With three months to go until the November election, both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are in holding patterns. Each is holding to his current strategy of staying relentlessly on the attack. And this negativity is expected to intensify after the national conventions later this summer, when most voters will be back from their holidays and will start really paying attention to the election.
"It's a race to the bottom" for both sides, says a key GOP strategist who argues that both Obama and Romney are being too negative and not giving voters a positive reason to vote for them or a specific and compelling agenda for the next four years. The strategist adds, "The country seems to be in the process of deciding it's ok to vote against Obama but not yet convinced it's ok to vote for Romney." This anti-Obama sentiment is largely because of high unemployment, which is at 8.2 percent, and slow economic growth, political strategists of both major parties say.
Obama intends to keep attacking Romney as an unacceptable alternative for Middle America. He portrays Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire who ran a business, Bain Capital, that was more interested in making profits than creating jobs and who is an over-zealous conservative who wants government to help the rich and powerful, not the middle class.
Romney argues that Obama isn't up to the task of improving the economy, which is the top issue for most voters. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, says Obama is a big-government liberal who would go ever further in a second term toward over-regulating the private sector, raising taxes, and rewarding his left-of-center allies. "He is not the leader that many of his supporters expected, and this is hurting him," says a prominent Democratic strategist whose firm advises many Democratic congressional candidates.
Some Democrats think Obama is in danger of losing the White House because he is so markedly different from the candidate of hope and change who in 2008 promised to build bridges to his adversaries and has morphed into an attack politician who is trying to win by decimating his opponents.
As for Romney, "He needs a little more 'shining city on a hill' and a little less 'darkness at nigh noon,'" says Ken Duberstein, a prominent GOP strategist who was White House chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column in the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.