President Obama tailors outreach for select groups

President Obama speaks Monday at a fundraiser in Stamford, Conn. He has refined his message to reach narrow groups of voters, such as young or suburban women.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — President Obama will reach out to suburban women in the Denver area Wednesday with a message about access to contraceptives — delivered at his rally by Sandra Fluke, a women’s rights activist known for her run-in with Rush Limbaugh over the issue this year.

Last week, mothers of young children heard Obama’s case for reelection when he did a live chat with blogging moms, telling his story of being raised by a single mother and saying: “You, women, should have control over the decisions that affect your health, your lives, your careers.”

All summer, young and suburban women in swing states have been getting messages from the Obama campaign that aim to highlight Republican positions on reproductive issues.

“Take a look at this new map to see how Mitt Romney and his friends are attacking women’s rights from Arizona to New Hampshire — then share it with anyone you know who’s still sorting out which candidate has our back,” said a recent email from Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager.

Many people tune out politics during the long days of late summer, but the Obama campaign hopes to overcome the August malaise by engaging key demographic groups with carefully targeted outreach. Young and suburban women are one target. Others include Latino, gay and African American voters.

The campaign is trying to draw these potentially pivotal voters into a conversation to convert a tenuous connection into a deeper commitment this fall. “Some of that narrowcasting is huge,” said an advisor, who asked not to be identified to discuss the campaign’s internal strategy.

Tailoring a message for specific subsets of voters is hardly new to this campaign. What’s unique to 2012 is the opportunities that technology affords to reach such groups more effectively.

In April, when an unaffiliated Democratic consultant said on a cable program that Ann Romney was ill-equipped to discuss the economy because she had “never worked a day in her life,” Romney’s campaign created a “Moms for Mitt” Facebook page that collected about 53,000 “likes” in a day.

“Suddenly you’ve built a 50,000-person coalition in 24 hours that has tangible long-term benefits that we’ll use through the rest of the election that no one would have thought about four years ago,” said Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director.

On the Obama side, the campaign is trying to exploit its existing advantage among women — particularly single women and suburban moms — as well as minority voters. “Moms for Mitt” now has more than 87,000 followers, but the “Women for Obama” Facebook page has more than 773,000.

Whether aimed at subsets of women or some other demographic, narrow targeting works best when it’s not glaringly obvious outside the intended audience. When Obama speaks in Denver, his remarks won’t veer far from his usual speech, but, spokeswoman Jen Psaki says, “He is looking forward to talking about his commitment to protecting women’s access to affordable healthcare.”

The target audience will be primed to notice Obama’s message because a raft of emails and advertising have been directed its way in recent days and weeks. In one television spot, a woman declares that “it’s a scary time to be a woman” because Romney is “just so out of touch.”

Underscoring that message will be the guest scheduled to introduce Obama. Fluke rose to feminist stardom this year after Limbaugh ridiculed her for her public campaign in favor of Obama’s rule to require all employers to provide contraceptive coverage for female employees. Fluke, who graduated from Georgetown Law School this spring, said she volunteered to help the Obama campaign in its outreach.

In Florida, another key battleground state, the Obama campaign is targeting the growing Puerto Rican population. In Orlando for a rally last week, he fit in a meet-and-greet with prominent Puerto Rican leaders, as well as a quick lunch at a Puerto Rican restaurant.

All over the country, the president and his surrogates are doing radio interviews with black and Latino hosts. Obama recently presented scholarships to students at the Latino version of the Kids’ Choice Awards, and appears on the cover of the latest issue of Black Enterprise.

For Team Obama, some of the more tailored efforts are a source of enthusiasm and cash.

Among the current bestsellers in the campaign’s online store are a $10 “I Bark for Barack” magnet, featuring Bo, the first dog, and a $30 “Obama Dog Tee.” Because the merchandise is produced by the campaign, every purchase is listed as a donation.

The president’s campaign website features 18 different groups for Obama, including women and Latinos as well as environmentalists and rural Americans. Romney’s website offers half as many, with offerings like lawyers, Catholics and Polish Americans for Romney.

The heavy focus on narrowcasting in the run-up to the nominating convention also has a more conventional feel. On the same day Obama spoke via video feed to mothers at the BlogHer convention, he phoned in for the jock vote on an Ohio all-sports talk radio show, asking the hosts about Buckeyes football.

“A couple years without a bowl is not going to crush their team,” he offered. “You’ll still be able to get great recruits.”