Team Obama – All Growed Up
I wrote in these pages a few months ago about how Democrats needed to learn lessons from Republicans when it came to fighting elections. As a front seat observer to this year’s presidential race – I am currently working in the battleground state of Ohio – it seemed appropriate to offer a follow up.
The quick conclusion: the lesson has been learned. Unlike many of his predecessors – Mondale, Dukkakis, Gore, Kerry, and so on – Obama and his team are playing tough and are playing dirty. Quite simply, they are taking Romney’s greatest perceived strength and turning it into a potentially devastating weakness.
Romney’s main claim to the White House is that he has been a successful businessman and, because of this, he is far more knowledgeable about what it takes to create jobs. Obama, by contrast, a well-documented socialist with no business experience, cannot possibly know what it takes to grow an economy. Romney’s team want to focus relentlessly on just how bad the economy is and then present himself as the guy who can fix it. It really is that simple.
If you don’t believe me, look at Romney’s response to any social issue. When Obama announced support for gay marriage, Romney briefly reaffirmed his position and went back to talking about the economy. When Obama ruled by executive decree that children of illegal immigrants would not actively be pursued for deportation, providing they met certain requirements, Romney refused to talk about it, and got back to talking about economy. This is the only possible way he’s going to be able to steal the White House keys.
The problem now for Mr Romney, is that his job-creating credentials are being brought into question. Obama for America, and the Super-PAC supporting him, Priorities USA, have been relentlessly pursuing his tenure at Bain Capital, the company where he made his millions. Ads have flooded the airwaves with desolate factories and ‘real workers’ telling how the Big Bad, Out-of-Touch Mr Romney came to town, sent their jobs overseas and made millions in the process.
The media – or ‘the liberal elite,’ as Sarah Palin calls them – have been looking into Romney’s past too. The Washington Post wrote a story claiming that Romney was a pioneer of outsourcing whilst at Bain, a phrase that was quickly injected into a number of Obama spots. The Boston Globe joined the party as well, highlighting evidence that shows Romney left Bain three years later than he had previously claimed.
A narrative is starting to set in that depicts the Republican candidate as a secretive and selfish businessman who holds the interests of the rich close to his heart. Indeed, 58% of voters in swing states believe that, as a businessman, Romney’s priority was to make millions for his investors and himself, without a care for the ordinary jobs. 37% are less likely to vote for him because of his tenure at Bain, with only 27% being more likely to do so and, most troubling for the Republican, President Obama is seen by 50% to be more likely to fight for the middle-class, compared with just 31% for Romney.
In recent days, Romney’s campaign has tried to hit back, saying that Obama has been dishing out taxpayer dollars to his friends, and that, more generally, these ‘attacks on success’ have crossed a line. It hasn’t been a very potent form of counter-attack for quite obvious reasons. Firstly, the idea that Obama and the Democrats are the party gifting millions of dollars to their donors is patent hypocrisy from a party whose central fundraising pitch is: ‘If you give us a few million now, when we’re in office, we’ll make sure you make it all back in tax-breaks.’ And secondly, if a line has been crossed, it was crossed some years ago and probably by the Republican Party. That is an aside however, as this particular charge was shot down in characteristically sharp style when Rahm Emmanuel – former White House Chief of Staff, now Mayor of Chicago – told the GOP candidate to ‘stop whining.’
As Republicans did to John Kerry in 2004, Team Obama is going making sure they define Romney on their terms before Romney has a chance to do it himself. Behind the scenes, and increasingly in the open, Republicans are starting to fret, worried that Romney’s campaign is blowing an historic opportunity to seize the White House from a relatively weak incumbent caught in an anaemic recovery.
It is thus a testament to how far Democrats have come in the campaigning game that they look set, although by the slimmest of margins, to cling on to the Presidency this November.