Dems' strategists say Obama reflects U.S. better than GOP

Suburban moderates called key to election

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David Axelrod has some friendly advice for Republicans -- look into your souls.

The Obama strategist offered that counsel as he joined other senior campaign aides in a final victory lap conference call Thursday. He and his colleagues reflected on the president's path to re-election, the demographic changes that helped fuel it, and the future of the high-tech, grassroots organization that allowed Democrats to maximize their strength Tuesday.

Looking back at the president's disproportionately strong showing among women, African-Americans and Hispanic voters, Mr. Axelrod said that Mr. Obama prevailed because, "this president reflects this country ... [he] put together a coalition that reflects this country."

"On the other side of the equation," he said, "the Republicans, I think, have some soul-searching to do."

Mr. Axelrod added his voice to the chorus of post-election analysis that the current Republican Party has gone down a policy path -- on issues ranging from immigration to a list of social concerns -- that puts them at odds with the nation's changing population realities.

Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager, noted that Hispanic voters' concerns generally match those of most Americans. But he said that during the GOP primaries, one candidate after another had used immigration "like a football."

David Plouffe, Mr. Messina's predecessor as 2008 campaign manager and a central strategist in this one, said that the campaign's broader appeal was reflected in its vote totals in "the moderate suburban communities that determine presidential elections."

He cited bellwethers, including Bucks County, outside Philadelphia; Hillsborough County, in the Tampa Bay region; and Hamilton County, surrounding Cincinnati, as evidence of that moderate appeal.

Exit polls have shown that Republican candidate Mitt Romney won independent voters, but Mr. Plouffe argued that could be a misleading indicator, in that many of those who identify themselves as independents are actually reliably Republican or Democratic in their voting behavior. Focusing on a metric more favorable to his candidate, he pointed out that exit polls showed that Mr. Obama had won by 56 percent to 41 percent among voters who called themselves moderates.

The Obama team was gracious about their opposite numbers with the Romney campaign. Mr. Messina praised his Republican opposite number, Matt Rhodes, and his colleagues as "always honorable," describing them as "hardworking Americans who want to make this country better."

But Mr. Axelrod was caustic in references to Karl Rove and the conservative super-PACs that helped make this the most expensive election on record.

"If I were one of those billionaires ... I'd be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund is, because they didn't get much for their money," Mr. Axelrod said. "Just looking at the results, the heartening news is that you can't buy the White House, you can't overwhelm the Congress with these super-PAC dollars.

"I think there'll be some reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door because of what happened Tuesday."

The Democrats' strategists highlighted some of the strengths of Obama for America, the sophisticated, volunteer-harnessing election machine that drove Democratic turnout despite the challenges of a limping economy. But they were notably cautious in describing its future.

Turnout across the country was down from the record levels of 2008, but Mr. Messina pointed out that while turnout was down by more than five percent in non-swing states, in the key battleground states, the erosion was only 3.7 percent. Despite speculation about the wanting of intensity within the Obama coalition, OFA was also credited with maintaining high turnout levels among young voters as well has minorities.

After Mr. Obama took the oath of office, OFA, for a time renamed Organizing for America, never went out of business, maintaining a presence in key states across the country. Now, after five years of existence, the organization no longer has another Obama election to build toward. So what happens now to the voter lists, sophisticated technology and institutional memory that nurtured two White House victories?

"We're going to go through a process," was Mr. Messina's opaque reply, as he said the Chicago headquarters planned to consult with their supporters and volunteers to decide the next chapter for the grass-roots mobilization.

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Politics Editor James O?Toole: or 412-263-1562.


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