Let the general-election fun begin. Less than 24 hours after Mitt Romney rebooted for the umpteenth time, the Obama campaign announced the official start of rally season. The campaign announced an impromptu press conference call Wednesday evening to announce campaign swings through Ohio and Virginia by the president and first lady on May 5. "We understand we've pulled one or two of you out of the bar and we apologize for that," said campaign Press Secretary Ben LaBolt. "I want to go on record: I was opposed to pulling you guys out of the saloons, I didn't think that was the right thing to do," echoed senior advisor David Axelrod, who was joined by campaign manager Jim Messina.
Once they finished pandering to reporters' alcoholic tendencies, the two ripped into Mitt Romney, laying the groundwork for the next six months of talking points. "Welcome to the general election," Messina opened. "As you've all been reporting today the Republicans have settled on their candidate, or should I say settled for their candidate." Their message throughout the call accused Romney of seeking to return to a previous era. "Mitt Romney wants to go back to the future," Messina said. "Mitt Romney's economic scheme is familiar and troubling: more budget busting tax cuts for the wealthy, fewer rules for Wall Street, the same formula that benefited a few but that crashed our economy and punished the middle class."
Axelrod pushed those points even further, questioning Romney's stump resume. "What was most striking about his speech [Tuesday] night: He ... neglected to mention that he was once governor of Massachusetts," Axelrod said, "which seems like a pretty relevant point. Why?" He then listed negative facts from Romney's tenure in charge of that state, including a drop from 37th to 47th in job creation. Yet more than any damning statistics, Romney's silence about his Massachusetts record is largely a byproduct of his recent primary campaign. Most of the policies that caused conservatives to label him a Republican apostate come from his tenure as governor, forcing Romney to push aside that experience over the past year. It will likely enter the spotlight once again now that he is in the general election, though he'll have to walk a fine line as his primary accomplishment—passing a universal health care program—is now a feat he would rather forget.
The attacks weren't limited to Romney; they've clearly been prepping dossiers on possible Republican vice presidential candidates. When a reporter asked how selecting Senator Rob Portman—the new favorite choice of the Washington chattering class—might swing Ohio, Axelrod jumped in swinging. "I think ultimately this will be a contest between the two men at the top of the ticket and their competing philosophies," he said. Yet only a few moments later he added, "The challenge for him with Senator Portman is Senator Portman was one of the architects, as the budget director, of the last administration's economic policies. It's just one more sign if he does that that he wants to go back to those policies."
The specter of the Bush years hovers over Romney's potential running mates. Broadly speaking, there are two groups of VP contenders. On one side, nearly every possibility with extensive Washington experience has some ties to the Bush era, whether that's Portman's stint at the Office of Management and Budget, Bobby Jindal's experience at Health and Human Services, or a former Florida Governor whose last name will instantly propel the Bush years into the spotlight. On the other hand, the second set of options carry their own liabilities. These are the young fresh-faced politicians from the class of 2010, Marco Rubio or Nikki Haley, for example. They don't carry as much baggage, but they also lack experience and vetting, a prime consideration among Republicans as the memory of the Sarah Palin debacle casts a pale over the decision.