 18 months before Election Day. The Mississippi governor said he lacked the necessary “absolute fire in the belly” to run.

Barbour’s declaration, unexpected because he had been laying the groundwork for a campaign for months, thins a Republican cluster of no less than a dozen potential candidates to take on Democratic President Barack Obama.

With the GOP campaign’s first debate scheduled for next week, the muddy Republican field will become clearer very soon as more potential contenders announce whether they’ll run or sit out. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who lost in 2008 and is a favorite of libertarians as well as tea partyers, is planning to take a step toward a second bid on Tuesday. The next facing a self-imposed deadline of this weekend, is Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Barbour friend and a fiscal conservative who has shined a spotlight on rising budget deficits and national debt.

“All eyes will be on Daniels. … It’s a clear path for him if he wants to run,” said Doug Gross, an Iowa Republican who dined with Barbour last month and left questioning whether the governor had the hunger to get in the race.

It turns out he didn’t.

“I will not be a candidate for president next year,” the two-term governor said a statement, adding that he wasn’t ready for a “10-year commitment to an all-consuming effort.”

As the GOP race comes into sharper focus, Obama is working to both prevent an erosion of his support while under Republican attack and to raise enough money to overwhelm his eventual foe. He’s been packing his schedule with fundraisers and visits to battleground states as he gears up for what he says will be a tough campaign.

This week alone, he will raise money in New York and return to his hometown of Chicago — also the site of his campaign headquarters — to tape an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” He then will head to Florida, a pivotal swing state, to deliver a commencement address at Miami Dade College and attend the launch of Endeavour, NASA’s next-to-last space shuttle flight.

Potentially vulnerable, Obama has middling poll ratings and is seeking a second term in a country reeling over high unemployment, rising gas prices and the remnants of recession.

Yet, the GOP faces plenty of its own troubles.

Its field lacks a front-runner. Most of the candidates are largely unknown to Republicans. The most recent Associated Press-GfK poll indicated that only half of all Republicans were satisfied by their choices and a third were dissatisfied.

Unlike four years ago, GOP presidential hopefuls have been hesitant to rush into the race. Many have been mindful of the long slog and huge costs of a campaign. Several also have been waiting to see what the first half of the year would bring, when the focus would be on the new House GOP majority and its tangles with the Democratic administration.

But now, the clock is ticking, and candidates are under pressure to commit to participating in multi-candidate events.

Neither a forum in New Hampshire on Friday nor a debate in Greenville, S.C., next week — the first of the campaign — is expected to draw a full slate of candidates. No such slate exists yet.

So far, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost the nomination in 2008, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was on John McCain’s vice presidential short list, have set up presidential exploratory committees allowing them raise money for full-fledged campaigns. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to make his campaign official as early as next week.

A cluster of lesser-knowns also have inched toward the race, including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Many Republicans had expected Barbour would be the next one in, given his recent activity.

He had visited several states with early presidential contests, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He also had lined up a large network of political advisers. And he had tested an economy-focused campaign speech in Chicago last month. The governor had even lost some weight as advisers had suggested, and they had been plotting an “announcement tour” in which he would declare himself a candidate.

But several allies said Barbour, known as one of the smartest political operatives in the GOP, ultimately decided he didn’t have what it takes to win.

He could have been a formidable contender had he entered the race. He has a knack for raising money, a resume dating to Ronald Reagan’s White House and brand of folksy Southern charisma. His hurdles would have been high, too. He’s a former lobbyist and former Republican National Committee chairman who would have tried to woo a primary electorate underwhelmed by Washington insiders. Among his other vulnerabilities: what critics have called tone deafness about Mississippi’s divisive racial history.

Barbour delivered the news Monday in a phone call with some 50 people who were advising him, and then his office sent out a statement.

“A candidate for president today is embracing a 10-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” Barbour said in the statement. “His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.”

Former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Richard Schwarm, who was with Barbour and Gross last month, said that Barbour mentioned during dinner that he had encouraged Daniels to run.

