White House sends 2012 rescue team to Florida

By CAROL E. LEE, Politico

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The White House has quietly launched an effort to confront the political backlash along the Gulf Coast over its handling of the BP oil spill – giving special attention to Florida, the only state in the region President Barack Obama won in 2008 and one he will need again when he runs for re-election in 2012.

The White House dispatched political and communications aides to the Gulf Coast states on July 12, with Alabama and Mississippi each receiving one, sources familiar with the effort said. Some aides went to Louisiana. Florida received four.

The battleground state will be a heavy lift. In interviews along the coast, Florida Democrats accused the administration of largely ignoring their calls and letters, and complained of a White House that’s out of touch.

Alex Sink, Florida’s chief financial officer and presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, even characterized Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the state as “a screw-up,” saying she was “embarrassed” by his speech.

“It was just so off-target and out of touch with the reality of what’s going on over there,” Sink said in an interview at the Florida Democratic Party headquarters in Tallahassee.

It’s the type of criticism the White House wants to avoid. The administration aides in Florida function similarly to a campaign. They do rapid response and media coordination, and they report back to senior aides in the West Wing in nearly real time about what they’re hearing on the ground.

The effort came about after the White House grew concerned over political damage from not having a permanent presence in the Gulf Coast states. Obama’s top advisers summoned a small group of young, former campaign staffers working in the administration to the White House for a meeting, said a source with knowledge of the meeting. No one mentioned 2012 specifically, but it was clear the administration’s approach to the oil spill had the potential to hurt the president’s re-election campaign, and the issue required more hands-on attention.

“Someone recognized that all we were doing was playing defense,” an administration official said. The aides were sent to the Gulf Coast five days later.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0710/40184.html#ixzz0ui7oB9SG

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