WASHINGTON -- David Plouffe's declaration Sunday that Mitt Romney lacked the conviction necessary to become president was criticized as the type of personal attack that may be expected from the president's reelection team but is inappropriate coming from one of his senior White House advisers.
But what transpired on the set of "Meet the Press" Sunday was simply a public airing of a belief that administration officials have privately held for weeks, if not months. Obama's staff members in D.C and Chicago believe the Republican primary campaign is nearing an end. And with Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, likely to end up the nominee, their efforts to define them have hastened.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney went after Romney once again from the lectern in the briefing room while linking Plouffe's statement to the views of the rest of the West Wing staff. "Mr. Plouffe works for the White House, so I would say that his views represent the White House's views," he said.
On Friday, a senior administration official held a briefing with a select group of reporters that assessed the state of campaign play in even more explicit detail. The condition of the briefing, which was held at the White House, was that the official could be summarized but not quoted directly. In exchange for those ground rules, the discussion was more candid.
Among the points relayed:
- The Obama campaign assumes, off the bat, that any Republican candidate will be guaranteed 47 to 48 percent of the vote. The adviser acknowledged that the president will have a tougher time turning out the Democratic base in 2012 than it did in 2008. The expectation, however, is that once the Republican field is settled and a nominee has been chosen, enthusiasm for Obama's candidacy will grow. It is also expected that African American voters will come out for Obama again, driven by a desire to avoid the first black president becoming a one-term president.
- The administration official said that in seven out of 10 election cycles, Romney would be the harder candidate for Obama to face. But the Obama team is not dismissing Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a formidable foe, thanks to economic and demographic conditions, strong base support, and the thought that he could get 30 percent of the Latino vote in critical states like Nevada and Colorado.
- Romney has two challenges that the reelection team believes it can exploit. His background in the world of private equity -- in which he made money even when his clients didn't -- is one, and the notion that he has no convictions and lacks a "core" is another.
- Regardless of whether Romney, Perry or even Herman Cain wins the nomination, the president's political advisers see a straightforward way to go after them on economic policy grounds, by arguing that they would rubber stamp the congressional Republican agenda.
- The reelection campaign has polling data that shows that Romney has trouble with women voters.
- The administration has been studying data, including surveys from The Nielsen Company, that show a real angst in America over income inequality, data that lines up with the president's current talking points.
- The administration also feels that its heavy focus on debt and deficit paid off in terms of public trust. Polling data, private and public, indicate that a 20-point gap between Obama and Republicans on handling that issue has now been closed.
- The Obama team considers Pennsylvania a safe Democratic state, given party registration numbers. They believe the president will also do well in Michigan, thanks to his stewardship of the auto bailout, and they view New Mexico and Iowa as lean-Obama states. They think Colorado and Nevada will be more difficult, but the increased Hispanic population in each state works in Obama's favor -- even if Perry is on the ticket.
The senior administration official singled out one other state that could be up for grabs. That state is Arizona, where a recent poll showed the president ahead of each prospective Republican candidate. The senior administration official argued that if John McCain, an Arizona senator, hadn't been Obama's opponent in 2008, he may very well have won that state. To that end, the Obama campaign is making a concerted effort there this time around.
A campaign official confirmed that they currently have four offices in the state, two in Phoenix and two in Tucson. One in each city is shared with the state Democratic party. The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, has begun airing a 30-second television ad in the state attacking Romney for his position that the foreclosure crisis should play itself out. It is a fairly big buy for this early in the campaign. A DNC official told The Huffington Post that the spot will air for six weeks in six stations in the state, including both local and cable television.
UPDATE: Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul emails in the following response.
President Obama and his allies already signaled they are going to run a campaign of personal destruction to ‘kill’ Mitt Romney because they are intimidated by his candidacy. President Obama knows he can’t run on the failed policies that have brought higher taxes, exploding deficits, and record unemployment, so his allies have no choice but to launch false and personal attacks. Americans know that Mitt Romney is a fiscally responsible businessman who will put in place pro-growth policies that will create jobs and undo the damage caused by the failed Obama presidency.