The White House has quietly launched an effort to confront the political backlash along the Gulf Coast over its handling of the BP oil spill – giving special attention to Florida, the only state in the region President Barack Obama won in 2008 and one he will need again when he runs for re-election in 2012.It would be tough for Obama to win reelection without Florida. And Floridians haven't been impressed with the administration efforts there.
The White House dispatched political and communications aides to the Gulf Coast states on July 12, with Alabama and Mississippi each receiving one, sources familiar with the effort said. Some aides went to Louisiana. Florida received four....
The administration aides in Florida function similarly to a campaign. They do rapid response and media coordination, and they report back to senior aides in the West Wing in nearly real time about what they’re hearing on the ground.
The effort came about after the White House grew concerned over political damage from not having a permanent presence in the Gulf Coast states. Obama’s top advisers summoned a small group of young, former campaign staffers working in the administration to the White House for a meeting, said a source with knowledge of the meeting. No one mentioned 2012 specifically, but it was clear the administration’s approach to the oil spill had the potential to hurt the president’s re-election campaign, and the issue required more hands-on attention.
“Someone recognized that all we were doing was playing defense,” an administration official said. The aides were sent to the Gulf Coast five days later.
And within Florida, the Tampa Bay area on the west end of the I-4 corridor is key for Obama. Yet it is here where anxious residents, small business owners and elected officials languished for months without answers from the administration about what to expect and how to prepare for oil to wash ashore. Oil never arrived – and by most predictions never will – but the damage was done.So isn't it nice that the taxpayers can pay for his political groups to go down there. They're not down there to help fight the spill, but to help fight the perception that Obama doesn't care about Floridians.
Now the region’s economies are suffering under the perception that there’s oil on their shores, crippling the tourism and fishing industries. BP recently opened an office in the area, and in Miami, but White House officials have yet to make an appearance. It’s created a palpable sense of disenchantment with a president many people here worked hard to get elected.
“The Obama campaign was brilliant at connecting with people emotionally, and what I’m seeing and feeling on the ground as I talk to people in Sarasota is that is not happening,” said state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a Democrat who organized for the Obama campaign and introduced him at a rally in Sarasota two days before the election.
“And so they have some catching up to do,” Fitzgerald added. “He can’t lose those votes.”
The White House team in Florida includes Jon Wright, the Obama campaign’s deputy political director in northwest Florida who works in legislative affairs for the Commerce Department; Tom Reynolds, the campaign’s deputy communications director in Ohio and now the deputy director of public affairs at the Energy Department; Rohan Patel, the campaign’s Indiana political director who is a senior adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; and Kevin Lewis, a White House press assistant who also worked on the campaign.
And note that, after criticism of the First Family vacationing in Maine and not the Gulf, they planned an additional vacation on the Gulf. And which state did they choose? Florida, of course.