President Obama has reportedly decided to abandon the Beltway, and recent tradition, as he ramps up his re-election campaign. Every presidential re-election campaign since Nixon’s has been based in Washington D.C. or nearby Northern Virginia, but the president has reportedly decided to return to his 2008 base in Chicago.
In a December 27 piece reporting the Chicago campaign headquarters plan, Politico suggested that the move from the Beltway would allow Obama’s supporters to reestablish their campaign fund-raising operation early this year. The move would allow the president to put some literal distance between his actions as president and his candidacy, as well as to reposition himself in opposition to Washington politics. With Republicans having retaken the House, he may be able to make this case with some credibility.
The most recent precedent for such a move is Al Gore’s presidential campaign, whose headquarters moved to Tennessee in late 1999 to reinvigorate a sagging effort and combat the image of being a Washington insider. George H.W. Bush mounted his reelection campaign from suburban Virginia in 1992, and . both of President Obama’s most recent predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, mounted their re-election campaigns from inside the Beltway.
President Obama has not spent enough time in the spotlight in Washington to have to shake off the insider image just yet, but he has come under some recent criticism from his base for having succumbed to Beltway pressures. He needs to recapture the enthusiasm of the progressive Left, which shows signs of disaffection due to legislative compromises and midterm election losses. Obama’s move to Chicago could help renew the outsider image he cultivated in 2008 and reinvigorate the Democratic base.
Robert Creamer, president of the Democratic campaign management firm Strategic Consulting Group, believes the change of atmosphere will be productive for the Obama campaign. “It is certainly important that [Obama’s] political campaign be based away from Washington, where the voters are,” says Creamer. “That changes the campaign’s attitude and the filter through which is sees the world.”
Matt Mackowiak, president of the Republican campaign consulting firm Potomac Strategy Group, LLC, says that there is not much utility in the digital age to remaining inside the Beltway, but he also sees the potential for negatives to emerge following the move—which include underscoring Obama’s connection to a city with a reputation for corrupt politics and the fact that the move could be seen as an attempt to portray Obama once again as an outsider rather than focus on what he has achieved in office.
“It is a transparent attempt to change the dynamic,” says Mackowiak. “In the past there was a notion that if you were in Washington, you were smart and accomplished. Now they see a place devoid of character and a place full of selfishness and egotism.” Mackowiak predicts that the move will not substantively impact the campaign, but says that the relocation may help recapture the momentum of 2008.
While no official decision has been made regarding the campaign’s location, Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod has declared his intention to move back to Chicago to get to work on the re-election effort.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org