The Soft Sell

According to The New York Times, American Crossroads, Karl Rove's super PAC, has decided that trying to make the American people hate and fear Barack Obama just isn't going to work. So their advertising is going to use a softer sell, a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger approach to convincing Americans to vote for Mitt Romney in the fall. It seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do—I've been arguing for some time that it's absurd to believe that large numbers of voters are going to radically alter their view of the president they've been watching for the last three years because of some television ads they saw—and it's backed up by Crossroads' own opinion research:

Behind the story of the ad’s creation rests one of the greatest challenges for Republicans in this election: how to develop a powerful line of attack against a president who remains well liked even by people who are considering voting against him.

The concept for the newest advertisement and even some of the lines in the script were culled directly from focus groups of undecided and sometimes torn voters that were held over nearly a year. As Crossroads strategists would learn after 18 different focus groups and field tests, from Missouri to Colorado to Ohio to Florida, the harshest anti-Obama jabs backfire with many Americans. Middle-of-the-road voters who said they thought the country was on the wrong track were unmoved when they heard arguments that the president lacks integrity. And they did not buy assertions that he is a rabid partisan with a radical liberal agenda that is wrecking America.

"They are not interested in being told they made a horrible mistake," said Steven J. Law, president of Crossroads GPS and the affiliated "super PAC," American Crossroads. "The disappointment they’re now experiencing has to be handled carefully."

What's interesting about this is that these guys are obviously professional enough to know when their instincts and desires are wrong. It isn't as though Karl Rove doesn't relish going negative, and like all partisan Republicans, I'm sure the folks at Crossroads would love nothing better than to lob vicious attacks at the President. So a part of them must cringe every time they have to acknowledge that Americans basically like Obama. Let's watch the ad:

There is a problem with this kind of approach, though: it depends on things staying exactly as they are. If you convince people that a candidate has been sent forth from the pits of hell to destroy America, then a quarter of healthy GDP growth isn't going to change their minds about whom to vote for. But if you convince them that things haven't worked out as they had hoped, then if things are looking better and better, they may find it quite easy to swing back to Obama's side.

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