Obama ad attacks Mitt Romney's record on jobs as governor: risky strategy?

For an incumbent president, negative ads always carry risks. But attacking Mitt Romney over his record on job creation while governor of Massachusetts may be Obama's only play right now.

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    President Obama speaks at a campaign event at Chicago Cultural Center, Friday, in Chicago.
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On CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, President Obama's senior strategist David Axelrod disputed the notion that he is running a negative campaign.

"We've run probably $25, $27 million of advertising in this campaign, and virtually all of it has been positive," Mr. Axelrod noted. 

That may be the case overall. But the campaign's recent ads have taken a sharp turn toward the negative, as gloomy economic news has made it harder for Mr. Obama to run on his own record. 

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First came the controversial ad attacking Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital (a strategy that some Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, took exception to).

On Monday, the campaign released a new ad attacking Mr. Romney's economic record as governor of Massachusetts.

Set to run in nine battleground states, the ad features footage of Romney during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, claiming he knows how to create jobs. It then goes on to state that during Romney's tenure as governor, Massachusetts lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs and fell to 47th in the nation in job creation. The closing line: "Romney economics: It didn't work then, and it won't work now." 

Given the lousy economic climate, attacking Romney may be the only card the Obama team has to play right now. As Axelrod said on Sunday, "when you hold yourself out as an economical oracle and say to people, 'trust me, I know how to move the country forward,' and your record says something else, of course you're going to be challenged for that."

But the Obama strategy carries some risks.

For one thing, any time an incumbent president goes negative, it can wind up making him look smaller – effectively bringing him down to his opponent's level.  

And coming on the heels of last Friday's dismal jobs report, an ad focusing specifically on job creation – even though it's about Romney's poor record of job creation in Massachusetts – could wind up reminding voters how bad the national jobs picture is right now. That's certainly the discussion the Romney campaign wants to be having.

Finally, we're not so sure about the wisdom of showing Romney saying three times that he knows how to create jobs. Yes, the ad uses those clips to try to dismantle the claim – but who knows, in this age of channel surfing and multitasking, we think there's a decent chance that at least some voters who aren't paying attention could wind up focusing primarily on Romney's words, rather than the message of the ad. ("Hey, this Romney guy says he knows how to create jobs!") As the saying goes, in politics, repetition is king.


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