Obama, Romney struggle to feel the pain
Washington - President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have racked up a string of awkward moments while wooing voters in the hurting US heartland.
But the White House race between the two likely foes may boil down to a question of which of the millionaire Harvard graduates can best feel the pain of Americans trapped by the worst economic slump since the 1930s.
Obama aides have long tried to frame Romney, a former venture capitalist, as out of touch, claiming he has no moral core and has moved in ratified circles most Americans can only dream of.
"He seems to be oblivious to the experiences of everyday people," Obama's political guru David Axelrod told CBS This Morning this week, in a mocking dismissal of the Republican that set the tone for the campaign to come.
"He's just in a time warp.
"Romney seems to look at the world through the rear view mirror... I think he must watch 'Mad Men' and think it's the evening news," Axelrod said, referring to the hit TV drama about slick 1960s advertising executives.
Romney has hardly helped his case, supplying a regular diet of gaffes that play into the stereotype of a wealthy, out of touch CEO-type.
He said in a CNN interview in February that he was "not concerned about the very poor" but later admitted he misspoke.
A month earlier, Romney gave stories about his role as a corporate raider new legs when he said: "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."
Out of touch
But now, the former Massachusetts governor, the all but certain Republican presidential nominee, is playing the "out of touch" card against the Democratic president, seven months before the 6 November election.
Romney opened his victory speech in Wisconsin on Tuesday by seeking a connection with the hard pressed middle class.
"You won't find Americans with bigger hearts than those here in our heartland," he said, but bemoaned the fact that good and decent people "seem to be running harder just to stay in place".
He then suggested Obama was enjoying the high life a little too much.
"It's enough to make you think that years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of True Believers telling you what a great job you are doing, well, that might be enough to make you a little out of touch."
Romney was tapping into a meme of elitism and aloofness that dogged Obama during his first presidential campaign.
Back in 2008, both his Democratic primary foe Hillary Clinton and the Republican campaign of John McCain tried to convince voters that the cerebral Obama, renowned for soaring rhetoric, could not relate to blue collar concerns.
And conservatives still bring up his unwise 2008 comment that small town folk sometimes get bitter and turn to guns and God for consolation.
Obama has a tough task again in 2012 in appealing to white, blue collar voters in key electoral states like Ohio or Wisconsin - and has adopted a persona as middle class warrior offering an economy that gives everyone a "fair shot".
In 2008, despite winning Hispanic, African American and young voters, Obama lost white, non college educated voters to McCain by 18 points.
But multi-millionaire Romney, with his corporate past and palatial homes with multiple cars in the garage, does not seem like the ideal candidate for this demographic either.
Obama has made strenuous efforts to prove his blue collar bona fides and to show that he is just an ordinary guy.
He often appears on television sports channels, showcasing his love of basketball for instance, or drops into local diners on trips out of Washington to munch on the local artery-clogging delicacy.
On St Patrick's Day, there was Obama in a Washington pub downing a pint of Guinness.
The president often invokes warm tales of his wife and daughters or his dog Bo to portray himself as a normal family man and reads 10 letters a night from ordinary Americans detailing their struggles.
First Lady Michelle Obama meanwhile was last year pictured snapping up bargains at a local branch of Target, a megastore retail chain familiar to American families.
Romney has made his own efforts to connect with the average American, putting pictures of himself in a junk food restaurant on Twitter and ditching the business suit he used in the 2008 campaign for jeans and open-neck shirts.