The new Mitt Romney ad attacking Obama over welfare is generating a lot of chatter this morning, as it was clearly designed to do. It hits Obama for supposedly “gutting” Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill, by “dropping work requirements.”

“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work,” the ad says. “They just send you your welfare check.”

The ad is highly dishonest; Steve Benen and Arthur Delaney both do a good job taking it apart. The key point is that Republican-led states — Utah and Nevada — had led the request for waivers to the work requirement in the welfare reform bill, so they could experiment with ways to do a better job shifting people from welfare to jobs. The work requirement would remain; states would have more flexibility in implementing it.

To sum up, this ad is tantamount to claiming that Republican governors want to gut welfare reform and ensure that the government just sends people a “welfare check.”

The Romney campaign appears to be investing serious money in this attack. A Dem source tells me that it is going to run at 50 percent in all of Romney’s markets. That’s a real buy.

Which raises a broader point: For an election that’s supposed to be all about the economy, the Romney campaign is suddenly leaning very hard on a more traditional politics of resentment right out of an older GOP playbook.

Consider: The Romney camp’s attacks on Obama’s “didn’t build that” speech are all about stirring resentment on the part of small business people by persuading them that Obama has nothing but disdain for their hard work and thinks you should be thankful to government for enabling them to succeed.

This new welfare ad is similar. It shows a hard-working man wiping sweat off his brow as it tells you that Clinton required work for welfare, while Obama wants to send “welfare checks” to those who don’t work. The basic idea is to portray Clinton as the “good” kind of Democrat, in contrast with the unrepentant radical “bad” Democrat Obama supposedly represents. We also saw this trick in the Rove-founded Crossroads ads that used distorted Clinton quotes about taxes to portray Obama as far more zealous about tax hikes than Clinton, even though the latter raised taxes on the wealthy, just as Obama wants to do.

Clinton, of course, was popular with the sort of blue collar white swing voters Obama needs to limit his losses among; hence the Romney camp’s effort to drive a wedge between the two Democratic presidents. Call it the GOP’s game of Good Dem, Bad Dem.

None of this should have been necessary by the lights of Romney’s own theory of the election. We were told for months that the Romney camp would focus relentlessly on the economy and on Obama’s mismanagement of it. Romney would win by portraying Obama as a nice guy who is just in over his head and just can’t get it done. But with the recovery remaining very, very slow but on track — and with Obama holding a small but persistent lead in national polls, and a slightly larger one in swing states — the Romney campaign has plainly decided that this won’t be enough.