WASHINGTON -- President Obama still has the support of many swing voters, but their backing is tenuous and could easily evaporate, the leader of one of the nation's key GOP political groups told The Huffington Post.
Steven Law, president and CEO of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, said in an interview that he thinks Obama's personality is what's keeping swing voters on his side, not his policies.
"If you talk to folks in that band, they all believe he hasn't done what he promised, he's been a big let down, he was supposed to fix Washington and it's gotten worse, his policies haven't worked out well -- they believe all those things. But at this stage of the game there is still a hesitancy to say, 'And he's failed and we need someone else,'" said Law, who oversees the two organizations that former Bush White House advisers Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie helped launch about two years ago.
Law said that Crossroads has conducted focus groups where independent voters talk about still wanting to believe in the president.
"That's the vestige of the kind of unique character that he has and came in with as president. However, what that also tells me is, it's a weak floor," Law said. "He is even with [Mitt] Romney, and he's depending on a whole lot of people who've decided that he's kind of a screw up."
One key question then is how much the Republican nominee for president will have to compete on the issue of likability with a 50-year old incumbent president who can croon Al Green tunes at the drop of a hat.
The question becomes even more interesting if Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is the Republican nominee, as he now appears all but certain to be. One of Romney's biggest challenges as a candidate is his perceived lack of authenticity, and his inability to connect on a personal level with voters.
"I could see a message which is -- and I've seen Senate races won on this -- you know, you don't like me at all but I'm a more effective SOB than the other guy. I don't think that works as well in the presidential, although Nixon sort of did that," Law said.
Other Republicans have expressed concern in recent days about Romney's messaging, pointing to a lack of effort to sell both himself and his record. For the past three months, the majority of paid TV advertising by Romney's campaign and by a super PAC supporting him has been negative attack ads taking down his Republican rivals.
Romney's speech on "economic freedom" this past Monday in Chicago was a good step in the direction of a candidacy that is about more than dry policy proposals and laser-guided bombs aimed at political opponents, said a top Republican who declined to be named due to his involvement with guiding the party's strategy in the general election.
"I think more of that would go a long way. It's more principle-based as opposed to just policy-based," the Republican strategist said. "It's great to talk about across-the-board tax cuts and repealing Obamacare and deregulation. But the underlying principles, it was really helpful to hear him talk like that."
Law's comments indicated that he thinks the general election has to be about Obama's record, not, as another Republican operative told HuffPost, "pets and birth control pills."
"At some point in the process I think there's going to be a much more realistic appraisal of where the country is and what he's done. I think it's already happening," Law said. "He has got a floor … that is really based on perception, and at some point, if it gives, he's got a lot further to fall, I think."
Ben LaBolt, the national spokesman for Obama's reelection campaign, rejected the premise of Law's argument.
"No matter how many special interests pour money into Karl Rove's coffers, the election will be a choice between two candidates, two records and two visions for the future," LaBolt told HuffPost.
It will be a choice, LaBolt said, "between a President who has fought everyday to create jobs and restore economic security for the middle class, and a Republican nominee that would return to the same policies that led to the economic crisis and stretched the middle class."
And LaBolt threw in a dig at the gaffe made Wednesday by a top Romney adviser.
"Karl Rove can buy the biggest etch a sketch in the world, but he won't be able to wipe the record of the Republican candidates away," he said.
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS are on course to raise and spend between $240 million and $300 million in the 2012 election cycle, Law said. He argued that labor unions will spend about $400 million on the presidential, Senate and House elections, counting money spent on "get out the vote" efforts and other non-TV work.
Crossroads has quickly become a political powerhouse in two short years. In the 2010 midterm elections, the group raised and spent $70 million. This cycle, the group has added former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) to its fundraising operation.
Law, in his analysis of Obama, indicated that he doesn't find the president's political qualities to be as awe-inspiring as some others do.
"There is a double edged sword about Obama that I think will potentially define the outcome of the race. It is true that president Obama is kind of a unique political talent, I think. Clearly he seems to think that," Law said. "I don't think he has the soaring rhetoric of someone like a Ronald Reagan, but he has a kind of rhetoric that connects with every day people in a very kind of different way."
Law said Obama is "almost like Mike Huckabee in that regard, being able to talk about things actually in ways that don't sound very impressive but communicate with every day people."
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