By Francis Wilkinson
In this year's presidential campaign, Mitt Romney has always had the easier argument: "The economy stinks, so vote for the new guy."
At the moment, he's not making that case. Instead, in addition to juggling questions about health care, the Romney campaign is running an ad accusing President Barack Obama of telling "vicious lies" about Romney's tenure at Bain Capital.
Romney's rhetorical sweet spot is probably right about here: "I don't think the president is a bad guy," he told a crowd in Connecticut. "I just think his political philosophy is entirely wrong and doesn't work for the American people." In other words, it's OK to like Obama, but he's not someone you want presiding over the world's largest economy.
The road from "my opponent's not a bad guy" to "actually, he's a vicious liar" is not one traveled by campaigns on the upswing. Romney is off track -- either because he's overreacting to Democratic attacks on Bain or because those attacks are hurting him. At least one recent poll suggests the latter.
While Romney's simple message (the economy stinks) has grown messier (never mind that health care thing, and besides, that guy's a liar!), Obama's is looking less complex.
Obama's argument for his presidency requires caveats and extended explanations about the dire situation he inherited, the obstructionism he's faced, blah, blah, blah. It's not surprising that his campaign prefers something pithier. A rough distillation: My opponent belongs to a class of super-wealthy economic predators without empathy for the middle class.
Obama's campaign seems to have a pretty straightforward strategy. First, use television spending and super-PAC allies to undermine Romney -- insert Bain ad here -- among working-class whites in swing states. Then, use technology to identify nonwhite and youthful voters and propel them to the polls.
Even if Obama maintains traction on the first part of his formula -- and what campaign doesn't backslide now and then? -- we won't know how he fares on Phase Two until Nov. 6. At the moment, however, his approach seems streamlined, while Romney's message has grown unwieldy.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
Read more breaking commentary from Josh Barro and other Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.
-0- Jul/03/2012 18:14 GMT