As campaign heats up, so does focus on ‘birthers’

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In December, shortly after taking office, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie told the Los Angeles Times that he hoped to use his new perch to take on the so-called “birther” movement, the belief that President Obama was not born in the state -- or, more to the point, the United States entirely.

But five months later it seems that the birther phenomenon is as widespread as it’s ever been, thanks in part to a new crop of lawmakers, a cable and internet media culture increasingly interested in spotlighting ideological extremes, and a bombastic real estate mogul who says he’s eyeing a White House run.

The renewed preoccupation with birtherism comes just as the 2012 presidential campaign becomes more engaged. Republican candidates are appealing to the party’s more conservative activists, who naturally tend to have the harshest views of the Democratic president.


Surveys suggest that these voters are more likely to express doubts about the Obama’s origins. A New York Times/CBS News survey shows that 57% of the registered voters contacted believed Obama was born in the United States. But among self-identified Republicans only a third believed that, while a plurality -- 45% -- believed he was born elsewhere.

Donald Trump has put speculation about Obama’s birthplace front and center in his media blitz dicussing his would-be candidacy. He says he’s sent a team of investigators to Hawaii trying to unearth Obama’s birth certificate, while calling the certification of live birth that his campaign offered in 2008 inadequate evidence.

Other potential candidates have been more circumspect about birther theories, though some have been willing to more clearly dismiss them than others. On ABC’s “Good Morning America” Friday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she had “no problem giving my birth certificate,” but ultimately called the issue settled.

Even before Trump’s recent crusade, a number of state legislatures across the country -- many with increased Republican membership -- had moved bills that would require presidential candidates to prove they meet Constitutional requirements before earning a spot on their state’s ballot.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee says 15 states have considered “birther bills” this year. Arizona was the first state in which one reached the governor’s desk. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it, calling it a distraction. But in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal said he would sign such a law in his state, saying it simply reinforces what the Constitution already calls for.

Even as Democrats have pushed back against such efforts, some are eager for their fights to remain in the public eye to paint the Republicans as extremist. And outlets like MSNBC, with its liberal prime time lineup, have included segment after segment of birther talk.


The Democratic Governors Association on Friday became the first prominent Democratic campaign arm to try and raise money on the subject.

“You and I know that birtherism is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the extreme, hard-right agenda supported by Republican governors across the country. Thank you so much for helping the DGA hold them accountable,” executive director Colm O’Comartun writes.

The White House has largely dismissed ongoing talk about the president’s birthplace, though Obama himself has poked fun at it in recent weeks. During a comedic turn at the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, the president summoned the organizers to play Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” in lieu of “Hail to the Chief.”

“Some things just bear repeating,” he joked.