Rush Limbaugh's campaign to press presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to focus on issues other than the economy just might lead to President Barack Obama's re-election.
Polling confirms that jobs and the deficit represent Obama's Achilles' heel. The campaign contest is between Romney's efforts to focus exclusively on these economic issues and Obama's efforts to redirect the debate. Limbaugh's urging to dilute Romney's economic issues focus may help Rush's ratings, but doing so would play into Obama's hand.
The key to successful campaigns is focus. Obama's success in 2008 was a result of an unbelievably focused campaign. He talked about only one thing: change. Change you could believe in, change you could hope for -- but always change. The message appealed to the electorate's weariness from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and eight years of George W. Bush. Obama was elusive about what change meant, and it was his avoidance of complexity and focus on a singular message that propelled him to victory.
What change was to Obama in 2008, the economy is to Romney in 2012. In the meantime, Limbaugh is diluting Romney's message with complexity and advising rhetoric on the big government versus small government ideological divide.
If Romney subscribes to Limbaugh's advice, he is effectively gift-wrapping votes to the Obama campaign.
Electoral success for either campaign requires the delicate balance of energizing the base to activate donors and volunteers while appealing to the middle -- the independents -- who ultimately will decide the electoral outcome. The clear contrasts on same-sex marriage, immigration, and health care should be sufficient to energize both sides. The decisive factor will be advancing issues that 80 percent of voters agree on, not just harping on those issues where there is nearly an even electoral divide.
Selling Romney's record of nurturing job growth and fiscal balance as a partisan-tinged choice limits the message's appeal. Romney's credentials on job growth in the private and public sectors are most effectively advanced to people of all ideological backgrounds as the essential skill the times demand.
Indeed, the real breakout opportunity that exists for Romney is not to be more ideological, but less. His commitment to do whatever action is necessary to address the fiscal cliff that confronts Americans immediately after the election would positively impact both his prospects and those of the nation.
Inaction threatens a debt tsunami similar to the one that is now flooding Europe. Uncertainty about whether the nation's fiscal condition will be addressed keeps company cash on the sidelines instead of invested in job growth.
A commitment by Romney -- a former Republican governor from the bluest of states -- to work with whoever controls Congress could allow him to break out from today's virtual tie race. This is an unmatched opportunity for Romney to be a leader committed to pragmatic, collaborative solutions -- the sort of leader America desperately needs.
It is often said that it is not Wayne Gretzky's speed that makes him the greatest hockey player the game has ever known. Rather, it is because he skates to where the puck will be. Barring a major crisis, the electorate will be focused on the economy in November. In the time remaining, Romney must focus on that puck and let Limbaugh's ratings go where they might.
Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).
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