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Obama Campaign Doubles Down on the Dog

Two weeks ago, I wondered whether the “Dog War” between the Obama and Romney campaigns was over. Once the story about the president eating dog meat as a boy came out, I thought that had to be the end of the endless columns by liberal pundits resurrecting the story of the Republican nominee’s dog Seamus riding to Canada on the roof of the family car. And when that was followed by the story about Romney saving a drowning dog (and a family of six, but apparently most Americans are just interested in the dog), I was sure that Democrats would decide to simply let the pet angle go and concentrate on more substantive criticisms of the GOP candidate. But I was wrong. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the Obama campaign is apparently committed to the idea that there is a canine path to victory. According to the Post, the president is using the family dog Bo to front an Internet fundraising appeal pitched to pet lovers:

One Internet ad starts with a two-toned blue background, like dozens of other pro-Obama spots. Then the furry star pops into the frame, tongue out and ready to frolic. “Join Pet Lovers for Obama,” the ad implores.

The unlikely pitchman is Bo, the White House family pet, who may well be the first “first dog” to emerge as a central player in a presidential reelection campaign.

So while President Obama got some laughs at the White House Correspondents Dinner joking that “My stepfather always told me, ‘It’s a boy-eat-dog world out there,’” his strategists really still seem to think the dog issue works for him.

Bo is one of a long line of famous presidential pets. But though these dogs, cats and other critters (Theodore Roosevelt’s large young family had a veritable menagerie) have gotten a lot of attention from the press and in one case — Franklin Roosevelt’s dog Fala —a mention in a famous campaign speech, none were ever the focus of fundraising appeals.

As the Post explains, it’s all part of a crafty marketing plan that employs micro-targeting tactics that hone in on very specific demographic slices of the electorate. That means the president’s Portuguese water dog is fronting for not only fundraising efforts aimed at liberal dog owners but is also the face of a merchandising line that will sell Bo stuff like dog sweaters to Democratic consumers.

Viewed in isolation, it all seems harmless enough. If those who idolize the president are so besotted with him that they feel the need to purchase merchandise featuring his dog, so be it. But there are two problems with the amount of effort the Obama re-election team has devoted to this tactic.

First, there is the danger, articulated by at least one strategist quoted in the Post article, that the Obama campaign is so caught up in the details of its various clever strategems that they lose sight of the big picture. Even if one buys into the concept that there is a rationale for specifically organizing pet lovers to vote for Obama, and count me among the skeptics on this point, at best, there is an extremely marginal audience probably not worth the expenditure of valuable resources even for a campaign as loaded with loose cash as that of the president.

Second, one can’t help but feel that the decision to feature Bo was motivated by the belief that Romney was actually vulnerable to charges of pet cruelty and that it was to the president’s political advantage to put his own family dog in the spotlight. Apparently, his staff took all those columns written by Gail Collins about the sufferings of Seamus a little too much to heart. In this case, life in the liberal echo chamber has consequences and has led to a misguided decision to try to make hay out of an issue that has no traction for the president.

None of this will decide the election, but if I were Bo, I’d be worried. Contrary to all those jokes on Twitter, I don’t think he’s in any danger of being eaten by his owner. But pets that are kept principally for their political appeal are likely to be cruelly discarded when they no longer serve that purpose. Socks the cat was a major figure in the Clinton White House though not part of the 42nd president’s re-election campaign (and to his credit he also didn’t figure in any of Clinton’s personal scandals). However, when the Clintons left the White House they dumped Socks, giving him away to a secretary. But better that than ending up as an Indonesian snack.