Can President Obama reset his campaign with today’s speech in Ohio? That is certainly the White House’s plan for the president today, even though his aides will tell you this speech was planned long before these tough recent weeks for the president, capped by his “the private sector is fine” press conference last Friday.
And they insist the speech was planned before this latest round of friendly fire, in the form of a critique of campaign strategy from fellow Democrats, James Carville and Stan Greenberg.
Earlier this week Carville and Greenberg said if Team Obama’s strategy is to try to convince voters that the the administration’s policies have helped the country make progress, it’s a losing strategy. The administration wants to define their achievements, but Carville and Greenberg say their focus group research shows that people are still too concerned about the future to hear that right now.
It’s a debate that has been going on behind the scenes for many months with a lot of tense emails and heated phone calls from both sides that broke out into the open this week.
These are the tensions that arise when a president runs in a rough economy. Neither Jimmy Carter, nor the first George Bush could figure out how best to frame their political strategy in tough economic times. There was a vigorous debate in the Clinton White House too, back in 1995 and 1996, before the economy improved, over how much to emphasize the progress that was being made.
What Obama now faces is a much tougher road because the economy isn’t getting the kind of take off his team hoped for, or expected, earlier this year. The dilemma is underscored by the ABC News poll just released that shows a majority of voters don’t favor the president’s economic plan. The numbers are especially bad among independent swing voters.
But Mitt Romney is not doing that much better. His economic plan was also viewed negatively, but by a smaller margin. That presents both a challenge and an opportunity for both sides. Neither Obama nor Romney have yet convinced voters they have the economic answer.
Where the opportunity comes for Romney and Obama is with undecided voters who have not made up their minds about how they feel about Romney. That’s why you will hear Obama in his speech talk about his definition of what he thinks Romney will do to the economy. Watch him say that Romney would double down even more on what Republicans have done in the past — tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of programs that matter to the middle class. That’s an argument that worked for Bill Clinton back in 1994 and 1995 against the Republican Congress and also in the 1992 campaign. Will it work as well coming from this president?
For Mitt Romney an opportunity lies ahead. Can he build beyond what he’s already said and grab those undecided voters and convince them that he is going to come forward with economic plans that do more than just help the wealthy?
From here on out in the campaign we will see both sides talking a lot more about their opponent — both today and going forward. What we hear today in these dueling speeches in Ohio will be the decisive debate of the campaign.