For weeks the Obama campaign (and the always-relevant Super PACs) has hammered Romney for being a "job destroyer" and "Wall St. Guy" with little focus on anything else. It seemed you couldn't turn the TV on without seeing another shuttered factory, purportedly at the expense of Romney and his investors. Quickly, however, the campaign figured out that this "one-trick pony" approach wasn't really resonating. And more importantly, that this was not their message to win over the American people in November. They briefly pivoted to a focus on Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts, before realizing that an election focusing on economic records isn't a winning formula either.
So, maybe the familiar adage that "third time's a charm" applies in this case as well. Finally, this week in Cleveland, President Obama began drawing the parallels between Romney and his fellow Republicans. In reference to President Bush's term from 2000-2008, Obama remarked:
Long before the economic crisis of 2008 the basic bargain at the heart of this country has begun to erode.
For more than a decade, it had become harder to find a job that paid the bills, harder to save, harder to retire, harder to keep up with rising costs of gas and health care and college tuitions.
And then shortly thereafter, drew the linkage to Romney:
Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory we tried during the last decade...
If I were Team Romney, I'd be worried that Team Obama has finally begun to focus on this message -- linking Romney to the Bush days. While it's easy for Romney to point to the difficulties of the last few years, it's just as easy for Obama to remind Americans how they felt at the end of the Bush presidency when Bush's approval rating stood at only 34 percent. In fact, in a Gallup poll released this week, 68 percent of Americans (and 67 percent of independent voters, the key voting block) blame Bush for the current state of the U.S. economy. Listening to the numbers, Obama should continue offering Americans a choice between "two fundamentally different views" on how to move our country forward. If he's able to convince (or even scare) Americans that a vote for Romney is a vote for "what got us into this mess," it might be a tipping point in swinging support to his corner.
While they're at it, Team Obama also would be well served to link Romney's foreign policy ideals to that employed over the last decade with costly implications for America both in blood and treasure. By and large, Americans believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be mistakes (recent polls show this number to be approximately 60 percent). And it seems Romney will be working within the same neoconservative school of thought. For instance, just a couple weeks ago on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Colin Powell commented that "[he's] seen some of the names [on Romney's foreign policy team] and some of them are quite far to the right." A polite way of saying that this ideological mindset got us into the hole we're in today. Not exactly a reassuring statement from a well-respected former Republican Secretary of State.
Let's not forget, it's still early. There are almost five months to go, with millions to spend on campaign ads, unplanned gaffes, the much-anticipated debates, and of course the all-important third quarter economic data. So while momentum shifts daily between the two campaigns, and unplanned events in Europe continue to impact our economy and the world markets, Team Obama and democrats should at least be sanguine that they can find their narrative. A campaign based on the future that also reminds voters of recent Republican economic and foreign policy failures is one Obama can win. Although a campaign strategy that is devoid of visionary ideas will fail. And a campaign based on records (no matter how Team Obama tries to spin it) is likely a losing strategy as well. Only time will tell, so in the meantime let's take Mark Halperin's timely advice and "take a collective deep breath."