In Florida, the escalating battle for the right to challenge Obama threatened to further bloody the leading contenders — with Mitt Romney on the defensive over his tax rate as revealed by the Tuesday release of his 2010 returns and Newt Gingrich trying to fend off questions about his consulting work for mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
The day brought a reminder that, for all of Obama’s many political challenges and relatively low approval ratings, the White House has some reason for optimism.
In addition to the prospect of a protracted GOP nomination fight, Obama has been boosted as the jobless rate has ticked down in recent months. And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found independent voters quickly souring on Romney, whose strength with that group not long ago made him the opponent that many Democrats feared most.
The president’s address Tuesday served far more as a roadmap for how Obama as a reelection candidate intends to capitalize on his built-in advantages than as a governing blueprint for the next year.
He sprinkled his remarks with anecdotes and shout-outs to key cities in election battlegrounds, from Raleigh to Pittsburgh and Milwaukee to Cleveland. He hit back against GOP attacks on an array of foreign and domestic policy areas — declaring victory on the auto bailout and his overhauls of health care and Wall Street regulations.
“America is back,” the president said at one point.
A gift of timing allowed Obama to draw a stark contrast with Romney.
It came, indirectly, as the president highlighted his quest for the “Buffett rule,” named for the billionaire investor who has criticized a tax system that allows him and other investors to pay a lower rate than their staffs. The rule would require people making more than $1 million a year to pay at least the same tax rates as middle-class Americans, which can be close to 30 percent. Buffett has said he paid an effective 17.4 percent rate last year.
Buffett’s secretary was sitting in the gallery, but Americans learned Tuesday that Romney, too, stands as a symbol of what the White House is portraying as a major inequity. In 2010, he paid an effective rate of 13.9 percent on $21.7 million in income, most of it from investments.
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” Obama said, “or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
He invoked a common refrain from Romney and other Republicans about his support for raising taxes on the right, saying: “Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”