How the Attack on Massachusetts Could Backfire

This morning, the Obama campaign released its first video on Mitt Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts:

There are a few obvious problems with this line of attack. Even with its fiscal problems and slow job growth, Massachusetts wasn’t a terrible place to live under the Romney administration. The point is to show that Romney is offering the same “robotic” line to voters, but how does that resonate when few people associate Massachusetts with “bad governance?”

The big problem for this attack is health care reform. Not only was Romney’s health care bill the signature accomplishment of his administration, but it formed the basis for the Affordable Care Act, which may become the signature accomplishment of President Obama’s administration. Romneycare remains popular with Massachusetts voters, and it’s a genuine achievement for the Republican nominee, even if he can’t present it as an asset in his campaign. By attacking Romney’s tenure, the Obama campaign could put itself in the odd position of defending the ACA and disparaging Romneycare as inadequate (the reverse of where Romney was in the primaries).

With all of that said, there’s a lot to be gained from attacking Romney as a failed governor. Because of his persona and the current state of the economy, voters trust that Romney can get the country back on track, despite policies that would do little for ordinary Americans. If the Obama campaign can knock him from his pedestal of competence with attacks on his governorship, as well as Bain Capital, they will have undermined his image as an acceptable alternative, and dealt a huge blow to his campaign. The Romney team knows this, which is why they’ve responded with a renewed attack on Obama’s economic record:

After weeks of failed negative attacks, bad headlines, Democrats repudiating President Obama’s attacks on free enterprise, and Democrat defections, the Obama campaign has gone from ‘Hope and Change’ to ‘Hope to Change the Subject.’ Only President Obama, who has failed to meet his own goal of 6% unemployment, would have the audacity to attack Mitt Romney’s record of creating jobs. We’re happy to compare the 4.7% unemployment rate Mitt Romney achieved in Massachusetts to President Obama’s weak record any day.

The goal here—as it has been since Romney entered the race—is to present Obama’s economic record as independent from the financial crisis. It’s why the campaign continues to blame Obama for job losses that occurred before the stimulus took effect—otherwise, they would have to contend with the fact that the economy has created 3.6 million private sector jobs under Obama, and unemployment is on a downwards slope. Relying on a misleading “net” tally is the only way the Romney campaign can make its core claim that Obama has been destructive for the economy.

It’s worth noting that the Romney campaign would be in a worse position if the press were willing to evaluate its numbers. Unfortunately, reporters are more likely to treat the issue as a game of “he said, she said,” matching a dishonest claim from the Romney team—“Obama has lost 572,000 jobs”—with a correction from the Obama campaign—“You should count from when his policies began”—as if they were equivalent. You could repeat this with arguments about Romney’s job creation record at Bain Capital (it’s impossible to prove), or his attacks on the automobile bailout (actually false). Put another way, if Romney is able to convince Americans that he is qualified to help the economy, he’ll have an uncritical press to thank.

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