Barack Obama's prospects for a second term depend as much on plain old campaign blocking and tackling as on great speeches or sparkling debate performances. Here's what the President and his troops need to do to stave off defeat in the face of high unemployment, towering deficits and widespread unease:
1. Avoid getting sucked into spending time and money in states Obama will win even if Mitt Romney and his allies decide to invest heavily there. Examples: Michigan and Pennsylvania. The better-funded Republicans can play on a wider board this time around, thanks to Romney's fundraising prowess and super-PAC reinforcements. Obama doesn't have the luxury of flinging his funds wherever he likes.
2. Ride the wave of identity politics, now one of the strongest forces in presidential elections. Communicate nonstop with Hispanics on the Dream Act, women on reproductive freedom, young people on Pell Grants, African Americans on health care and upper-income, educated voters on a balanced approach to deficit reduction and social issues.
3. Warm up the armies of Democratic lawyers who have volunteered to fly to cities and states where new ballot-access and voter-ID laws might disenfranchise voters.
4. Voters might be tired of hearing it, but keep reminding them about Romney's ties to Bain Capital and his opposition to the auto-industry rescue. Those lines of attack have slowed the Republican's growth in the industrial Midwest--and, if successfully prosecuted, could checkmate Romney in must-win Ohio.
5. Regain the upper hand on Medicare. Republicans have eaten into the White House's advantage on health care for seniors by invoking Obamacare's shifting of funds away from the beloved program to pay for the President's new scheme. The Democrats have to design a campaign message and TV ads to reclaim the lost ground.
6. Suck it up and log the necessary hours to keep the campaign coffers filled. That includes spending quality time with the bundlers who do the real work of bringing in funds. Obama's advisers have seen an uptick in the willingness of financiers to write big checks and are cautiously optimistic that they can cut the gap to a survivable margin.
7. Send Bill Clinton out on the trail as often as his schedule allows, hoping he'll repeat his TV testimonials on Obama's behalf to as many live audiences as possible.
8. Continue to reap the benefits of meticulous planning. Some of the 2008 magic may be gone, but Team Obama has gained momentum with a greater daily presence on local television newscasts (one of the best ways to reach undecided voters) and on ethnic- and other niche-media outlets. Next up: critical last-minute voter registration, plus banking ballots through early, absentee and postal voting.
9. Pounce on extreme personal attacks by groups not directly controlled by the Romney campaign, pointing out any ties to Boston, and dominating the news cycle with irresistibly extravagant outrage (real or feigned).
10. Use the power of incumbency. The Administration is dropping all kinds of goodies on states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Expect more million-dollar transit pork projects to be announced as Election Day approaches.