Obama's Game Plan
Mitt Romney's performance in Wednesday's debate provided plenty of water-cooler talk around America, as Romney was rightfully credited with a landslide victory in the first of three debates. A CNN poll immediately following the debate found some 67% of debate-watchers stating that Romney was the victor, and CBS News also scored Romney with a decisive victory. Even some of Obama's biggest cheerleaders, such as James Carville and David Axelrod, spoke of his poor showing.
So Romney won. Now what? One debate victory does not an election win. However, Romney is likely to poll significantly higher with his debate performance, potentially capturing some of the independent voters. He may gain a few or perhaps more points nationally and maybe sport gains within some of the battleground states.
What will the Obama game plan be now and in the final few weeks ahead of the election, as momentum is now clearly not on Obama's side?
GUILT (47%) - The Romney 47% statement was absent during the debate, which was a bit of a surprise. Regardless, Obama has a difficult path to victory if he makes the economy the top issue of his campaign. Instead, look for the Obama campaign to focus more on "guilting" Americans not to abandon the less fortunate (the 47%, so to speak) by electing a man who will make life excruciatingly difficult for those people. It's a classic play for the Democrats. Recall how President Bill Clinton in his 1996 re-election bid claimed that Republicans (i.e., Bob Dole) were going to starve the children of America with their spending cuts.
America is far and away the most charitable nation on earth, even to our citizens. We don't like to see people in need. The Obama campaign will play on that and paint Romney as they successfully did Newt Gingrich during the Clinton administration -- as some type of Grinch, devoid of compassion.
With 47% of Americans at least somewhat dependent on their government for their livelihood, you can be sure that the guilt angle is one Obama and the Democrats hope to exploit as we head to the wire. After all, many of those 47% folks, though not all, do not necessarily need an economic recovery.
GREED (taxes) - The Obama campaign will characterize Romney as the poster child of greed in the coming weeks. That has the potential to work on two levels. First, it is Obama's argument that greed got us into the economic and financial mess that "he inherited." He'll argue that a vote for Romney puts us back to the Bush policies that led to predatory lending, the real estate bubble bursting, and so on. Of course, it was really the Barney Frank and Chris Dodd insistence that each American family own a home that was the foundation for the economic slowdown. But facts will never get in the way of a good story.
Second will be the classic class-warfare strategy of pitting the haves against the have-nots. The Obama campaign will paint Romney in the 1% camp. Obama has used that one to some degree already, but he will certainly escalate that strategy within certain demographic groups considered key to an Obama re-election. For example, he may use the student loan issue and show that many are still disadvantaged despite having access to higher education due to the excessive loans necessary to complete their education. In contrast, Romney and people like him can send their kids to college debt-free...and that's just not fair.
PERSONAL (attack) - Say what you want about President Obama regarding his ideas and policies, but Obama remains very likable among voters. In the eyes of many, he's the guy you can sit with at a summer BBQ and comfortably talk with about sports or kids.
This is his trump card -- his likability. If he plays it, you know that the campaign is desperate. Personally attacking Mitt Romney -- in other words, going negative, negative, negative, and casting him as someone unlikable and out of touch compared to Obama's own likable character -- could produce some gains for the campaign. Of course, it could instead horribly backfire and eliminate arguably Obama's strongest characteristic among voters and perhaps the driving force for his re-election bid.
Guilt, greed, and personal attacks are among the stones Obama still has in his bag as the mudslinging escalates ahead of November 6.
Chad Stafko is a writer and political consultant living in the Midwest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.