Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Obama goes local to sell deficit message

President Obama takes his budget message on the road this week, with town hall meetings in Virginia, Nevada and California this week.

But first he's reaching out to voters in a set of likely 2012 swing states by again inviting local television reporters to the White House for "exclusive" interviews.

Obama was scheduled to sit down Monday afternoon with reporters from affiliates in Denver, Raleigh, Dallas and Indianapolis to discuss his plan to reduce the deficit, the White House said.

Already this year the president has fielded questions from a dozen other stations, many with reach into key electoral regions like southern Florida, suburban Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina. In February he sat down with outlets from the home media markets of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

The White House denies any electoral motive, but instead says it is doing these to maximize the president's message.

"It would make our jobs a lot easier if these were the days when, you know, a vast majority of the American audience tuned into Walter Cronkite at night and we could just talk to Uncle Walter and get our message out there," press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. "That's just not the case anymore, as you well know. And so we reach out in numerous ways, through national media interviews, through national White House press conferences, through regional media interviews, through Facebook town halls, which we're doing this week."

The strategy is hardly new to the Obama White House. When Bill Clinton's communications team employed the tactic, aides termed it "dialing for dummies" because of the softball questions that tended to be asked by sometimes awe-struck reporters not used to the trappings of power at the White House.

"You have to use every strategy to get your points across," said Towson University professor Martha Joynt Kumar, an expert in presidential communications who works in the White House press room. "You can't just say what you're thinking once and in one venue. You have to repeat it in many different ways and different places."

More than half of the interviews Clinton conducted in his first two years were with local television and radio outlets, Kumar said. Clinton enjoyed the format because it was an opportunity for him to also learn from people on the ground whether his programs were working.

The interviews are part of a broader focus by the White House communications shop on generating coverage in local more so than national media outlets. Case in point, a visit by the president in February to Marquette, Michigan. Though the national media focused that day on the White House response to the situation in Egypt, the local newspaper gave prominent billing to the president's remarks on expanded broadband access.

The Mining Journal's front page headline the day after his visit was "Winning the Future," precisely the slogan the White House has attached to his third-year agenda.

Even leading up to his interview Monday, the local television stations were heavily promoting the newscasts. KCNC-TV in Denver asked viewers to submit possible questions on its Facebook page. In a promo ad, Raleigh's WRAL-TV said it planned to ask the president about disaster relief following deadly tornados that struck this weekend.

The president will speak in Northern Virginia on Tuesday. On Wednesday he'll conduct a Facebook town hall meeting from the company's Palo Alto headquarters. On Thursday he'll wind up the message tour in Reno, Nevada.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Can Obama win over cleantech enthusiasts in the 2012 election?

Surprise! President Barack Obama is running for reelection in 2012, he announced today. But cleantech-minded voters will have to consider whether he can keep up with the aggressive clean technology expansion plans he laid out in his State of the Union address this year after a series of disasters and setbacks that have changed the playing field.

Obama called for an end to oil subsidies and set a national goal of reaching 80 percent clean energy by 2035 in his state of the union address in January. The president also called for plans to have more than 1 million electric vehicles on the road by the end of 2015. Those two plans alone are particularly aggressive — given that renewable energy sources like wind and solar power currently account for a small sliver of total energy production.

Obama will have to reconcile his aggressive clean energy plans with a chain of recent disasters that has altered the landscape of the clean energy field. There’s been a lot of talk about the dangers of nuclear power after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan and set off a chain of events leading to a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Wind power is also encountering some resistance due to a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality that has frustrated wind power companies to the point of halting production plans completely.

In his speech, the president focused on forms of “cleaner” energy like nuclear, natural gas and clean coal technologies. They aren’t exactly renewables like wind and solar panel but are typically considered to have less of an impact on the environment. Plans to promote nuclear power will likely run into a lot of resistance after the massive public backlash as a result of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

But natural gas surged lately, with oil companies making acquisitions and starting projects in the area. In a report last year, consulting and engineering firm Black & Veatch forecast natural gas would power 40 percent of the nation by 2035, while coal will fade from dominance. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits fewer emissions than coal when burned and is considered promising because the infrastructure already exists for it — although there are some concerns about its safety.

Industry watchers have remained largely bearish on the likelihood of significant national clean energy policy, which would stimulate investment and expansion within the country’s cleantech industry. However, the Department of Energy has a large loan guarantee program, which has supported wind and solar investments and recently awarded $405 million to three companies building biofuels refineries.