Throughout this campaign, Obama has frequently invoked Bush’s economic policies to argue that a Romney presidency would take us back to an approach that landed us in the mess we’re still digging our way out of four years later. That’s had mixed results, given that polls still show Obama and Romney tied on the economy — or a Romney edge.
But it may be a lot tougher for Romney to escape Bush’s shadow tonight, when the debate turns to foreign policy. That’s because Romney’s business background gives him a way to present himself as an alternative to Obama and Bush on the economy. When it comes to foreign policy, Romney will be harder pressed to present himself as an alternative to both presidents.
Indeed, in tonight’s debate, Obama’s message will be simple:
1) We got Osama Bin Laden
2) We’re ending Bush’s wars
3) Mitt Romney’s got nothing but more Bush bluster
The pairing of those first two points may prove powerful, since it combines a major national security success with the ending of an unpopular war. Romney, meanwhile, will make the case that Obama is a weak and ineffective leader who has damaged America’s standing in the world. He’ll point to the Libya attacks, and he’ll argue that he will be tougher than Obama has been in preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, to bolster that argument.
The right remains fully convinced that the events in Libya are just the club Romney needs to shatter Obama’s glass jaw on foreign policy. There are certainly legitimate outstanding questions to be answered about the administration’s shifting explanations for the attacks, and more broadly about what the attacks say about Obama’s policies in the region. And polls suggest Romney has gained a good deal of ground in foreign policy as the race has tightened.
But Romney has already damaged his own case on Libya with several unforced errors. Obama will invoke Romney’s quick-draw release of that statement accusing him of sympathizing with the attackers to suggest that he lacks the temperament, judgment and prudence to handle complicated foreign policy matters. Romney blew his big Libya moment at the last debate when he falsely claimed Obama waited two weeks to call the attack a terrorist act — again reinforcing the notion that he’s trying to exploit the killings for political gain. What’s more, a major argument was taken away from Romney when the Post reported that CIA talking points confirmed U.N. ambassador Susan Rice’s early version of what happened, which had been central to the right’s case against Obama’s handling of the events.
The question remains whether Romney’s case against Obama on Libya and on Iran — where Romney has been hard pressed to explain what he’d do differently from the Obama administration — will be enough to offset the twin arguments Obama can make about Iraq and Bin Laden. Romney’s criticism of Obama for ending the Iraq War and winding down Afghanistan will make it easier for Obama to link Romney to Bush. And Romney’s push for more defense spending will give Obama still more fodder for this case: Voters may well remember that Bush’s foreign policy adventurism helped blow up the deficit.
More broadly, let’s hope this debate isn’t just about these matters. I’d like to see it also focus on torture, drones, Guantanamo, the proper way to try terror suspects, and other topics that risk getting drowned out by Libya and Bush’s wars.
* Obama camp ratchets up foreign policy attack: Here’s the new ad the Obama campaign debuted this morning, hitting Romney on foreign policy. Note that it doesn’t mention Bin Laden, but does talk about money wasted on war:
* Obama still ahead in Ohio: A new CBS News/Quinnipiac poll shows Obama holding a lead in Ohio, 50-45. That’s down from the 10 point lead Obama had in September, but that’s consistent with the national tightening we’ve seen, and if this poll is accurate, Obama may still have enough of a buffer in Ohio to withstand that tightening. Watch the averages: Real Clear Politics has Obama up by 2.1 there.
As I’ve been saying, one thing to watch for particularly in Ohio, where Romney’s pedigree and profile may prove a bad fit, is whether Romney has solved his “47 percent problem.” The CBS poll finds only 37 percent of Ohio voters think Romney cares about their needs and problems, and Obama leads on the middle class, 54-41.
* Obama leads in Ohio early voting: Another key finding from the Ohio poll:
One in five Ohio likely voters in this poll say they have already cast their ballot, and the president leads Romney among this group 54 to 39 percent. Among likely voters who have yet to cast their ballot, the race is much closer: the president leads 49 to 47 percent.
Keep in mind: The more early votes in Obama’s favor that are banked, the more campaign resources are freed up to go out and persuade other undecided voters.
* Obama leads in Michigan and Pennsylvania: For all the talk of Romney putting those states in play, new polls find Obama up 52-43 in the former and 50-45 in the latter. The five point lead in Pennsylvania may seem a bit close, but the Romney camp is still not spending money in the state, which is a key tell.
* Republicans hit Obama in Pennsylvania: However, the conservative group YG Network is advertising in Pennsylvania: It’s up with a new ad that hits Obama over his 2008 “guns and religion” remarks, a sign that the tightening polls are encouraging some Republicans to give the state another look.
* National poll shows Romney leading: A new Politico poll shows Romney taking a small national lead, 49-47. That’s a three point swing from Obama’s 49-48 lead a week earlier, though both remain within the margin of error. Romney has gained an advantage on the economy, 51-45, and the gender gap has dwindled to six points.
Meanwhile, Public Policy Polling’s tracking finds the race deadlocked at 48-48. Again, focus mainly on the polling averages: Real Clear Politics, Pollster.com, and TPM all show a dead heat. Polls like this one from Politico and yesterday’s from NBC are consistent with that.
* Obama allies hit Romney on Libya: With the debate looming tonight, the Obama-allied American Bridge is releasing a new video this morning that hits Romney for attacking Obama as allegedly “sympathizing” with the Embassy attacks.
* And a well done endorsement of Obama: The New Yorker’s endorsement of Obama is a must read:
The choice is clear. The Romney-Ryan ticket represents a constricted and backward-looking vision of America: the privatization of the public good. In contrast, the sort of public investment championed by Obama ... takes to heart the old civil-rights motto “Lifting as we climb.” ... A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America — one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality — represents the future that this country deserves.