Obama’s new two-pronged “anything but talking about my record” campaign strategy (might be a gift to Romney)

by Ryan Streeter on April 18, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Here are two statements that seem discordant as Obama pivots his campaign strategy to go head-to-head with Romney. First, from Pew’s latest poll:

Barack Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney has narrowed from 12 points last month to a 49% to 45% advantage, with voters rating the economy and jobs as the issues that are “very important” to their vote. Some hot-button social issues, like gay marriage and birth control, rank at the bottom of the list of voter concerns.

And this from The Hill:

President Obama’s campaign is ramping up efforts to label Mitt Romney a hardcore conservative…[A senior Obama administration official] described Romney as a conservative who wants to get rid of abortion and gay marriage and opposes the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legal residency for children brought to the country as illegal immigrants. The official, mindful of Obama’s hope to win a large percentage of Hispanic voters, said Romney wants to deport all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

So, Team Obama is going to paint as a hardcore anti-choice, anti-gay, jingoist-nativist the guy who devised a health care plan that they cited as a model for ObamaCare? At a time when Americans are less worried about all those so-called hot button issues than they are about jobs?

Obama has now clearly shown his cards: he’s pursuing a two-pronged campaign strategy with the ultimate goal of doing anything possible to keep Americans from thinking about his record.

The first is to make Romney into a conservative whack job. We’ll see how that goes. The second is to litter the landscape with mini-ball topics as an excuse to continue going  all populist on us with his inequality obsession.

On this latter point, Jim Geraghty writes of “the mini issue Presidency” in his Morning Jolt today:

Four days of the Buffett Rule, a couple of days on oil speculation. Today, Obama travels to swing state Ohio for an “official” — read, taxpayer-funded — event at Lorain Community College  to spotlight its “Transformations Program for Computerized Numerically Controlled Machining” as a model worker-training program. Sigh.

Sigh indeed. I remember the weekly meetings in the George W. Bush White House when everything revolved around three big agenda items that would define the President’s public events that week. The items were always his major initiatives, which sometimes he was trying to sell to a skeptical public. I envision exactly the opposite practice in the Obama White House: “OK, guys, anyone got a sidebar maybe ridiculous but sorta sexy idea we can get the President talking about this week to keep folks’ eyes off our record and on our favorite issue?”

Romney is full of deficiencies, some of which could raise their heads in unexpected ways between now and November, but if he can avoid the gaffes and unforced errors, the Obama campaign might be doing him a favor. Too much caricature and too populist mini-ball might sour Americans who don’t see economic recovery coming fast enough.

One important takeaway from the Pew poll for Romney: while education and health care voters trend toward Obama, Romney leads Obama by 19 points among voters with big concerns about deficit spending. Obama will do everything possible not to talk about the deficit – and Paul Ryan proved last year how badly Obama looks when forced against his will to talk about it – so hitting him again and again on this issue, together with its economic effects, will pull a significant number of moderates his way. Romney needs to remember that after the 2010 midterms, independents looked much more like the Tea Party on government spending issues. A lot of the middle is out there for Romney’s taking.

A new Tarrance poll basically bolsters this point – namely that a large majority of Americans want political leaders to pay down the debt and reduce the deficit.

A likely mistake for Romney’s advisers will be for them to keep him off the deficit so we don’t get into talking about fixing entitlements. Let’s hope they don’t fall into that predictable view of the electorate common among the hand-wringing pollster set.