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Behind Obama’s O’Reilly-Olbermann Strategy

DAYTON, Ohio — Sen. Barack Obama is speaking exclusively to small crowds on his current tour through the Midwest, but during most nights this week, his audience spikes to over a million. That’s because, since the conventions, Obama’s communications model is Town Hall by day, Guest Star by night.

Obama has a major TV booking most nights this week.

On Monday, he did Keith Olbermann‘s popular MSNBC program, “Countdown.” On Wednesday, he’ll chat with David Letterman. For the second straight week, Obama is also a recurring face on Bill O’Reilly’s program. “The Factor” host keeps parceling out clips of their Republican National Convention interview.

Some Democrats criticized the Fox gambit, since it boosts O’Reilly and may do nothing for Obama, given that the audience is primarily made up of Republican senior citizens.Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/picture-14-300x211.png As “O Force One” flew over Michigan on Monday, I raised that idea with Robert Gibbs, Obama’s communications strategist. He emphasized that, regardless of the media outlet, the goal is simply to get Obama’s message out during this critical phase of the campaign.

Jen Psaki, a traveling spokesperson for the senator, added that the media outreach complimented Obama’s political orientation. “This campaign has never been about speaking to just one wing of the party. We have visited parts of the country where Democrats have never been, and we are competing in parts of the country where Democrats have never competed,” she said. “Speaking to an audience that isn’t necessarily our base is par for the course — and part of the reason why Republicans and independents are taking a close look at Barack Obama,” Psaki added.

This outreach makes sense. Maybe Obama can pick off a few stray Republicans.

At a minimum, he might get more street cred with independents beyond O’Reilly’s base, if they think he proved his mettle under pressure. The hidden cost, however, is empowering O’Reilly to frame the debate.

I was reminded of that problem today during Obama’s press conference. The first question pressed Obama on his favorable remarks about the surge, from one of his feisty exchanges with O’Reilly. The real challenge, apparently, is winning over O’Reilly’s viewers* without *sounding like their hero.

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