Barack Obama is anchoring his reelection campaign to sharp attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record, but the hardball strategy also risks tarnishing the president’s own political brand.
In 2008, Obama ran for office presenting himself as a different kind of politician — one who would seek to bridge divides rather than open new ones, and as a purveyor of a style of politics purged of Washington’s normal bitterness.
His negative assault on Romney is designed to disqualify the central premise of his rival’s campaign — that as a successful businessman, he has the experience and knowledge to fire up a slow economic recovery.
But analysts say Obama may also in the process risk damaging his own standing with voters, and put at risk the affection many voters still have for their president, despite frustration with the plodding economy.
But Obama will also be weighing whether his attacks will harm Romney’s standing more than his own in a close election.
Recent polls show Obama with a slight lead over Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee in November’s election, but also suggest the president has little margin for error as he shoots for a second term in November.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that more Americans disapprove (49 percent) of how Obama is governing America than approve (47 percent,) and 55 percent of those asked did not like the way the president was steering the economy.
On the other hand, 52 percent of those asked thought Obama’s personality was better suited to being president. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 49 percent had a very or somewhat positive view of Obama.
Only 34 percent said the same of Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and multi-millionaire venture capitalist who has had to fight some tough battles on the road to capturing the Republican nomination.
Obama’s team seeks to compound Romney’s liabilities with its attack on Romney’s stewardship of Bain Capital, with advertisements branding him a corporate “vampire” who swooped on ailing firms and fired workers for profit.
The president has taken to personally pointing out what he sees as contradictions between Romney’s past career racking up huge profits for people who are already wealthy and his aspirations to be president.
Obama’s strategy is risky, because those most likely to be repelled by a harsh, negative campaign are the independent swing voters who could decide the outcome of the November 6 election in battleground states.
Senior Obama aides insist that there is no danger that Obama will hurt himself more than Romney with his tough campaign strategy, and they say it is necessary to undermine the Republican’s case for leadership.
The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that, despite disquiet among some moderate Democrats over the attacks on Romney — dismissed by foes as an assault on capitalism itself — the Obama campaign will intensify the strategy.
And aides signal they will also start to expose Romney’s governorship of Massachusetts, between 2003 and 2007, which the Republican downplays in his campaign strategy.