Six months out from Election Day, President Obama is squaring up against two opponents.
One is Mitt Romney, whose biography is both his main strength and a potential weakness when it comes to the critical issue of the economy.
The president’s other opponent is himself. More precisely, Obama 2012 is running against Obama 2008, and the sky-high expectations he set in a campaign that feels like it was a long time ago.
Both facets of the reelection campaign were on display over the weekend, as the president tried to recapture the magic of his last campaign with his first big public rallies of the campaign year, in two battleground states.
Obama lit into the man he’s facing off against this year, depicting the election as a “make or break moment for the middle class.” In his telling, Romney is a perfect foil — a wealthy businessman whose policies, Obama is arguing, would take the nation backward on its economic path.
One zinger gets to the heart of the two men’s differences, as broken down by the president and his reelection team.
“Corporations aren’t people. People are people,” Obama said Saturday, drawing raucous applause in both Virginia and Ohio for his play on a Romney line from the long primary campaign.
As for that other opponent, the one whose promises of “hope” and “change” echo still, there’s the inconvenient fact that things haven’t moved quite as expected when it comes to the core promises of four years ago.
With headlines of anemic job growth greeting his campaign kickoff, the president found himself counseling his supporters to have patience. He added a word to the old slogan: “Still.”
“If people ask you what this campaign is about, you tell them it’s still about hope,” Obama said. “You tell them it’s still about change.”
The cameras that caught the empty sections in Ohio State University’s basketball arena told a piece of the story — or, at least, a piece the Romney campaign wants told at this early juncture. Empty seats were not a hallmark of the Obama campaign from 2008, and surely an organization that approximates what was in place then should have been able to find a way to fill the estimated 4,300 vacancies at the hyped campaign launch.
Obama aides said they’re pleased to put their crowd sizes up against Romney’s. They were quick to revive memories of the poorly executed Ford Field event from the primaries, where acres of emptiness enveloped Romney.
“The fact is that 14,000 is 11,000 more than the largest crowd that Mitt Romney has ever drawn,” Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I am certain that we are going to have an enthused volunteer core and enthused electorate out there.”
But there’s a harder edge to the reality of 2012 vs. 2008. The Romney campaign quickly repackaged the weekend Obama events and cut them amid signs of job-market woes — depicting the “Obama economy” as it’s being felt on the ground by millions who are still hurting.
The president’s reelection team may hope to make the election about Mitt Romney, and they may yet succeed. But there’s that other opponent who won’t go away, either.