The likely Republican presidential nominee is starting to sound more like firebrand former GOP rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum than the candidate who used to describe Obama as a "nice guy" who happened to be in over his head.
"Barack Obama's attempt to denigrate and diminish the achievement of the individual diminishes us all," Romney said at a campaign event in Ohio on Wednesday. "We're a united nation, he divides us. He tries to divide America, tear America apart. He tries to diminish those who have been successful in one walk of life or another. It's simply wrong."
Romney, currently getting hit by Democrats for refusing to release more than one year's worth of tax returns and ambiguity about his leadership role at Bain Capital, appears to have taken personal offense at the jabs. In particular, Romney has seized on a line delivered last week by Obama that seems to imply business owners owe their existence to government.
"I know that you recognize a lot of people helped you in a business--perhaps the banks, the investors, there's no question your mom and dad, your school teachers, the people that provide roads, the fire, the police, a lot of people help," Romney said. "But let me ask you this--did you build your business? If you did, raise your hand. Take that, Mr. President."
The entirety of what Obama said last week actually seems to mirror some of the comments Romney made in trying to deride the president.
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen," Obama recently said during a campaign event in Virginia. "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together."
Obama credited American successes like the GI bill, a middle class, the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the invention of the Internet, and putting a man on the moon to collective efforts.
"We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for president--because I still believe in that idea. You're not on your own. We're in this together," Obama said.
The most recent national polling shows the two men deadlocked in the race for the White House. A Fox News survey puts Obama at 45 percent support versus 41 percent for Romney and a CBS News/New York Times poll shows Romney at 47 percent and Obama at 46 percent.
In swing-state surveys, the trend continues. Recent polling shows Obama and Romney tied in Virginia at 44 percent each; in New Hampshire, Obama leads Romney 49 percent to 45 percent; in Iowa the president also has a five-point lead; and in Ohio, Florida and Colorado, the two men are statistically tied.
But the messages Romney and Obama are now campaigning on serve to reinforce the political philosophy dividing the country's two major parties, perhaps in the starkest terms yet. Obama is harkening back to the themes that helped elect him in 2008--the divide between the haves and the have-nots is ever-expanding and the American Dream that hinges on hard work leading to success has been dashed for many Americans thanks to the rules of government largely established during the Bush administration. Romney is arguing that government under Obama has grossly expanded and attempts to tear down success for the sake of redistributing its fruits to those perhaps not taking personal responsibility for their own place in society--something he claims is ripping away the promise of the American Dream for those actually working to achieve it.
"When you attack success, like this president has, you will see under this president less success," Romney said. "I will celebrate success, reward success, encourage it, help it in our kids, our families. We'll be a more successful and prosperous nation with more jobs and rising income. That's the direction for America--not this denigration of success and achievement in America."
Time will tell if voters buy what each candidate is selling. Generally the effectiveness of campaign messaging lies in whether or not it resonates with an already existing narrative or trail of evidence. By moving right with his rhetoric, Romney risks alienating independent-minded voters who like the president personally but are disappointed with his performance--it's a calculated gamble in an election with a razor-thin margin of error.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.