Mark Murray reports on Twitter that the Obama campaign is out requesting rates from TV stations for a potential — and possibly very significant — ad buy. I’ve confirm that this is the case; Obama aides are requesting rates in key states, where there are millions and millions of dollars in anti-Obama ads already up on the air.
One has to wonder whether the Obama campaign is looking to do this in order to reclaim a debate that’s been largely ceded to his Republican rivals, one that will drive the election: Whether Obama succeeded or failed on the economy.
After all, as the now-infamous Twitter exchange between David Axelrod and Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom shows, the Romney camp has boiled its message down to a very simple assertion: The “net” job loss on Obama’s watch proves his record is a failure. As Fehrnstrom put it: “Obama is poised to be first president in history to end term with a net job loss. That is a fact. Can’t keep blaming Bush.”
The use of this “fact” as a metric for judging Obama’s record is highly dishonest, but as we’ve already seen, media figures have proven themselves very susceptible to this framing of the debate. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign has already shown itself to be quite proud of its ability to mislead reporters. So that means it’s on the Obama campaign to figure out how to convincingly tell the story its way.
The problem, as Jonathan Chait points out, is that it’s very hard to come up with a bumper-sticker rebutal that’s as succinct as the claim itself:
The Republican argument is that things are bad and it’s Obama’s fault. It’s a simple, intuitive claim that requires no elaboration...
Obama doesn’t have a simple and straightforward reply. His complicated answer is reflected in Axelrod’s argumentation: The crisis began under Bush, the direction of the economy has improved dramatically since, and Republicans want to return to the Bush’s administration’s policies. Fehrnstrom’s reply to all this is to keep pointing, over and over, to the fact that things are bad. It’s your fault, it’s your fault, it’s your fault. That’s the argument Romney will drive home until November, and that argument usually prevails when an incumbent president is presiding over a bad economy.
Steve Benen aptly points out that if you don’t hold Obama responsible for job loss that occurred in the first five or so months after he took office, then overall, jobs were created on his watch, not lost. But again, this requires an uncomfortable amount of explanation. The fact is that it’s a difficult balancing act to make the case that things could have been a lot worse when people are still suffering, even if it’s true. And there are no signs that leading media figures are willing to subject the Romney camp’s claim to any scrutiny, even though it’s absolutely central to the case against Obama.
At any rate, if the Obama team does plan a major ad campaign, getting the argument right on this point early on seems like a decent place to start.