It’s unclear whether Daniels will heed that advice.

A onetime senior executive at Eli Lilly & Co. and a former budget director under George W. Bush, Daniels has said he would wait until his state legislature adjourns at the end of the week before considering his next plans. He says he’s done little to prepare for a campaign beyond think about it and discuss it with his family, including his wife who was cool to a White House run but has agreed to headline a major fundraiser for the state GOP next month.

At the same time, another likely candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, is to return to the United States early next week. His work for the Obama administration as the U.S. ambassador to China ends Sunday, and he will make his first appearance in an early primary state on May 7 in South Carolina, where he will deliver a commencement address.

He’s been barred from engaging in politics as an ambassador, but advisers have spent the past few months building a shadow campaign operation so that he will be ready to run if he chooses.

Two others weighing bids and drawing considerable attention, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and New York real estate mogul Donald Trump, have said they would decide whether to run before the summer.

It may be some time before two of the biggest question marks of the 2012 GOP nomination fight are answered: Will Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee get in the race?

Both are leaving the door wide open to candidacies, but neither seems in a rush to make any plans public. In recent months, they haven’t done much beyond give a handful of speeches and appear on Fox News, where they both have contracts.

Both will headline high-profile events over the next two weeks:

Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and former Alaska governor, is addressing a “Heroes Among Us” fundraiser in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday and is headlining a tribute to the troops at Colorado Christian University in Denver early next week. Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses and a former Arkansas governor, will speak to the National Rifle Association in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Either one would further shake up an already unpredictable race.

___(equals)

Liz Sidoti reported from Washington; Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Philip Elliott in Indianapolis and Ben Feller in Washington contributed to this report.

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April 25, 2011

Past House GOP killed Democratic priorities using obscure parliamentary maneuvers

Past House GOP tactic proves useless to Democrats

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A year ago, when Republicans were in the minority on Capitol Hill, they drove Democrats crazy by using an obscure parliamentary maneuver to change, delay and even kill Democratic priorities.

Now that Republicans are running the House, Democrats have tried to stymie the GOP agenda by relying on the tactic, known as the motion to recommit. But they’ve failed on every one of their 23 attempts this year.

That motion is almost always the last step just before the final vote on a bill. It gives the minority party, which has little voice and few rights in the House, a last chance to amend a bill, or in a more traditional sense, return it to the committee level for further work.

Often, the maneuver is aimed at forcing members of the majority into an untenable choice between opposing their party’s position or casting a vote that opponents could use against them in election campaigns.

For a recommit motion to work, the minority party must pick off at least some members of the majority. Thus Democrats would need at least a few dozen of the House’s 241 Republicans to vote with them this year. Their best showing so far on any motion: two GOP votes.

Republican leaders may have a hard time keeping their troops in line on the budget and social issues, but there’s near ironclad unity when it comes to keeping Democrats in their place.

A Democratic motion on a recent bill to cut off federal dollars for National Public Radio would have continued money for Amber alerts on NPR regarding abducted children. The motion didn’t get a single Republican vote. Nor did Democrats get a nibble when they called for federal air marshals on high-risk flights as part of aviation legislation.

On a highway spending bill, Democrats were shut out when they tried to cut off federal aid for “bridge to nowhere” projects in Alaska. They drew a single vote on a motion to the last short-term spending bill stating that there would be no cuts to Social Security or Medicare. “That is simply a fog screen,” GOP Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in opposing it.

Such motions rarely succeed for either party. But Republicans in the recent past have managed to entice conservative and vulnerable Democrats with motions on sensitive subjects such as guns, abortion and immigration.

Republicans nearly succeeded in derailing the health care act last year with a motion to recommit that contained anti-abortion provisions. Democratic leaders had to appease their own anti-abortion wing to secure their votes against the GOP motion.

In 2007 Democrats had to withdraw a bill giving residents in the District of Columbia a vote in the House because of a motion to repeal the city’s tough gun laws.

