July 6, 2012 6:07 pm

Obama goes on the road to regain touch

U.S. President Barack Obama in Parma, Ohio©Reuters

At the start of the week, Ann Romney boiled down Barack Obama’s strategy to beat her husband, Mitt, to two words: “Kill Romney.”

It did not quite look like that on Thursday and Friday, when Mr Obama left behind the White House and the dizzying round of glitzy fund raisers with wealthy backers to return to small town America.


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Travelling in an armour-plated coach and followed by an entourage of more than a dozen vehicles and media buses, the tour swept through the corn fields of Ohio and into western Pennsylvania with the discretion of a headlining rock act.

On the way, Mr Obama was rediscovering the campaign skills that propelled him improbably into the White House in 2008, stopping at roadside bars, accosting surprised children and conjuring up inspirational speeches without a teleprompter.

The final rally on campus in Pittsburgh was young and rousing, but at the four events in Ohio, the crowds were small, enthusiastic and loyal, with a ticket required for entrance.

“He never lost me,” said Frank Cox, 68, a retired maths teacher. “I know he has had a lot to overcome, but you know, we black people have always had a lot to overcome.”

After a series of missteps last month, the formidable Obama machine is showing signs that it is cranking into gear, and, as Mrs Romney fretted, at last getting her husband in its sights.

Interactive graphic: Race for the White House

The backgrounds and platforms of the main candidates

Slow to warm-up, Mr Obama’s hustings speeches still mix the disposition of a professor with the rhythms of a preacher. But he knows better than anyone that will not be enough.

The report that just 80,000 extra jobs were created in June, lagging the pace of population growth, was confirmation the economy is caught in a summer slowdown for the third year running.

Luckily for the president, Mr Romney has been generating his own problems, triggering conservative vitriol over his campaign’s multiple positions on whether Mr Obama’s healthcare law includes a tax.

When Mr Romney introduced a fee as Massachusetts governor in 2006 similar to Mr Obama’s to punish people who failed to buy insurance, he described it variously as a penalty and a tax.

On Monday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Mr Obama’s favour, his campaign called the fee a penalty. Two days later, after Republican uproar, Mr Romney reversed course, declaring it a tax again.

Mr Romney has also infuriated business titans Rupert Murdoch and Jack Welch as well as the powerful conservatives in charge at the editorial pages of the Wall St Journal, with his failure (in their eyes) to square up to Mr Obama.

As much as they revelled in his discomfort, Obama campaign officials said they placed little store in the media noise surrounding Mr Romney, especially as they were the target only two weeks ago of similar criticism..

“We had our own turn in the stupid barrel,” said one Obama campaign adviser, adding that he expected the race to remain close throughout. “Things just aren’t that volatile.”

The jobs report was a reminder the Obama campaign is likely to remain behind the eight-ball on the economy until election day, a period which will include three more monthly jobs numbers, none likely to be good.

Hence their opponent’s wife’s description of their overriding strategy: “Kill Romney.”

The two states chosen to relaunch the president, Ohio and Pennsylvania, are fertile ground for the attacks now raining down on Mr Romney, over his personal wealth, overseas bank accounts and career in private equity.

Mr Obama leaves the most direct and personal attacks on Mr Romney and the bank accounts in tax havens to surrogates, like Ted Strickland, the former Ohio governor.

“The president is betting on American workers, and Mitt Romney is betting his resources in the Cayman Islands, in Bermuda and in Switzerland, and God only knows where else,” said Mr Strickland, introducing Mr Obama at Maumee, Ohio.

Mr Obama took a higher road, extolling the recovery of the auto industry, one of the largest employers in Ohio, and his promise to defend the middle-class against the hollowing-out of services threatened by Republicans.

The campaign thinks they are both areas where the president can distinguish himself from Mr Romney, especially if his campaign manages to paint the former finance executive as an out of touch plutocrat.

“Mr Romney’s basic idea is that if everybody is on his own, everything will turn out fine. We tried that before. It doesn’t work,” he said.

At Ziggy’s bar in Amherst, Ohio, a patron pointed out that the TV was turned to Mr Obama’s arch media enemy, Mr Murdoch’s Fox News.

Mr Obama jokingly suggested the patron could have the channel changed. “The customer is always right,” the president quipped. No doubt he hopes he will be able to say the same in November.

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