Obama campaign: A double-edged knife?

2012-05-28 10:02

Washington - Barack Obama is anchoring his re-election campaign around sharp attacks on Mitt Romney's business record, but the hardball strategy also risks tarnishing the president's own political brand.

In 2008, Obama ran for office presenting himself as a different kind of politician, one who would seek to bridge divides rather than open new ones, and as a purveyor of a style of politics purged of Washington's normal bitterness.

His negative assault on Romney is designed to disqualify the central premise of his rival's campaign - that as a successful businessman, he has the experience and knowledge to fire up a slow economic recovery.

But analysts say, Obama may also in the process risk damaging his own standing with voters, and put at risk the affection many voters still have for their president, despite frustration with the plodding economy.

"It's a possibility that by his campaign being very negative on Romney, that could lead some people to be less approving of him personally," said Robert Erikson, a political scientist at Columbia University in New York.

But Obama will also be weighing whether his attacks will harm Romney's standing more than his own in a close election.

Little margin for error

"Maybe there's a cost to the campaign, you lose something personally but your opponents lose even more if you attack them," Erikson said.

"[But] if I were advising Obama, I don't think I would advise him to avoid being negative towards his opponent. I don't think that would be the wise course."

Recent polls show Obama with a slight lead over Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee in November's election, but also suggest the president has little margin for error as he shoots for a second term in November.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that more Americans disapprove (49%) of how Obama is governing America than approve (47%) and 55% of those asked did not like how the president was steering the economy.

On the other hand, 52% of those asked thought Obama's personality was better suited to being president. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 49% had a very or somewhat positive view of Obama.

Only 34% said the same of Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and multi-millionaire venture capitalist who had had to fight some tough battles on the road to capturing the Republican nomination.


"In this particular election, Obama faces the problem that just being liked is probably not enough to win the election for sure," said Clyde Wilcox, a political science professor at Georgetown University.

"It looks like a pretty close election. So I think at this point that his people have pretty much decided ... Romney has pretty high negatives and they want to make sure they stay there."

Obama's team seeks to compound Romney's liabilities with its attack on Romney's stewardship of Bain Capital, with advertisements branding him a corporate "vampire" who swooped on ailing firms and fired workers for profit.

The president has taken to personally pointing out what he sees as contradictions between Romney's past career racking up huge profits for people who are already wealthy and his aspirations to be president.

"Investors walk off with big returns, and working folks get stuck holding the bag," he said in Iowa on Thursday.

"That may be the job of somebody who's engaged in corporate buyouts. That's fine. But that's not the job of a president.

Assault on capitalism

"There may be value for that kind of experience, but it's not in the White House."

Obama's strategy is risky because those most likely to be repelled by a harsh, negative campaign are the independent swing voters who could decide the outcome of the 6 November election in battleground states.

Senior Obama aides insist that there is no danger that Obama will hurt himself more than Romney with his tough campaign strategy, and say it is necessary to undermine the Republican's case for leadership.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that despite disquiet among some moderate Democrats over the attacks on Romney, dismissed by foes as an assault on capitalism itself, the Obama campaign will intensify the strategy.

And aides signal they will also start to expose Romney's governorship of Massachusetts, between 2003 and 2007, which the Republican downplays in his campaign strategy.

  • Truman - 2012-05-28 13:32

    Obama needs to remember what we were all told as children: You can't get ahead by criticizing the competition. You must stand on your own merits. The attacks on Romney seem so petty and childlike, certainly not presidential.

      jason.swart.94 - 2012-06-03 08:21

      @ Truman: Whilst what you are saying rings true, it does depend on the motive. In the previous campaign, the Republicans led by Mcain took the road of criticizing Obama and Obama never took up that strategy and in fact pointed it out as a weak strategy to use. Also Mcain had a good patriotic and clean track record so Obama had no need to dig up dirt. But in this campaign, if the republicans put forward a candidate with less dirt in the past I doubt that Obama would have used criticism but in the case of Romney I think it is good that he is highlighting certain past actions so that the US people know what type of president they will have for a whole term in a very crucial period in their history.

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