Washington Matters


True Blue Stimulus Politics


Billions of dollars in economic stimulus money is starting to be doled out by the administration, and every state will get a fair share, but the publicity surrounding the money seems to have a decided political edge, with much of it aimed at aimed at the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Passage of the $787 billion stimulus plan was hailed by the administration as a vital step for economic recovery and is considered President Obama's first major legislative success early in his first 100 days, and one made possible with a measure of critical, albeit very limited, Republican support.

Now, just as the money pipeline is opening, it seems the administration is selling the fruits of the stimulus in a strategic publicity campaign aimed nearly exclusively at states Obama won in 2008 against GOP presidential nominee John McCain or that he narrowly lost.

Research and reporting by Politico reveals that since its passage, President Obama, Vice President Biden and some of his most senior cabinet members have held 66 public events across the country to celebrate (take credit, in political parlance) stimulus funds helping local regions.

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Of the 66 events, which are carefully orchestrated for local media attention, with governors and mayors on stage and such, 52 were reported to be in states that supported Obama in the election, and many of them narrowly. Among the remaining were states he narrowly lost, with only a couple events in states that are Republican strongholds, even though hundreds of important public projects are being funded in Republican leaning states.

Some of these events were on trips coinciding with other official events. There's always a debate about whether a presidential or cabinet level trip is inherently political, which is improper when taxpayers are paying, or part of an official's government duty. Certainly other presidents and their top staff have made trips while in office that were arguably on official business, and with a fundraiser or overtly political event included somewhere.

There's a little head scratching on this stimulus roll out, though. Consider that Obama has made public appearances to announce specific state stimulus funding in Nevada, Indiana and Colorado (narrow wins) and California, New York (easy and big Democratic states). Vice President Biden has been doing the same in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia (also fairly narrow wins) and Arizona (which voted for McCain, but may be in play next time) and Michigan, which voted for Obama but which may also be in play in 2012, given the unemployment and regional economic/auto troubles.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered a large TV camera-ready-oversized check in Virginia. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Labor Secretary Linda Solis and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson have been on hand to tout local stimulus funds in some of the same states. Each visit, whether from Obama or Chu, generates positive local media coverage.

Though they get their share of funds quietly, southern states, where Republicans enjoy solid support, have been nearly avoided in the publicity roll out, according to the Politico staff research, save Georgia and Kentucky. At one point in the 2008 race, Georgia was considered very much in play. Kentucky was not, though its Senate race in 2010 will be very much in play.

The ultimate economic benefits of the stimulus will be debated for years yet, and most of the job-creation money has yet to be even allocated or spent, although it is beginning to move. 

I'm sure we'll see many more of these credit-grabbing publicity stops by the president and senior administration officials to states that will factor highly in coming elections. They have every right to make their case where they want. It just seems so early to frame the stimulus as part of the upcoming elections rather than as contributing to broad national economic recovery everywhere, the safe-Republican south included.

 




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