Last spring Republicans succeeded in changing a bill to subsidize people who buy energy-efficient products for their homes. GOP lawmakers made the changes part of a recommit motion barring contractors from hiring child molesters.

A week later they watered down a science and technology bill by attaching their version to a proposal to fire government works who view pornography on the job. Many Democrats, envisioning election-year attack ads claiming they supported pornography, had to go along.

In December, Republicans used a similar tactic to force Democrats to withdraw temporarily a bill expanding child nutrition programs. By voting against the Republican alternative, a lawmaker could be portrayed as supporting federal food money for institutions that hire convicted sex offenders.

Norm Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Republicans have developed the procedure as “a potent weapon of embarrassment.” They focused, he said, not so much on offering alternatives as entrapping Democrats with “gotcha” proposals.

“The Democrats have not been as relentless or adept as Republicans as far as crafting” the motions, Ornstein said.

Democrats predict they’ll have more success as the 2012 election approaches. “It depends on whether the Republican rank and file come to listen to their constituencies,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for the House Democratic campaign committee. “Right now they are listening to their leadership.”

Republican leaders have explained to their members that Democrats are given opportunities to offer amendments, and that the motions are merely procedural votes on issues where Democrats are trying to score political points.

It wasn’t always that way.

In 1909, opponents of autocratic Speaker Joe Cannon, R-Ill., forced a rule change giving priority to an opponent to offer an alternative before a final vote. In 1932 that was changed to give the minority party a last shot.

Democrats increasingly squelched that right in their many decades of controlling the House. When Republicans took over in 1995, they promised that the right to offer a motion to recommit would be honored even as they united in defeating Democratic proposals.

The Democratic return to power in 2007 was accompanied by the continued trend, starting under the Republicans, of limiting the minority’s right to offer amendments. The motion to recommit was often the only chance to affect legislation.

“In recent years, and not just under the current majority, the minority has been forced to use the motion to recommit, often in ways that are painful for the majority, to ensure the minority’s voice is heard,” Ohio Rep. John Boehner, then the minority leader, told the American Enterprise Institute in a speech last September. “And in turn, the majority has responded by conjuring up new ways to shut the minority out even further. It’s a cycle of gridlock.”

___

Online:

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Congressional Glossary: http://tinyurl.com/3rftfwh

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April 21, 2011

President Barack Obama says new task force will examine gas prices

Obama says new task force will examine gas prices

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — President Barack Obama said Thursday that the Justice Department will try to “root out” cases of fraud or manipulation in oil markets, even as Attorney General Eric Holder suggested a variety of legal reasons may be behind gasoline’s surge to $4 a gallon.

“We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain,” Obama said at a town-hall style meeting at a renewable energy plant in Reno.

The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.84 on Thursday, about 30 cents higher than a month ago and almost a dollar higher than a year ago.

Obama, decrying such levels as yet another hardship “at a time when things were already pretty tough,” said Holder was forming the Financial Fraud Enforcement Working Group.

The task force will focus some of its investigation on “the role of traders and speculators” in the oil-price surge Obama said. The group will include several Cabinet department officials, federal regulators and the National Association of Attorneys General.

In Washington, Holder said he would press ahead with the investigation, even though he did not cite any current evidence of intentional manipulation of oil and gas prices or fraud.

“Based upon our work and research to date, it is evident that there are regional differences in gasoline prices, as well as differences in the statutory and other legal tools at the government’s disposal,” Holder said in a memo accompanying a statement announcing the task force. “It is also clear that there are lawful reasons for increases in gas prices, given supply and demand.”

“Nonetheless, where consumers are harmed by unlawful conduct that has the effect of increasing gas prices, state and federal authorities will take swift action,” Holder said.

He promised to “be vigilant in monitoring the oil and gas markets for any wrongdoing so that consumers can be confident they are not paying higher prices as a result of illegal activity.”

