Obama's cool factor: what Romney can do to counter it

Instead of just ignoring Obama cool, the Republicans are taking it on and arguing why he should be voted out. A 'super PAC' supporting the Romney campaign has produced a new video for this purpose.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama talks with Jimmy Fallon during commercial break as he participates in a taping of the 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,' show Tuesday, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C..

Republicans know that in a battle of “cool,” Mitt Romney doesn’t stand a chance against President Obama.

While Mr. Obama slow-jammed the news on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” – giving the show its highest viewership in two years – Mr. Romney’s biggest cultural moment of the week was ... what? Sitting at a picnic table with Republican voters in Bethel Park, Pa., in his crisp white shirt and necktie, turning up his nose at the cookies? Turns out they were from a beloved local bakery. Oops.

Maybe that’s not fair. After all, being cool isn’t a prerequisite for the presidency, even with young voters. And certainly, Team Obama is playing up its advantage. It’s not by chance that Obama’s image mavens gave Rolling Stone magazine an interview with the president, landing him on the cover of the latest issue.

But instead of just ignoring Obama cool, the Republicans are hanging a lantern on it, saying, in effect, We get it, and here’s why you should vote him out anyway.

That’s the essence of a new video out Thursday by American Crossroads, the big conservative “super political-action committee” that’s supporting the Romney campaign. The 45-second message is mostly a montage of cool Obama moments – appearing on Jimmy Fallon, singing Al Green, calling Kanye West an expletive. Then the music stops, and the harsh statistics appear: Half of recent college grads are either jobless or underemployed. Eighty-five percent of college grads are moving in with their parents, according to a study out last May. Student-loan debt just crossed the $1 trillion mark.

“We’ll likely push a version of that through online advertising as the president is taking his campaign to college campuses across the country,” says Jonathan Collegio, communications director of American Crossroads. “Americans elected a pop-culture icon for president in 2008, and in 2012 we’re seeing the results of his economy.”

The video is reminiscent of one the McCain campaign ran in 2008, highlighting Obama’s global celebrity – and comparing him to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn: “I ask my Republican friends, how well did that ad work out for you?”

Plus, doesn’t a video that hits Obama for being cool just enhance the coolness?

“If at this point, a voter thinks Obama’s coolness is more important than the fact they can’t get a job, we’re probably not going to sway those people,” says Mr. Collegio. “And there are those people out there.”

But, he and other Republicans point out, not only do polls show that plenty of young undecided voters are open to Romney, but they also show that young voters might not bother to turn out this time. Four years ago, Obama beat John McCain among 18- to 29-year-olds, 66 percent to 32 percent. A Gallup poll this week shows roughly the same margin between Obama and Romney, but only 56 percent of this cohort say they definitely plan to vote. That’s lower than the other age groups.

And coolness does in fact matter when it comes to elections, especially when it’s the presidency, Mr. Fenn says.

“Voting for president is the most personal vote you cast, because you really care about who’s president,” he says. “So you want to make sure there’s a connection, that they’re striking a responsive chord with you.”

Is there a way to make Romney cool? Politico ran a piece recently suggesting the Obama campaign was “Draperizing” Mitt Romney – that is, trying to make him into a retro figure like Don Draper on the hit TV show “Mad Men.” There’s certainly a cool element to Draper, at least in the cut of his suits and jaunty angle of his hats.

But apparently Obama strategist David Axelrod had something else in mind. He recently joked that Romney “must watch ‘Mad Men’ and think it’s the evening news,” while also accusing him of holding views from a time when “bosses could dictate on women’s health,” Politico notes.

Collegio of American Crossroads suggests a redefinition of “cool” might be in order.

“I think for a broad swath of America, what’s cool is having five great kids, making a fortune in the private sector, loving your wife, and having a great record as governor,” he says. “Maybe there’s a lot more substance there than style.”

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