The president is reshaping his message to focus on what aides call his defense of the middle class. It’s a strategy against GOP efforts to turn the election into a referendum on his economic record.
With Republicans distracted by an increasingly divisive primary battle, President Obama and his aides have begun a high-stakes effort to change how voters look at the main issue in the 2012 election — the nation’s continued economic troubles.
Republicans would like to make the November election a referendum on Obama’s economic record. For much of his presidency, they have pounded away at monthly statistics showing high unemployment and anemic growth.
“We’re seeing continuing high levels of unemployment. We see home values declining; foreclosures remain at record levels,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney points out often. Obama, he says, “has failed in the job he was elected to do.”
Until recently, the main Democratic response was that although Obama’s stimulus plan and other measures had not cured the economy, they had averted another Great Depression. But party strategists concede that as a slogan, “could have been worse” is more likely to win support among economists than average voters.
So increasingly, Obama and his aides have switched to a longer view, trying to focus attention on what they portray as the president’s defense of the middle class. That positioning, they hope, will set up a helpful contrast with his November opponent.
“This isn’t just about recovering from this recession,” said a senior advisor to Obama, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal White House discussions. “This is about saving the middle class from a decline that’s been going on for three decades.”
Obama began to highlight the shift this month, and it may already have helped him when combined with a somewhat warmer economy and Republican disarray. Public approval of the president, which in late summer had fallen below 40% in at least one major poll, has now approached 50% in several surveys.
“It’s a much stronger position than where he was before,” said Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg. In a closely divided electorate, shifting by a few points “matters substantially, and it reflects a sustained change in the narrative” from Obama. Talking about the “state of the middle class” connects with voters in a way that discussing the “state of the recovery” doesn’t, he said.
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SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times
Christi Parsons and David Lauter