In 2008, the Obama presidential election campaign was a bright light on the political landscape, lit with the ideals of hope and change, of historic import and a turn-the-other-cheek philosophy that made Barack Obama a draw for many voters.

But in 2012, the campaign for his re-election has taken on a darker aspect, rife with the kind of negative advertisements that, for some, was unexpected.

But political analysts say the campaign’s attacks against Republican challenger Mitt Romney are necessary for President Obama to have a chance at re-election to the White House.

“This is the only strategic option he has,” said Robert Smith, professor of political science at San Francisco State University.

“The last time he was running as the challenger, the new kid on the block, so to speak,” Smith added. “This time he is running as the incumbent with a record to defend. And his record is not easy to defend.”

While the president’s record has bright spots—he revived the U.S. auto industry and stopped a sick economy from worsening through fiscal stimulus packages—his main accomplishment, the health care reform bill, is not yet fully functional and is unpopular. More damagingly, the economic remains anemic and job creation has been slow. .
“This is one of the worst economies that an incumbent president has had to run on in a long time,” Smith told the AFRO. “So he (Obama) has to attack Romney, and to convince the American people that ‘I may not have done as good a job as you may have hoped but this man will be worse.’”

To that end, the Obama campaign has worked to define Romney as an out-of-touch, misguided plutocrat with no understanding of common Americans.

For example, in one of the latest anti-Romney ads, the Obama campaign presses Romney to disclose more of his tax records, playing off popular opinion that the nation’s wealthiest don’t pay their fair share of taxes.

“Mitt Romney has only released one full year of tax returns…. Why hasn’t he released more tax returns?” the opening text reads. This is followed by a clip of an {ABC News} interview in which Romney was asked if he ever paid less than 13.9 percent in taxes. The GOP candidate responds that he doesn’t know but promises to look into it.
“When will Romney come clean?” reads the text just after Romney’s response. “We’re still waiting….”

The Obama machine has been even more relentless in bashing Romney about his business background, particularly his tenure at Bain Capital, an investment management and venture capital firm the Republican former governor co-founded that has been tied to outsourcing jobs abroad. Some have compared the attack to the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry in 2004, which cast aspersions on the candidate’s decorated military history.

“Obama is doing to Romney what Bush did to Kerry: He’s taking Romney’s main selling point—that he’s a businessman—and turning it against him, just as Bush turned Kerry’s military experience against him,” Smith, the political analysts said.

And the approach is bearing fruit, Smith added. “It’s working…We know negative campaigns work. We don’t like them, but they work.”

According to a {Washington Post-ABC News} poll released this month, more voters believe Romney did more to cut than create jobs in the United States during his time as a corporate investor. And, compared to polls in February, twice as many swing-state voters think Romney’s work in buying and restructuring companies is a reason to oppose, rather than to support, his candidacy.

While the Obama campaign’s negative approach may be yielding small dividends, there will be some fallout. Still, Smith said it is the right tact.

“I think it will make some—particularly young people—somewhat disappointed that he is running this negative campaign when they compare it to the idealism, the hope and Obama’s promise of a different kind of politics in the last campaign,” the political analyst said. “It will turn some people off…that’s the risk. But it’s a risk he has to run.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO