President Barack Obama has succeeded in his elections for Senate in 2004 and president in 2008 by presenting himself as above the political fray and determined to stay positive in his campaigns. But while Obama has managed to stay clean, his aides have done the dirty work in attacking his opponents, Politico
And that’s how it’s beginning to play out with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whom the Obama camp figures it will oppose in the general election. Whether the Obama campaign can bring down Romney without the dirt bouncing back to the president is an issue that may help determine the winner.
Already White House counselor David Plouffe has termed Romney a man with “no core.” The Obama campaign wants to infuse independent voters, who will likely decide the election, with the idea that Obama is the only one they can trust.
Obama aides are putting the knife subtly into the Republican front-runner, calling the race “an MRI of the soul” and a referendum on character. They want to connect personality with policy, painting Romney as a flip-flopper.
Obama’s strategy is “a lot like his foreign policy — leading from behind but with a high body count,” a Republican who held a top position in the 2008 presidential race told Politico. “Rarely is Obama himself the tip of the spear in an attack. He’s much more likely to let liberal allies and the media initiate the attack and keep it alive.”
But Republicans say the tactics will fail. “The Obama guys are consumed about making this into a ‘choice’ and that’s to their detriment,” Republican National Committee Research Director Joe Pounder told Politico. “The ‘he has no core’ line of attack is highly personal and ultimately backfires. Now their attacks are just attacks. There’s no positive vision -- just a campaign that will say anything to win.”
Even some Democrats are skeptical. “They achieved the rare distinction of running a negative campaign without being called to account for it,” a former top aide to Hillary Clinton told Politico, referring to her 2008 primary race against Obama. “Will they be able to pull that off again? A lot less likely.”
Attacking your adversary is nothing new in elections, but often it’s the candidates themselves doing the attacking, and often it’s the candidates themselves who pay the price for low-ball tactics.
In Obama’s successful race for an Illinois senate seat in 2004, his opponents in the primary and general election blew up over divorce filings.
In his 2008 campaign for the presidency, during the primaries the Obama side attacked Clinton’s credibility. Its campaign slogan was “Change You Can Believe In.” In the general election, Obama’s aides went after John McCain, calling him “erratic.”
David Axelrod, who is running Obama’s re-election, is seen as a master of stealth attacks. He has “always been skillful at creeping into your room in the middle of the night and slicing out your heart, somehow without leaving behind a single fingerprint or drop of blood that ties him or his candidate to the crime,” Obama biographer David Mendell told Politico.
But as for Obama, Democratic consultant Paul Begala compares him to former President Ronald Reagan in his ability to stay quiet above the noise, “When he’s carving up those Republicans, it’s always with a smile, and he gets the audience laughing at them,” Begala told Politico.
“He eviscerated Donald Trump with humor. In that sense, he’s like Reagan. Reagan tore up the Democrats, but he always did it with humor, and no one ever thought the Gipper was mean spirited.”
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