There’s not much Obama can do to affect the price of gasoline in short term, something he acknowledged in his remarks. Gas prices have risen steadily as a result of tensions in the Middle East and northern Africa and rising demand from China and other emerging economies.

Given that no evidence has yet surfaced of actual fraud or price manipulation in oil markets, Obama’s remarks appeared, at least in part, as more of an attempt to assuage public anger over rising gas prices.

Other presidents have also launched similar inquiries at times of rising oil prices and widespread public suspicions of market manipulation by the oil industry or by speculators.

In an Associated Press-Gfk poll last month, 51 percent of adults said they thought recent increases in gas prices were due to “oil companies that want to boost profits” rather than changes in the global oil market. Nine percent said higher prices stemmed from a combination of both, 37 percent from changes in the market.

Obama renewed his proposal to end roughly $4 billion annually in various government subsidies to oil and gas companies “at a time when they’re making record profits and you’re paying near record prices at the pump. It has to stop.”

Asked by a member of the audience about prospects for advancements in clean energy, Obama predicted that, with time, prices of now-expensive devices such as electric cars would come down.

“Having a flat-screen TV used to be a big deal,” Obama said. But he said now such TVs are commonplace because prices have dropped so much.

While acknowledging he doesn’t spend much time these days behind the wheel, Obama said, “I’ve been in one of these Chevy Volts. This is a nice car. It drives well.”

He said when such vehicles become more affordable, “those of you out there driving that 8-mile-a-gallon SUV” should consider a purchase. Otherwise, by buying gasoline that likely came from imported oil, Americans “are putting money in the pockets of people who do not like us at all,” he said.

Earlier, he told supporters in San Francisco that he is pressing ahead with his agenda in a difficult political environment and that “change turned out to be a lot tougher than expected.”

Obama addressed about 200 people who paid up to $35,800 apiece for the fundraiser at San Francisco’s St. Regis Hotel, the first of four fundraisers of the day. The other three were scheduled in Los Angeles.

Obama was interrupted by a small group among the paying guests who protested the detention of Bradley Manning, an Army private accused of leaking secret documents to the WikiLeaks website.

“We paid our dues, where’s our change?” the protesters sang to the president.

“We’ll vote for you in 2012, yes that’s true. Look at the Republicans — what else can we do?”

Obama paused while security removed some of the protesters, then joked, “That’s a nice song. You guys have much better voices than I do.”

Manning, suspected of illegally passing U.S. government secrets to the WikiLeaks while serving as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, was transferred this week to an Army prison in Kansas from the Marine brig in Quantico, Va., where he has spent the last nine months.

Between his California events, Obama went to the Electra Therm Co. in Reno, speaking in front of a machine that produces renewable energy from low-temperature heat waste.

Obama’s West Coast visit — his most extensive travel since announcing his re-election bid two weeks ago — offered a glimpse of how he will seek to re-energize the independents and first-time voters who carried him to victory in 2008. Obama argues that more work must be done to make the vision of America he promised a reality and that he is the only one who can see those hopes through.

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April 18, 2011

Welcome to The Social Network, presidential campaign edition!

2012 presidential candidates ‘friend’ social media
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NEW YORK (AP) — Republican Tim Pawlenty disclosed his 2012 presidential aspirations on Facebook.

Rival Mitt Romney did it with a tweet.

President Barack Obama kicked off his re-election bid with a digital video emailed to the 13 million online backers who helped power his historic campaign in 2008.

Welcome to The Social Network, presidential campaign edition.

The candidates and contenders have embraced the Internet to far greater degrees than previous White House campaigns, communicating directly with voters on platforms where they work and play.

If Obama’s online army helped define the last campaign and Howard Dean’s Internet fundraising revolutionized the Democratic primary in 2004, next year’s race will be the first to reflect the broad cultural migration to the digital world.

“You have to take your message to the places where people are consuming content and spending their time,” said Romney’s online director, Zac Moffatt. “We have to recognize that people have choices and you have to reach them where they are, and on their terms.”

