Obama winning by campaigning like a Republican

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When the Obama campaign released its new ad “Firms” over the weekend, the hard-hitting ad was so good it might have even made Republican political operative Karl Rove nod in respect.

The ad, which features Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful,” is slickly produced and cut with images of empty factories and notes about Romney’s ties to Bain Capital, a pioneer of outsourcing, and island beaches to highlight Romney’s off-shore bank accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.  Romney’s singing is painfully bad, and the closing message in the 30-second ad is “Mitt Romney is not the solution. He’s the problem.”

The Obama campaign has gone for the jugular – directly attacking Mitt Romney’s central argument for why he should be president – and is showing no signs of letting up.  For the past week, Romney’s campaign has been taking hits from all sides.

After the Boston Globe reported Romney’s SEC filings contradict his public statements and testimony under oath about his tenure as CEO of Bain Capital, Romney leaked a transparently untrue story to The Drudge Report about Condoleezza Rice being on the top of his list for vice president and was forced to do a Friday evening media blitz in the hopes of putting a stop to the bleeding.

The media blitz didn’t work, and on Saturday morning the Obama campaign went in for the kill with the “Firms” ad, which created the space for Republican strategists to begin saying openly that Romney should release his tax returns in order to clear up some of the open questions about Bain.  With the Obama campaign forcing the narrative along and giving it the last little push, even Republicans sat on the Sunday shows wondering aloud what Romney could possibly have to hide.

Romney has only agreed to release 2 years of tax returns, which is alarming since he released 23 years of tax returns when he was being vetted by the McCain campaign in 2008.  Romney’s lack of transparency makes him look like there is something in his tax returns he doesn’t want American voters to see, and the Obama campaign knows they benefit a great deal by keeping up the pressure on Romney to release them in bulk.

Romney has run his entire campaign on his “strength,” his private sector experience, as the reason why he’s the right person to fix the economy.  With Obama going right after his core argument – a tactic made famous by Republican political operative Karl Rove – his entire candidacy looks like it might be going down in flames.

The Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain capital have received a lot of criticism from both sides of the aisle, with surrogates like Cory Booker objecting to the attacks as “nauseating.” and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell saying the attacks “went too far.” The Obama campaign, undeterred by Booker or Rendell, refuses to let up. While these weak-willed Democrats feel quite uneasy, polling data shows the Bain attacks are working in crucial battleground states including Colorado, Virginia, and Ohio.

With the Obama campaign now putting out helpful info-graphics that identify which foreign economies would benefit from Romney’s economic policies, and a continued focus on their opponent’s time at Bain Capital, with the bright line connection to his tax returns, the heat is turned all the way up on the Republican presidential hopeful. Only time will tell if he can stand up to the pressure and hit back effectively, or whether he’s John Kerry 2.0.

At this point, Romney is being defined by the Obama campaign – a strategy that is the norm for presidential races with an incumbent and a challenger – and without a complete national profile, Romney’s struggling to catch up to the narrative.  Part of that narrative is self-inflicted, with debate gaffes and comments that make him appear out of touch with the middle class, and the rest of that narrative is being filled in by the Obama campaign.

Romney has been running for president for a long time, but it doesn’t appear that he has sufficiently planned for the most obvious attacks on his credentials.  His slow response to the Bain attacks might shed some light on his campaign’s overconfidence that a lagging economy and repetition of the phrases “when I was in the private sector” and “I know how to create jobs” would win him the White House.

Turns out Romney underestimated Team Obama, which is hoping to define Romney as a completely unacceptable alternative even before we get to the party conventions and the debates this fall.  And with Mitt Romney’s approval ratings falling each day, particularly when voters are asked about Bain Capital, their strategy looks like it just might be working.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell