Mitt Romney’s campaign released an ad this morning that, at first glance, seems ordinary enough. It touts his economic record as Governor of Massachusetts, a rebuttal to the Obama camp’s attacks on the same. The new ad doesn’t mention Obama. But the ad does suggest a line of attack on Obama that we’ll be seeing a lot more of soon enough:
The ad describes Romney’s “strong leadership,” a phrase it uses twice, and his ability to “bring parties together to cut through gridlock.” Closing line: “Strong leadership will make all the difference on jobs.”
The key to this ad, I think, is Karl Rove’s recent column describing Obama’s main vulnerability as his “unusually weak chief executive,” a view you can be sure is widely held among GOP strategists. Not weak leader. Weak chief executive. The new ad is intended as an implicit contrast between Romney and Obama on this front. Expect a concerted effort to paint Obama’s failure to get the economy to recover faster, and his inability to get his jobs plan passed in the face of determined GOP opposition, as evidence of weakness, but of a very specific kind: Weakness as a chief executive.
As I and others have suggested before, it’s very possible that voters won’t hold GOP obstructionism of Obama’s jobs policies against Romney; they’ll hold Obama’s failure to prevail over that obstructionism against the president.
The new ad only makes this contast implicitly for the time being; but it will likely become a central argument against Obama. Some polls have shown that majorities think of Obama as a strong leader and that they accept that Obama has leadership qualities, so it remains to be seen whether this will resonate with voter impressions of the man. But this is where the Romney campaign will head next, I think.
* The ad wars are tightly focused this year: Must read of the morning: Jeremy Peters has an interesting look at how insanely targeted the ad wars have grown in this year. The focus on small and medium media markets, combined with the massive levels of spending, suggest that this race will ultimately be decided by a small fraction of the electorate, residing in nine swing states, hat have gotten bombarded with ferocious messaging for literally months.
* Poll: Obama still struggling on the economy: Whether or not they’re accurate, these numbers are the sort of thing that will encourage the Romney campaign to keep up with the “weak chief executive” angle. The new Fox News poll finds that 54 percent think Obama “mostly failed” on the economy, and that 56 percent think he “mostly failed” on jobs.
* Americans think Obama wants to talk about economy: Another nugget from the Fox poll: It tests a frequent conservative talking point, and gets the wrong answer:
Barack Obama wants his re-election campaign to be about anything but the economy:
* Senate Dems’ unity fractures in Bush tax cut standoff: That was quick: Some Senate Democrats are already signaling that they might side with the GOP in the battle over whether to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, which will undermine the Dem position heading into negotiations in a standoff that will be absolutely central in the presidential race.
* The latest turn in the student loan fight: Harry Reid makes Republicans another offer: To pay for the extension of low rates using mechanisms that Republicans and Dems already agreed to in the highway bill. Republicans say they’re taking the offer seriously, which would appear to mean the ball is back in their court.
* Scott Walker needlessly threw Wisconsin into turmoil: Ron Brownstein gets right to the heart of what’s wrong with Walker’s experiment: He exaggerated the state’s fiscal problems as a pretext for needless confrontation, and he’s fixing those problems by squeezing sacrifice almost entirely from Democratic constituencies.
Before you scream, “the people of Wisconsin endorsed his approach,” read Brownstein’s rebuttal of that point, too.
* GOP Latino outreach going bust: This will generate much discussion today: A new Latino Decisions poll finds that Obama retains an overwhelming lead over Romney among Latinos, 66-23.
But here’s the real key finding: When asked to choose between the two DREAM Acts — the Dem proposal and the GOP alternative — Latinos choose the Dem one by 82-13. (It’s worth noting that when asked about the GOP alternative in isolation, Latinos support it by 49-46, suggesting at least the possibility that it could help Republicans make inroads once it’s proposed.)
* Obama re-elect reality check of the day: I don’t agree with all of it, but Jonathan Alter’s piece warning that Obama’s poll numbers will sink in the months ahead along with the economy — and his insistence that hammering Congress for stymying his jobs plan won’t be enough — is worth reading. Key nugget:
Instead of referring voters to a hodge-podge of previous proposals and stymied congressional deals, Obama should reintroduce his ideas as a clear and cogent renewal plan for the country. That second-term agenda needs some new elements.
One question that I think will start being asked with more frequency: Is the Obama campaign communicating clearly enough what a second Obama tearm would look like?
* And government spending is good for the economy: Republicans love to contrast the Obama recovery with that of Reagan’s first term, but as Paul Krugman details today, total “government spending adjusted for inflation and population growth” rose much faster under one of the two presidents. And it isn’t Obama.
Key line: “the big difference was real per capita spending at the state and local level, which continued to rise under Reagan but has fallen significantly this time around.” It would be interesting to ask Romney’s economic advisers to square this with the candidate’s continued insistence that cutting spending is the way to spur growth.