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Parsing President Obama’s 2012 campaign kickoff speech

at 06:46 AM ET, 05/07/2012

President Obama made it official (again) on Saturday: He is running for re-election. No surprises there. Nor is it surprising that Obama chose Virginia and Ohio — two of the swingiest states in the country — to stage his first two 2012 campaign rallies.


President Barack Obama speaks during his campaign rally at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va., Saturday, May 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Eva Russo)
What was interesting — or at least worthy of note — was what Obama said in his speeches to the crowds in Richmond and Columbus. This was a speech that was very carefully crafted and one that will almost certainly serve as the blueprint for how Obama will seek to frame the general election against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

This being politics, Obama said less than he meant. But, that’s where we come in. Below are a few of Obama’s best or, at least, most quotable lines and our — slightly longer — translation of the message he was trying to send.

* What he said: “I don’t care how many ways you try to explain it: Corporations aren’t people. People are people.”

What he meant: ‘In case you missed the fact that Romney said ‘corporations are people’ at the Iowa State Fair in August 2011, I am going to remind you. And then remind you again. Romney is the business candidate. I am the people’s candidate.’

* What he said: “Look, we don’t expect government to solve all our problems, and it shouldn’t try.”

What he meant: ‘Independents, are you listening? Romney and his Republican friends are going to say that I think growing government is the solution to everything that ails us — from our economic woes (stimulus bill) to how we get medical treatment (health care law). Government has a role to play in peoples’ lives, but it’s not a panacea.’

* What he said: “For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to this country.”

What he meant: ‘John McCain questioned whether I was ready to lead on the world stage four years ago. Now you’ve got your answer. I know this election isn’t going to be decided by foreign policy, but I made good on the promises I made about the two wars I inherited.’

* What he said: “I want women to control their own health choices, just like I want my daughters to have the same opportunities as your son.”

What he meant: ‘I am the father of two daughters. I understand women’s rights — from contraception to equal pay — on a deep and personal basis. This is not abstract politics to me. Is it to Romney?’

* What he said: “The real question — the question that will actually make a difference in your life and in the lives of your children — is not just about how we’re doing today. It’s about how we’ll be doing tomorrow.

What he meant: ‘Republicans will try to make the election about whether you are better off than you were four years ago. And, yeah, the last four years haven’t been easy. But the real issue is not why the last four years were so tough but rather whether you want the next four years to be better. Romney wants to go back to a time and a set of policy prescriptions that you know didn’t work. Slowly — but surely — what I am doing is beginning to turn things around. A vote for me is a vote for a continuation of policies that have the chance to change things for the better.’

* What he said: “We came together because we believe that, in America, your success shouldn’t be determined by the circumstances of your birth.”

What he meant: ‘Mitt Romney’s dad was a successful businessman and the governor of Michigan. This is someone who has never wanted for anything in his life. He doesn’t know what it is to be faced with the challenges many of you deal with each and every day. He just doesn’t get it. I do.’

* What he said: “We came together in 2008 because our country had strayed from these basic American values.”

What he meant: ‘I inherited a mess. George W. Bush handed me a broken economy and open-ended commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Things were worse than you even know. Yes, the solutions were hard to swallow, but they were born of a belief that we needed to get back to acting in a way that made our country great in the first place.’

* What he said: “Republicans in Congress have found a champion. They have found a nominee for president who has promised to rubber-stamp this agenda if he gets a chance.”

What he meant: ‘Romney may never have spent a day in elected office in Washington, but he would walk in lockstep with congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan if he got elected president. The Republican establishment wanted Romney to win the primary because they knew he shared their views on reshaping/shrinking government in order to protect their monied interests.’

Biden signals openness to gay marriage: Vice President Joe Biden seemed to suggest he favors gay marriage on Sunday, even as the administration he is apart of continues to stop shy of embracing it.

During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden didn’t explicitly endorse same-sex marriage, but seemed to go farther than he has before in leaning toward it.

“The president sets the policy,” he said. “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual – men and women marrying – are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”

The White House quickly clarified that the words did not represent a shift in policy.

As we have argued before, it’s unlikely that the president will make news on this front before the election, so we don’t see Biden’s words as indicative of anything other than Biden being Biden.

Mourdock leads by 10 in new poll: With just 24 hours until primary day in Indiana, it looks like Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) career could be coming to an end.

A new bipartisan poll conducted for Howey Politics in Indiana shows state Treasurer Richard Mourdock at 48 percent and Lugar at 38 percent — the culmination of a steady shift in late polling toward Mourdock.

The poll, by Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Republican pollster Christine Matthews, pegs Lugar’s favorable and unfavorable ratings at 43 percent apiece. Meanwhile, Mourdock’s split is 47 percent favorable and 25 percent unfavorable — much better territory.

Just 30 percent said they would definitely support Lugar.

It’s becoming clear that Lugar is the underdog this week, and he could soon be the first — and probably only, now that Orrin Hatch looks safe — senator to lose a primary this year.

Fixbits:

David Axelrod is promising an extensive ad campaign launching this week. And it begins this morning with this minute-long ad focusing on the tough hand the president was dealt. It is the campaign’s first ad that wasn’t in response to something specific.

A new Politico/George Washington University poll shows Romney at 48 percent and Obama at 47 percent.

Former New Mexico governor and former GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson won the Libertarian Party’s nomination this weekend.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says he picked Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee primarily because she was well-qualified.

Newt Gingrich offers another tepid endorsement of Romney.

Jeb Bush says he won’t be Romney’s vice presidential nominee. And Gingrich says the same thing.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) says she’s got better qualifications for the presidential ticket than Obama did four years ago.

The union group Workers’ Voice is launching a half-million-dollar targeted online ad buy against Romney focused on Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Nevada, according to an aide familiar with its plans. The ads can be seen here.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is up with a new ad highlighting his record on ethics.

Must-reads:

Elizabeth Warren: Can a liberal champion win over the center in Massachusetts?” — Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

Independent Senate Run in Maine Puts Parties in a Pinch” — Jonathan Weisman, New York Times

 
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