For years, President’s Obama’s political opponents have used his background — Kenyan father, Kansan mother, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii — to cast him as somehow exotic, someone whose life makes it hard for him to understand the average American.

View Photo Gallery: Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting at Central High School in Grand Junction, Colorado, on July 10. View more photos from the campaign trail.

And yet, it’s Mitt Romney, Obama’s general election opponent, who is now dealing with an “exotic” issue that is centered on his considerable wealth and being played out in the ongoing fight over whether he will release more than two years worth of tax returns.

“He is an extremely wealthy man,” Steve Schmidt, who managed Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign and was involved in the vetting of Romney for vice president, said during an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”. “His tax returns do not look anything like the average American’s.”

Schmidt hit the nail on the head in assessing the political problem of Romney’s tax returns — and also lays out the most likely explanation for why the former Massachusetts governor and his campaign have been so stingy about releasing more.

Romney’s biggest struggle in the general election — and the Republican presidential primaries in 2008 and 2012 — is and has been convincing people that he understands them.

His Mormon faith (a religion shared by a tiny fraction of the American public) coupled with his upbringing (his father served as the governor of Michigan and ran for president) are two major differences between the former governor and many of the people he is trying to win over.

Add his personal wealth — Romney made nearly $22 million without earning a salary in 2010 — and the former Massachusetts governor faces of trifecta of problems as he seeks to convince voters that he understands them at a gut level.

That struggle to connect is borne out in polling. In a Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted earlier this month, 50 percent of people said that Obama “better understands the economic problems people in this country are having,” while 40 percent said that Romney had a better grasp of those issues. (Among political independents, the news is better for Romney; 44 percent say Obama better understands the economic problems faced by regular people, while 42 percent say Romney does.)

It’s not likely that Romney — whether or not he releases a substantial portion of his past tax returns — will ever be entirely relatable to the average person. And in an election in a time of relative prosperity, that connection issue might doom his chances.

But we are not in times of economic prosperity. And as the New York Times-CBS News poll released last week showed in stark terms, this election, at least at the moment, is about Obama’s handling of the economy and little else.

If that dynamic doesn’t change, Romney’s exoticness — particularly as it relates to his wealth/taxes — might not matter. But if Obama can turn the race from a referendum on his first term into a choice between he and Romney, the former Massachusetts governor looks likely to continue to struggle to sell himself as a man of the people.

Some Dems push for action on guns: Gun politics were on the tip of everyone’s tongues this weekend, even as the country was still reeling from the shooting deaths of 12 people in Aurora, Colo., early Friday morning.

Politicians have been careful to inject politics into the issue, but some Democrats have begun pushing for a new look at the nation’s gun laws. It began Friday with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) calling on the two presidential contenders to address the issue.

On Sunday, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), one of those most ardent gun control advocates in Congress (she lost her husband in a mass shooting in the 1990s), said members of Congress lack the fortitude to take on the National Rifle Association.

Aurora’s congressman, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), meanwhile called for the Assault Weapons Ban to be reinstated.

But the top Colorado Democrat, Gov. John Hickenlooper, suggested James Holmes would have found a way to kill even if he couldn’t have purchased his guns.


Schmidt also says there’s nothing in Romney’s tax returns that would disqualify him.

Democrats were three time more likely to issue statements on the Aurora shootings than Republicans.

Former senator George Allen (R-Va.) and former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine battled in a debate Saturday.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) takes heat from conservatives for contributing money to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

Former Arizona state Senate president Russell Pearce (R), who was ousted in a recall election this year, says deaths could have been avoided in Aurora if someone had been courageous enough to attack the shooter.

A GOP poll finds Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong (R) trailing state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D) by just three points — 41 percent to 38 percent — in the new Democratic-leaning 47th district.


Bob Kerrey’s Senate bid is an uphill climb” — Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

Do Presidential Polls Break Toward Challengers?” — Nate Silver, New York Times

News Organizations Push Back Against Quote Approval” — Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

Supreme Court is asked to find that insanity defense is a constitutional right” — Robert Barnes, Washington Post

Read more on PostPolitics:

Reminders of Mitt Romney’s international past

In swing states, economic picture a little brighter for Obama

Fact Checker: Mitt Romney decends into silly season