The most influential of those destinations include the video sharing website YouTube; Facebook, the giant social network with 500 million active users; and Twitter, the cacophonous conversational site where news is made and shared in tweets of 140 characters or less.

All the campaigns have a robust Facebook presence, using the site to post videos and messages and to host online discussions. In the latest indication of the site’s reach and influence, Obama plans to visit Facebook headquarters in California this coming Wednesday for a live chat with company founder Mark Zuckerberg and to take questions from users who submit questions on the site.

Candidates have embraced Twitter with an intensity that rivals pop star Justin Bieber’s. Twitter was the Republican hopefuls’ platform of choice last Wednesday, moments after Obama gave a budget speech calling for some tax increases and decrying GOP proposals to cut Medicare.

“President Obama doesn’t get it. The fear of higher taxes tomorrow hurts job creation today,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour tweeted.

“The president’s plan will kill jobs and increase the deficit,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned in a tweet, attaching a link to a more detailed statement posted on Facebook.

In the past, candidates would have pointed supporters to their websites for such a response. Now, as Moffatt puts it, “the campaign site may be headquarters, but it needs digital embassies across the web.”

Republicans once seemed slow to harness the power of the web. The party’s 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, told reporters he didn’t even use email. The 2012 hopefuls have worked hard to prove their Internet savvy, particularly with social media.

Pawlenty “understands the power of new technology and he wants it to be at the forefront. We are going to compete aggressively with President Obama in this space,” spokesman Alex Conant said. Conant pointed to efforts to live stream videos to Facebook and award points and badges to supporters in a way that mirrors Foursquare, the emerging location-based mobile site.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s 2008 running mate and a potential presidential candidate this time, has made Facebook a centerpiece of her communication efforts to supporters.

Palin has been criticized for treating it as a one-way form of communication that allows her to bypass direct questions from reporters and voters. Other Republicans insist they’re willing to wade into the messy digital fray and cede some control of their message.

“We trust our supporters and want to err on the side of giving them more control, not less,” Conant said.

Just as social networking liberates candidates to take their message directly to voters, it offers plenty of pitfalls as well.

It’s prone to mischief, with dozens of fake Twitter accounts and Facebook pages popping up daily that are intended to embarrass the candidates. Also, a candidate’s gaffe or an inconsistency on issues can be counted on to go viral immediately.

Gingrich has gotten ensnared in some online traps. His apparent back-and-forth on whether the U.S. should intervene in the conflict in Libya was discussed widely and amplified online. He first advocated military engagement, then came out against it after Obama ordered airstrikes.

Twitter lit up with the news that a photo on Gingrich’s exploratory website showing people waving flags was a stock photo once used by the late liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

Spokesman Rick Tyler rejected such criticism and said Gingrich has pioneered the use of digital technology.

“Over 1.4 million people follow him on Twitter. He has a very active Facebook. There are eight websites connected to organizations started by Newt (that) use social media platforms to communicate to their coalitions,” Tyler said.

But Josh Dorner, who tracks GOP candidates online for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the Republican presidential hopefuls appear to be unprepared for the unforgiving pace of the digital age.

Obama, who in 2008 had to recover from plenty of web-amplified flubs such as his comment that bitter small town voters “cling” to guns and religion, will probably be more nimble, Dorner said.

“We are moving in a warp speed environment, and none of the Republican candidates understand the media environment in which they’re operating. It puts them at a huge disadvantage to the president,” Dorner said.

Strategists also say the greatest digital innovation in 2012 may not even have surfaced yet, even as campaigns figure out how to do effective microtargeting ads for Facebook and work to develop “apps” for smart phones rather than laptops and traditional TV.

“As with anything, there’s going to be a shiny new cell phone every six months,” said Matt Ortega, a former online organizer for the Democratic National Committee. “You’re going to see both new tools and more sophistication in existing tools.”

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