Looking for a big-name speaker?
Now may be the time to send President Obama an invitation, especially if your group represents a key political constituency.
Mr. Obama has been making the rounds of Washington’s awards dinners and black-tie galas this fall, donning a tuxedo or dark suit and heading to ballrooms across the nation’s capital to speak to organizations representing blacks, Hispanics, Jews, women and gays. Over the weekend, he added Italian-Americans to that list.
With the 2012 campaign picking up steam and Mr. Obama struggling to recapture the enthusiasm of 2008, the president’s role as headline speaker has plenty of political undertones. He needs the well-connected, politically active leaders of these groups to help him motivate their members, raise money for his re-election and get people to show up to vote in next year’s election.
And the president’s remarks give him a chance to address specific criticism from some supporters, and tout lesser-known administration actions that target their needs.
Since September, Mr. Obama has been the featured speaker at dinners for the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a forum on American Latino Heritage, and the annual gala for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group. The president spoke Saturday night at a black-tie dinner for the National Italian American Foundation, and will speak in early November at an awards dinner for the National Women’s Law Center. The Union for Reform Judaism says Mr. Obama will speak at its December conference.
Mr. Obama is following the path of many of his predecessors, who also tried to curry favor with influential Washington-based organizations, particularly those with similar political leanings.
The president has also sent out his own invitations, bringing influential constituencies to the White House for Tribal Nations conferences, for Passover Seders, for Muslim iftars.
White House officials won’t say exactly how aides decide which events the president attends. But it’s little surprise that Mr. Obama rarely finds himself in front of anything less than a supportive audience.
The president often shows up just before he’s scheduled to speak, and rarely stays for dinner. His speeches, sometimes delivered before a crowd of thousands, pull from his day-to-day messages on the economy and jobs, but are typically tailored to his audience.
During a fiery speech this month at the annual gala for the Human Rights Campaign, Mr. Obama heralded his role in ending the military’s ban on openly gay service members and his administration’s decision to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
He also used the opportunity to jab Republican presidential candidates for failing to stand up for a gay service member whom a GOP debate audience booed when he asked a question about “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient,” Mr. Obama said.
Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, said Mr. Obama would be better served spending more time working with Congress to bring down the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate than in trying to boost his political base.