When President Obama holds his first public campaign rallies this week, he’ll take direct control of a populist re-election narrative that Vice President Joe Biden and senior Obama strategists have spent weeks honing on the campaign trail.
The message: incumbent Obama is a firewall against a return to the “failed” foreign, social and economic policies of the George W. Bush administration, which are now embodied by presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Romney “basically wants to do what they did before — on steroids,” former President Bill Clinton told a crowd of high-dollar donors at an Obama campaign fundraiser Sunday night, “which will get you the same consequences you got before, on steroids.”
Biden has used a month-long series of five speeches on key campaign issues to methodically lay out the same argument, signaling that Democrats will focus less on positive promises for a second Obama term than on a negative message about Romney.
“He offers his prescription as if somehow it’s a new idea, folks, like something we haven’t seen before, even worse, like something we haven’t actually tried before,” Biden said of Romney’s tax-cut focused economic plan during a speech in New Hampshire earlier this month.
“Folks, we’ve seen the movie before,” Biden said. “It doesn’t end well. It does not end well. Where has he been?”
At campaign rallies in Toledo, Ohio, and Davenport, Iowa, Biden highlighted the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry and manufacturing sector — both of which received financial support under the administration — as case studies in contrast with Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor famously opposed the 2009 auto bailout and has suggested the administration’s emphasis on greater investment in U.S. manufacturers may be misplaced.
Biden warned retirees in Coconut Creek, Fla., that a President Romney would “dismantle” Medicare and roll back health care benefits for women, including abortion rights and contraception coverage.
And last week, in a foreign policy address in New York City, Biden publicly lashed Romney for a “Cold War mindset” and argued that “we cannot afford to go back to the future.”
“One thing that could bring all this momentum to a screeching halt is turning over the keys to the White House to [Rick] Santorum or Romney,” Biden said of the administration’s record while in Davenport on March 28.
The targeted, populist pitch — to which Obama will more forcefully lend his voice this week — tracks closely with positions backed by large or increasing numbers of Americans.
Majorities of voters in recent public opinion polls side with Obama on higher taxes for millionaires and billionaires, for example, and resisting bold changes to Medicare as proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan and backed by Romney.
Growing numbers of Americans also say they support the taxpayer-funded auto bailout, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republicans say Obama’s argument is shaping up as a diversion from the unpopular aspects of his first term, including the health care overhaul and lingering high unemployment.
Romney aides say the president’s pitch offers little substance for how he would accelerate the recovery and job growth or reduce the deficit, which a recent Pew Center poll found is the third most important issue to voters behind the economy and jobs.
“If [voters] want to continue down a path that we’ve seen with this president where the government is making decisions on our healthcare and on the kind of cars we can drive, the kind of energy we can use, the investments in Solyndra … and the wasteful spending that we’re seeing now and higher taxes,” then they can support Obama, Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
But Team Romney is confident they can create a wedge with voters using the economy while defending against Obama’s attacks.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found Romney leading Obama on handling of the economy, with 47 percent of voters saying the Republican would do a better job with just 43 percent backing the president.
Romney also holds a narrow edge on energy policy and is tied with Obama on who would do better to support small businesses, according to the poll.
“I don’t believe most Americans think that [continuing Obama's policies] is going to result actually in economic growth. I think they think it’ll continue what we have now, which is a pretty stifled economy that’s limping along,” Gillespie said.
“The American people are going to have a very clear choice in November,” he added.
That’s a statement on which both Team Romney and Team Obama agree.