President Barack Obama was 1,600 miles away from delegates gathering at the Democratic National Convention, laying the foundation for a week in which he will draw sharp contrasts with Republican Mitt Romney.
“They have tried to sell us this tired, trickle-down, you’re on your own, snake oil before,” Obama told 13,000 people gathered yesterday at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Those ideas don’t work. They didn’t work then, they won’t work now. They did not create jobs. They did not cut the deficit.”
For the incumbent, whose candidacy four years ago was fueled by a theme of hope and change, much of this week at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be about setting himself apart from Romney.
“Nothing is going to be like 2008,” Obama’s chief political strategist David Axelrod said in an interview. Less about reigniting the enthusiasm of four years ago, the convention this week will focus more on sharpening the differences with Romney.
“Mitt Romney spoke for 45 minutes and never mentioned any of his proposals,” Axelrod said, referring to Romney’s convention speech last week in Tampa, Florida.
Obama advisers insisted that the president’s focus won’t be predominantly negative and will reflect optimism that the economy will be better than the last four years.
“The biggest challenge the president faces is to seize the future,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. “He needs to convince voters that he has a real plan to improve their future.”
Romney aides say he is laying out a clear plan for creating jobs, and charge it is Obama who is trying to obscure his record.
“Instead of delivering hope and change, the president has resorted to divisive attacks to distract voters from the problems facing middle-class families,” Romney press secretary Andrea Saul said.
Leading into the convention, Obama set out to barnstorm battleground states -- Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia -- all of which he won in 2008 and where he’s now locked in tight contests with Romney. Trends aren’t necessarily on Obama’s side: the unemployment rates in Iowa, Virginia and Colorado increased in July from the previous month.
Campaign officials said Obama’s Sept. 6 nomination acceptance speech will stress a different path forward for the economy than Romney is proposing. Without mentioning former President George W. Bush by name, Obama has been aligning Romney’s economic policies with those of the previous administration, linking them to the worst recession since the Great Depression.
He said the agenda put forth at the Republican convention was a “rerun” of ideas from the last century.
“You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV with some rabbit ears,” he told the rally in Boulder.
Taxes will also play prominently, with the president criticizing Romney for failing to provide specifics on how to tackle the country’s fiscal mess and for supporting an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for top earners.
Romney “needs it even less than I do,” Obama said.
Another contrast: national security.
Romney “said that ending the war in Iraq was tragic; I think it was the right thing to do and I said I would do it and we did it,” Obama said. “I said we’d take out bin Laden and we did,” he said, referring to last year’s raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. “We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan and I’ve set a timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014.”
Obama can’t count on people remembering at the ballot box why they voted for him four years ago.
“Essentially, Obama just needs to jog the American memory, remind voters of the qualities they admired so much a few years ago -- intelligence and poise and character and sturdiness,” said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who was an early manager of Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
With 64 days until Election Day, and efforts on both sides focused in less than a dozen battleground states, Obama’s campaign is turning to its ground game. Courting women and younger voters, it is pushing to mobilize and register new voters to cast ballots in states with early voting. Similar efforts in 2008 were critical to Obama’s victory, campaign officials said. Iowa begins early voting the end of September.
In 2008, 77 percent of Colorado voters cast early ballots or voted by mail. Sixty-one percent did so in North Carolina, and 55 percent in Florida, according to the campaign.
“A vote on Election Day is not better than a vote before,” said campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “A vote is a vote.”