Barack Obama

Out of fizz

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2012, 12:00am


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US political operatives have a favourite old saw to describe the challenges of a re-election campaign: You can't catch lightning in a bottle twice. The message seems particularly potent as the campaign machine of US President Barack Obama starts cranking into life once again. It tells us that, if there was a touch of political magic about his enthralling and historic victory in 2008, Obama and his team can never hope to capture that same mood. The thrill is gone, if not exactly for the candidate, then at least for some of his downturn-weary supporters.

The phrase is a reminder that new approaches are constantly needed. Whether the Obama team have it in them to bring innovation to the fight will become increasingly clear in the coming weeks and months.

The thrill is certainly gone, for example, from his once-envied online operation. Back in 2008, his team's slick use of e-mail to raise funds, while engaging and energising his many young supporters, won admiration across the political spectrum. It was just one aspect of Obama's campaign credited with rewriting the political science textbooks.

Yet, four years on, exactly the same e-mails - and that is just what they read like - seem flat, and, at times, more than a little desperate. By virtue of registering for a foreign press pass at an Obama rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina in that dramatic autumn of 2008, I've been receiving them with mind-numbing regularity since then. They're not press releases, but written for supporters - updates of speeches, policies and appearances - and naked appeals for cash and offers of merchandise.

In 2008, they served to build a sense of drama and momentum as the historic nature of Obama's charge pulled in support and funds, built around a series of campaign planning 'deadlines'. With liberal use of the first name, they come from campaign bosses as well as Obama and first lady Michelle Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden.

One just before Christmas was typical. 'Greg - If you win a seat at the next dinner with three other supporters and me, you'll get to bring a guest. I thought I'd bring one, too - so I invited Michelle. She's in.' Then, underlined in hyperlink, is the key: 'Donate $3 or whatever you can to be automatically entered to sit down for a meal with Michelle and me.' Then come a series of 'incredibly grateful' platitudes and, finally, 'Thanks, Barack'.

Interestingly, there has been a flood over the weekend - a sure sign that things are hotting up even though there's 11 months to go.

A personal favourite is a recent one from 'Joe', fittingly dripping with syrup from a politician unafraid to well up on the stump. 'This has never been about Barack and me,' the former senator from Delaware writes. 'We're just two guys. It's folks like you out there who will decide this election. And what you are capable of is incredible - if you decide to do it.' By 'do it', he means donate.

Just two guys, indeed. Two guys who are now entering a fight for presidential survival. Should they win in November - and given Republican disarray, they may find themselves front runners - it is tempting to think that it will be despite, not because of, their cloying abuse of e-mail.

Greg Torode is the Post's chief Asia correspondent.