'I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall,' Obama said.
President Barack Obama didn’t quite blame his ally Hillary Clinton for causing her stunning loss to Donald Trump last week — but he chided her for not focusing on reaching out to white, non-urban voters like he did in 2008 and 2012.
Obama — about to hand off the presidency to a man whom he declared temperamentally unfit to serve — pointedly declined to endorse Clinton’s own explanation for her defeat, instead suggesting that the former secretary of state’s failure to “show up everywhere,” not just the big diverse cities she targeted in her final campaign push, proved to be her downfall.
“How we organize politically I think is something that we should spend some time thinking about. I believe that we have better ideas, but I also believe that good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them,” Obama told reporters Monday ahead of a foreign trip to Greece, Germany and Peru. “And one of the issues the Democrats have to be clear on is, given population distribution across the country, we have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. We have to work at a grass-roots level, something that’s been a running thread in my career.”
Obama outperformed Clinton substantially in most suburbs and in critical swing areas in the Midwest, like Michigan’s Oakland and Macomb counties.
Of the nearly 700 counties that twice sent Obama to the White House, a stunning one-third flipped to support Trump, who also won 194 of the 207 counties that voted for Obama either in 2008 or 2012.
During a candid and bittersweet post-election news conference in the White House, Obama signaled to Democrats a need to emphasize a 50-state strategy, citing his success in Iowa as an outline of an effective campaign.
“You know, I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall, and there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points,” Obama said. “There are some counties maybe I won that people didn’t expect because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.”
The Democratic Party, which is looking to name a new chairman early next year ahead of the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election, must try to replicate that, added Obama, who described the party’s introspection as a “healthy thing” and advocated for “new voices and new ideas.”
“The challenge for a national party is how do you dig in there and create those kinds of structures so that people have a sense of what it is that you stand for,” Obama said, stressing the difficulty of doing so with just a national press strategy. “It’s increasingly difficult to do because of the splintering of the press. And so I think the discussions that have been taking place about how do you build more grass-roots organizing, how do you build up state parties and local parties and school board elections you’re paying attention to and state rep races and city council races, that all, I think, will contribute to stronger outcomes in the future. And I’m optimistic that will happen.”
The president conveyed that optimism by recalling how Democrats rebounded from a dismal showing in 2004, when John Kerry lost his White House bid and Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle lost reelection.
“Things change pretty rapidly, but they don’t change inevitably,” Obama said. “They change because you work for it. Nobody said democracy’s supposed to be easy. It’s hard. And in a big country like this, it probably should be hard.”
In 2004, Obama and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar “were the only two Democrats that won nationally,” he continued. “Republicans controlled the Senate and the House. And two years later, Democrats were winning back Congress. And four years later, I was president of the United States.”
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