The five-year old video showing President Barack Obama talking bluntly about race, Hurricane Katrina and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a source of worry for a campaign that’s already on a knife’s edge over Wednesday night’s high-stakes debate in Denver and thinning leads in national polls.
Obama’s aides and top Democratic officials projected an air of nonchalance and nothing-to-see-here Tuesday night as Fox News and Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller promoted the 2007 speech at Hampton University as a racial rant with the capacity to change the game. But the reelection campaign is concerned especially by the possibility of re-litigating Wright’s role in Obama’s life — a storyline long seen in Obamaland as among the most damaging to the president.
That’s made even stronger by the new focus on the tape coming at a key moment in the run-up to the debate — timing that could become a distraction for the campaign as the president prepares to take the stage.
The larger threat posed by the video isn’t its content — many of the statements Obama makes have been made by the president or other Democrats — but its capacity to stop the campaign’s accelerating momentum. Taken in combination with several other pre-debate problems for Obama — from tightening polls in Florida and Wisconsin and Vice President Joe Biden’s declaration Tuesday that the middle class has been “buried” over the last four years — the tape could be part of a movement that might make the race not the blowout many pundits have been predicting.
Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, called the video a “distraction,” but added on CBS’s “This Morning,” “If Republicans want to defend the Bush administration’s response to Katrina, I’m sure the president would give them his time during the debate to do that.”
And sources inside the campaign tell POLITICO that they believe Carlson — and the Drudge Report — risked a backlash by emphasizing Obama’s use of church-pulpit African-American cadence. One top Democrat called that a “gift from our enemies.”
The video promoted by several conservative outlets was of then-Sen. Obama addressing a crowd at historically black Hampton University in Virginia in 2007. In it, Obama’s speaking style is markedly different as he spoke bluntly about race, Wright and the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
The Romney campaign said Tuesday that it played no role in distributing the video, which has shifted the focus of an important news cycle thanks to Drudge’s hypnotic command over much of the national media. And unlike after the last Drudge video leak – a 1998 clip of Obama saying he is for the redistribution of wealth that Drudge unearthed in September – Romney didn’t himself appear on Fox News to talk about the video.
Romney is seeking to draw a bright-line contrast with the president on tonight’s debate stage and the distracting, Drudge- and Hannity-promoted video doesn’t help that goal.
To that end, his team spent Wednesday touting the latest misstatement from Vice President Joe Biden, even selling $30 T-shirts with Biden’s face and his Tuesday quotation that the middle class “has been buried the last four years” over an all-caps “honest Joe” flag.