With the spotlight moving away from his Republican challenger, President Obama needs to take advantage of the Democratic convention in Charlotte this week to draw sharp policy differences with Mitt Romney and frame a crystal-clear choice for voters heading into the closing weeks of the campaign, a group of top Democrats surveyed by the Globe said.
At the same time, the incumbent must fight back against what Democrats say are gross distortions of his record by the Republicans and reinstill in voters some of the inspirational message that propelled him into office four years ago.
After months of Democratic pounding of Romney, in an attempt to portray and him and his policies as tools of the wealthiest Americans, the incumbent should shift the focus to his own plans for the country while simultaneously drawing unmistakeably clear policy differences with the Republican, the officials and strategists said.
The dueling conventions are occurring at a time when the race remains very close and a noxious political environment is made more toxic by the contemptuous tone of the debate. Also, the influx of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of negative advertising by outside groups is saturating the airwaves in the fewer than 10 states whose electoral votes may decide the election.
When the Democrats leave North Carolina later this week, there will be fewer than nine weeks until Election Day, and the stage will be set for three presidential debates and one debate between the vice presidential candidates.
In Charlotte, Obama should focus less on “what’s wrong with Romney” and more on his own achievements — 4.5 million private-sector jobs created in the past 29 months, expansion of health coverage, ending the war in Iraq, rescuing the auto industry, and “bringing Osama bin Laden to justice,” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who succeeded Romney and is a high-profile surrogate for Obama.
“I think the president is strongest when he speaks to the whole country and talks about the American dream being at stake and the things we have to do together to make the whole country better,” Patrick said. “This president has been faulted by some in his own party for repeatedly reaching out to the other side even when they declared their main mission was to undo his presidency and make him a one-term president. But had he not done that he would have betrayed the people who want their leaders to be magnanimous and work across the aisle.”
“It’s a real choice,” said Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. “The choice could not be more stark. It’s clearly a choice between [Republican policies] of deregulation and more money in the hands of the wealthiest in the country at the expensive of a whole bunch of things, like investments in research and education.”
“What the president has to do is set the record straight, undo the lies, and make clear the record of accomplishment over the last four years and how it’s connected to what he needs to do in the next four years to complete the task,” said Kerry, who, along with Patrick, is scheduled to address the convention.
The remarks by Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will be part of a convention night that emphasizes the Obama administration’s foreign policy and national security record, which Democrats see as an advantage in the fall campaign because of the troop withdrawal from Iraq, the start of withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the killing of Al Qaeda leaders, especially bin Laden.
Romney’s lack of experience in foreign policy is a weakness, Patrick said, citing “one clownish mistake after another” during Romney’s trip overseas this summer to the United Kingdom, Israel, and Poland.
But the principal convention message of the Democrats in Charlotte is shaping up as an economic one, contrasting the fiscal policies of the Obama administration and Democrats with the tax-cutting, shrink-the-government message of Romney, his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and the GOP platform adopted in Tampa.
“The core question that voters are asking this election is who is going to restore economic security for the middle class and create good-paying jobs for the middle class,” Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt said. Romney’s blueprint of continued tax cuts for the wealthiest and deregulation echoes the George W. Bush policies that created sluggish job growth “and led to a financial house of cards that collapsed in 2008.”
“The convention will focus on how with the president’s vision we will build the economy from the middle class out by investing in education, energy, research and development, and manufacturing,” LaBolt said.
Republicans have relentlessly attacked the Obama record, arguing that the health care overhaul, increased regulation, and excessive spending have ensured high unemployment and increased a staggering national debt that threatens the country’s future. The Obama plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, they say, will retard future job growth. Romney himself has charged during the campaign that Obama’s view of economics is influenced by European-style democratic socialism, eliciting cries of protest from Democrats.
A broader challenge for Obama is to reconnect with the voters he once inspired, said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist and former Kerry presidential campaign manager.
Brian C. Mooney can be reached at email@example.com.