From student loans to women’s rights, President Obama’s campaign team is aggressively trying to expand the political conversation beyond simply the economy, an issue on which the president has major vulnerabilities.
The Obama campaign’s decision to highlight the one-year anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing, while generating ire from Republicans, fits perfectly with its overall approach. Over the last several weeks, Democrats, including Obama’s operation, have elevated a series of issues that expose divisions within in the GOP (such as the student loan debate) or unpopular positions Republicans hold.
“We’re got governors and legislatures across the river in Virginia, up the road in Pennsylvania and all across the country saying that women can’t be trusted to make your own decisions. They’re pushing and passing bills forcing women to get ultrasounds, even if they don’t want one,” Obama said Friday at an event for women supporting his re-election campaign, referring to controversial anti-abortion legislation pushed by GOP governors and state legislators in several states.
WATCH ‘DAILY RUNDOWN’ COVERAGE OF THE OSAMA BIN LADEN ISSUE:
The provisions require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion.
These moves illustrate one of the central dynamics of this campaign: Mitt Romney would like to speak almost exclusively about the economy and make the next several months simply a referendum on the president’s record, while Obama and his team are trying to turn the campaign into a contrast of visions for the country.
Traditionally, Democrats campaign on pocketbook issues like the economy and health care, while Republicans highlight national security and family values issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But public opinion on many cultural subjects has shifted over the last decade, and the Democratic positions on gay rights (support for either gay marriage or civil unions) and abortion (keep it legal) are now shared by the majority of the public.
A campaign around the “culture wars” would probably benefit Obama, who could paint himself as the leader of an increasingly diverse party against a GOP that is now dominated by elderly white voters. And his national security decisions, from winding down the war in Iraq to the raid on bin Laden, are backed by voters in both parties.
On the other hand, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed more Americans trust Romney than Obama to improve the economy. Fifty-two percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, compared to 45 percent who approve.
That’s why, when Democrats highlight the moves of GOP governors to restrict abortion rights, Romney’s campaign has quickly shifted to discussing the high number of women who have lost jobs over the last three years.
Here’s how Obama’s approach could work. Voters consistently rank the economy as their No. 1 issue, a major problem for the president and advantage for Romney. But if he can convince voters that the economy is gradually getting better, as most data suggests, Obama can then make the election about the economy but also other issues on which either Romney has less popular positions or the president’s record is stronger.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr