Obama plays to half-empty house for grassroots fundraiser

Barack Obama has had some success already in raising money for his 2012 re-election bid, at least when it comes to big-ticket donors and high-value fundraisers.  Yesterday, Obama tried his hand at harnessing the kind of grassroots passion that helped elevate him past Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries and roll to a historic victory over John McCain, becoming the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to win a majority of the popular vote in victory.  As Politico notes, Obama was decidedly less successful with the mainstream than with the elite Democratic donors he’s been wooing lately:

A low-dollar fundraiser here Monday felt like a throwback to the 2008 campaign. … The one missing element? Overflowing crowds.

Granted, it was a fundraiser, not a free rally. But the empty seats were hard to miss.

The top level of the 2,200-seat concert hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts was entirely empty, as were the seats along the side of the second and third levels.

“The expectation was 900,” a Democratic official said, and more than 980 tickets were sold.

The unnamed Democratic official is grasping for spin in this case.  No one in politics would book a 2200-seat venue if they only expected 900 people to show, especially not for a Presidential appearance.  Campaigns want standing-room only crowds and wall-to-wall people for optics that reinforce the notion that the candidate remains wildly popular.  Had they expected 900 attendees (at $44 each to remind voters that Obama is the 44th President), they could have found a venue in Miami or its environs that would have properly framed that kind of attendance for the media.

For instance, a quick search turns up the New World Symphony center’s Performance Hall, which seats 756 people for banquets.  That would probably fit the remaining 140 or so people in theater seating formation.  South Beach has The Clevelander, which has a reception capacity of 1000 people.  The Awarehouse might be a little avant garde, but it still can get 800 people in for a reception, which would have cost $4400 in receipts but a lot less embarrassment.

The lack of enthusiasm seems especially revealing, coming as it does in Miami-Dade County.  Obama won this county handily in 2008 while taking Florida from the Republicans.  He beat McCain by 16 points in Miami-Dade, 58/42, with a margin of over 139,000 votes.  That was his largest margin among any of Florida’s counties, and yet now he can’t even fill a 2200-seat venue halfway after two and a half years as President.  That’s a clear signal that Obama won’t get anywhere near the kind of enthusiasm he inspired in 2008, and without that, he’s very vulnerable indeed.

Update: Actually, as noted in the comments by TimTebowSavesAmerica, I’m incorrect on one point. Broward actually had a wider margin of victory by vote totals for Obama, by over 243,000.