Despite complaints from journalists and pundits that Thursday’s dueling Ohio speeches offered nothing new, the events actually revealed quite a bit about President Barack Obama’s strategy and the state of the race between himself and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Obama clearly recognizes that Romney is a threat — at least as long as the economic recovery struggles. For the first time since the former Massachusetts governor essentially wrapped up the GOP nomination in April, Obama called him out in a speech — almost 10 times according to a transcript of the address. The president did not get caught up in the moment; this was planned.
The speech also suggested that the president and his team view their re-election prospects as particularly dependent on boosting turnout among the Democratic base.
Unlike Obama’s decision to travel to Republican-leaning Kansas last December to deliver a populist themed address on economic fairness, the president on Thursday chose Cleveland, where he’ll need a strong Democratic turnout if he is to carry Ohio once again, to offer voters a laundry list of government-funded programs typically championed by liberals and progressives. Obama made the case that job growth flows from government investment, an argument popular on the left.
“In the last century, research that we funded together through our tax dollars helped lay the foundation for the Internet and GPS and Google and the countless companies and jobs that followed,” Obama said. “The private sector came in and — and created these incredible companies, but we together made the initial investment to make it possible.”
Romney countered Obama’s 54-minute speech with a much shorter address and simpler message. Speaking before a smaller crowd than the president’s on the factory floor of a business in Cincinnati — where he will need to pull votes to win Ohio, Romney charged that Obama has failed on the economy, and vowed to fix it and make it better than ever. The typically stiff and scripted Republican nominee appeared relaxed, even delivering his remarks without the aid of his usual teleprompter.
As long as the general economic outlook doesn’t change, the messages we heard Thursday from Obama and Romney are unlikely to shift in any measurable fashion. Given recent domestic economic indicators and uncertainty in Europe, that means what we witnessed in Ohio could be a preview of exactly what this campaign will look and sound like all the way until Election Day. This is the race.