Hoping to boost his re-election prospects and dampen criticism from within the Democratic party, President Obama is scheduled to deliver what aides call a major economic speech Thursday in Cleveland.
Obama is expected to portray himself as a defender of the middle class and describe Republican challenger Mitt Romney as a protector of the rich and an advocate of conservative policies that have failed in the past. These are themes that Obama has used many times before as he has called for an economy "built to last," with federal investments in manufacturing, education, energy, and research and development. Administration officials say there probably won't be any major new initiatives in the speech.
The address comes at a time when some Democratic strategists, particularly those associated with former President Bill Clinton, are raising doubts about Obama's message as confusing, backward-looking, and overly negative in attacking Romney. Some say Obama and his team have run out of new ideas and are too insular.
A former senior White House adviser to Clinton tells me that one of Obama's most serious problems is that some corporate leaders consider him "anti-business." This is creating distrust and hardening opposition to him among the nation's corporate leaders and small business owners, says the former adviser, who identifies himself as a centrist.
Another critique that is causing a stir is the new analysis by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Democratic strategist James Carville, along with pollster Erica Seifert, that criticizes Obama's message. Swing voters "want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way" and are "not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery," they say, adding: "We will face an impossible headwind in November if we do not move to a new narrative, one that contextualizes the recovery, but, more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class."
The analysis was based on focus groups in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"These voters are not convinced that we are headed in the right direction," the analysis says. "They are living in a new economy—and there is no conceivable recovery in the year ahead that will change the view of the new state of the country. They actually have a very realistic view of the long road back and the struggles of the middle class—and the current narrative about progress just misses the opportunity to connect and point forward."
Greenberg and Carville both were advisers to Clinton and remain influential in the Democratic party.
Obama has been in a slump in recent weeks. He made a serious gaffe Friday when he said, "It's very clear that private-sector jobs are doing just fine," which gave Romney an opening to criticize him for being out of touch. Obama tried to back away from this comment, but the Republicans have been using it to ridicule him ever since.
And Obama has been hit by a wave of bad news, including an increase in the unemployment rate, reports of a long-term drop in household net worth, and news that Republicans raised more money than Democrats in May. Romney is also moving up in the opinion polls.
And last week, former President Clinton had some praise for Romney's business background in a departure from Obama's negative assessments of his rival's corporate past.
Phil Singer, a Democratic strategist who served as a spokesman for Hillary Clinton in her 2008 Democratic primary campaign against Obama, said Greenberg and Carville paint too bleak a picture about Obama's prospects. Singer tried to minimize the importance of the second-guessing. "No Democratic campaign would be complete without some hand-wringing over its message from the party's luminaries," Singer told Politico. "It's just happening a little earlier than usual now."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.