Dem Campaign Means Two-Front War for Mitt Romney
By Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman
December 8, 2011
If Newt Gingrich ends up as the Republican presidential nominee, he may have the Democrats to thank for it.
For nearly two months now, Democrats have pummeled Gingrich’s top primary rival — Mitt Romney — with a relentless stream of character attacks, casting him as a soulless political flip-flopper in Web videos, press conferences and paid television ads. Only in the past few days have Obama allies bothered to address Gingrich’s rocket-like ascent in the polls.
What began in October with a hastily announced Obama campaign press call — during which David Axelrod attacked Romney as a “stunningly inconsistent” politician — has grown into a sustained, daily campaign to tear down the former Massachusetts governor.
The Democrats’ pre-emptive anti-Mitt push is a genuinely unusual phenomenon in presidential politics. While it’s not unusual to see parties taking some early shots at their political opponents — even during the primary process — such a protracted, harsh messaging effort has no precedent in recent years. …
The Romney campaign has publicly welcomed the assault on their candidate, and there is a sizable school of thought in both parties that says the attacks on Romney have largely served to elevate him in the Republican primary. …
Still, to some, the Democratic offensive looks like a cynical attempt to choose a weak opponent for a vulnerable president — a clear departure from the respectful brand of politics Obama pledged to practice.
But Democrats privately admit that the White House has viewed Romney as the most threatening top-tier candidate in the GOP field, and feared the pull-all-punches primary was letting him essentially skate by without being defined. …
Even Democrats who believe they have managed to put Romney on the defensive over character issues remain unsure just how bloodied he is in the Republican primary. While Romney is clearly struggling in his duel with Gingrich, Democrats quietly acknowledge they are still preparing to face Romney — whom they view as far more formidable — in the general election.
But if there’s even a small chance that early attacks are making life difficult for him with GOP primary voters, Democrats believe their continued meddling is worthwhile — especially now that Romney foes such as Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman are hitting him with a similar message from the right.
“The attacks from both the right and the left have together been so effective because they’ve squared up perfectly, really mirror images of each other,” said Democratic strategist Jim Jordan. “It’s all an attack on character, authenticity, and it’s worked because it’s based in truth, Republican voters instinctively agree.”
Steve Lombardo, a former pollster for Romney’s 2008 campaign who now heads the consulting firm StrategyOne, said it was “brilliant” for Democrats to force Romney into a “two-front war.”
“If they derail Romney, then they get a more conservative candidate,” Lombardo said. “If Romney wins, they’ll have substantially damaged him in the eyes of many voters and laid out a narrative that Romney doesn’t have a core. That’s gonna be difficult for Romney to overcome.” …
Gingrich, for his part, says he’s only too happy to see the Democratic message machine keeping Romney pinned down.
“I am perfectly happy for the Obama people to decide they want to beat up on Romney. That’s a little tough on Romney but that’s fine by me,” he said on CNN on Wednesday. …
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