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Opinion: Columnists

Conn Carroll: Pop-star president's power already dissipating

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Opinion,Conn Carroll,Columnists,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest,Barack Obama

"The organization doesn't exist without belief in the candidate," White House senior adviser David Plouffe told Politico after November's election. "They turned out for Barack Obama. It was all because of him."

"All because of him." That comment may sting the hundreds of Democratic candidates who spent countless hours working on their own campaigns, but it is also probably true. Obama is a fantastically popular political figure whose personal connection with voters led to record turnout among many demographics.

But Obama's appeal probably will not last much beyond 2016, if it even lasts that long. But you need not take my word for it -- nor even Plouffe's. Ask Obama's own 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina. When pressed by Politico to explain why Obama's re-election campaign was reluctant to share its now-mythical voter database with other Democrats, Messina said: "You know, this organization was built for people who supported this president ... those people were involved because of the issues and positions the president took, and ... you can't just hand it to the next candidate. They have to have their own relationship with voters. ... Look, we learned from our shellacking we took in 2010: Too many Democrats thought they could put Barack Obama's picture on a piece of literature and his supporters would turn out magically for them. It doesn't work like that."

Indeed, it doesn't. Just look at Virginia's Prince William County, which went for Obama by identical 16-point margins (58 percent to 42 percent) in both 2008 and 2012. In 2009, with no Obama on the ballot, the county broke for Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell by 18 points (59 percent to 41 percent). And then in 2010, federal Republican candidates again beat their Democratic counterparts 52 percent to 46 percent.

Obama may have turned Virginia's Washington suburbs blue, but only when his name was on the ballot. Without him, far fewer Democrats bother showing up to the polls. Other Democratic candidates do not connect with voters the way Obama does.

And the voters who do turn out to vote for Obama don't seem all that interested in staying politically active after Election Day either. After Obama was elected in 2008, there were tons of stories speculating about how he would use his then-unprecedented 13 million-name campaign email list.

Obama did eventually form "Organizing for America," but that group proved to be a grassroots lobbying dud. "If there's one thing we've learned over the past four years, it's that his list is very effective when it comes to voter turnout, but a complete dud when it comes to firing up the masses on policy debates," one Republican official told Politico.

You're not gonna see Katy Perry, for example, don a skin-tight rubber dress and walk the halls of Congress pushing for yet another extension of unemployment insurance.

After this November's election, Obama once again promised not to let his grassroots campaign organization fade away, but history is already repeating itself. Obama desperately wants a "grand bargain" on spending and taxes before his second inauguration next month. Such a deal would establish his moderate credentials, solidify his past domestic accomplishments (most notably Obamacare) and wipe the slate clean so he can pursue a broader second-term agenda.

But so far, Obama's vaunted 2012 campaign infrastructure has been used only once. Messina sent just a single email out to supporters, in November, asking them to share Obama's "fiscal cliff" solutions with their families. That is it. Nothing since. No wonder Republicans feel free to oppose Obama's priorities.

Unless Obama figures out a way to turn his Facebook likes into House GOP votes, he will fast become a very lame duck indeed.

Conn Carroll (ccarroll@washington examiner.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.

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