“What gives me confidence [about the election] is the notion that he’s just out of touch, [that] he just doesn’t get it, will be a constant problem for him. . . . His whole focus was on maximizing profit as opposed to the middle class,” said one Obama adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about how the president’s campaign sees the debate unfolding.
For months, Obama has argued that Republicans and Romney want to take the country back to the policies that led to the economic collapse in 2008. There will be more debates about whether either candidate has a real plan for the future, as well as about Romney’s job-creation record vs. Obama’s.
MAD MONEY: Track TV ads in the presidential campaign.
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That is not what this is about. Obama’s campaign has taken a page from the 2004 reelection campaign of President George W. Bush. Shortly after Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic nominee, wrapped up his nomination, the Bush team went on television with positive ads about the president. But quickly thereafter, the campaign turned its fire on Kerry and never let up.
This week’s opening volley is less an assault on private equity than it is an attack on the character of the former governor. It goes directly to the issue of whose side Romney is on, where the Obama campaign sees the GOP candidate as most vulnerable.
Romney has countered immediately, as he must. His advisers have argued that the election will not be won on style points or on the issue of which candidate is the more likeable. But they know he must be perceived as better equipped to accelerate the pace of recovery and boost the fortunes of the middle class. That might be all the more urgent if a new USA Today-Gallup poll showing rising optimism about the future economy continues to reflect public opinion.
In response to Obama, Romney’s campaign produced a spot touting Bain’s success in turning around companies and creating jobs. On Tuesday morning, the team issued a new video portraying the hardship and struggle of Iowans whose lives have been ravaged by the economy — timed no doubt to Romney’s appearance in Des Moines, but with a message that they think will resonate elsewhere: Hope and change have not been kind to the nation.
These responses do not directly answer the question of whose side the former governor is on — or would be if he were president. Instead they point voters back to the state of the country after three years of the Obama presidency. That makes this something of an asymmetrical debate — but one of vital importance in determining the outcome of the election.
Both sides know that most Americans have a relatively fixed impression of the president, but that far fewer know much about Romney. This might seem like the early stages of the general election, but the two sides also know that what voters conclude about Romney in the next few months is likely to stick. That is what is behind the intensity of the engagement this week.