Anti-obama sen­ti­ment fu­el­ing Rom­ney cam­paign

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

DAVEN­PORT, IOWA | Mitt Rom­ney’s six-state bus swing through small cities and towns in New Eng­land, the Rust Belt and the in­dus­trial Mid­west served as a clear re­minder that his big­gest ally in the pres­i­den­tial race is also his big­gest foe: Pres­i­dent Obama.

Even among the crowds that turned out to hear the pre­sump­tive GOP nom­i­nee, it was ev­i­dent that this elec­tion re­mains very much a ref­er­en­dum on Mr. Obama’s first term in of­fice.

Joseph Calas­ante, for in­stance, fought back tears when asked why he backed Mr. Rom­ney, just min­utes af­ter the former Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor’s first stop at a pic­turesque farm in New Hamp­shire.

The big­gest rea­son? Obama.

“Obama makes us feel like we are a bunch of Mus­lims,” the 74year-old said. “We don’t bow to kings of other coun­tries. Obama bowed to the king of Saudi Ara­bia, and only a Mus­lim would bow to the king of Saudi Ara­bia. We don’t bow to any­one. That is what Mitt Rom­ney is bring­ing back.”

Days later, Cheryl Good­son braved the stormy weather to at-

Mr. tend a free pan­cake break­fast in the Cleve­land sub­urbs. Sit­ting be­neath an um­brella, the 64year-old re­tiree snapped that if the me­dia had done a bet­ter job of vet­ting Mr. Obama in the first place, he never would have won the White House.

“My opin­ion of Obama?” Ms. Good­son said. “He never ran a lemon­ade stand. So how would he ever run a coun­try this large?”

While it may have been in­evitable that anti-Obama vot­ers would turn out on the cam­paign trail to see Mr. Rom­ney, it was ev­i­dent that the dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Mr. Obama among the proRom­ney crowds is fu­el­ing en­ergy and ex­cite­ment in the Repub­li­can camp.

A May Gallup poll showed Mr. Obama with an edge in voter en­thu­si­asm among his sup­port­ers in 12 bat­tle­ground states, in­clud­ing the states that Mr. Rom­ney vis­ited on his tour.

But that poll came shortly af­ter Mr. Rom­ney laid claim to the nom­i­na­tion af­ter a bruis­ing GOP pri­mary. Now, nearly two months later, there are signs that Repub­li­cans have put the pri­mary bick­er­ing be­hind them and are in­creas­ingly ex­cited about pulling the lever for Mr. Rom­ney, es­pe­cially if it means get­ting rid of Mr. Obama.

“Ev­ery ac­tion [Mr. Obama] has taken has made the na­tion weaker,” said Jeff Moore as he waited in line at the pan­cake break­fast. The 50-year-old bar­tender said he had pre­ferred former Sen. Rick San­to­rum of Penn­syl­va­nia in the GOP pri­mary. But now that Mr. Rom­ney is the pre­sump­tive can­di­date, he said, the former Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor “is the horse we have to ride.”

Mr. Moore’s anger at the in­cum­bent is pal­pa­ble: Mr. Obama, he says, is try­ing to “break the spirit of the Amer­i­can peo­ple and kind of just beat us down to the point where we are go­ing to say, ‘I give up.’”

Re­sponses like that un­der­score the shift in the po­lit­i­cal dy­namic since the last elec­tion, when Mr. Obama, then a fresh­man se­na­tor from Illi­nois, de­feated Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona.

“In 2008, the econ­omy was the driv­ing is­sue for al­most twothirds of the elec­torate, and the same will be true again in 2012,” said Ford O’Con­nell, a GOP strate­gist who led the McCain camp’s ru­ral outreach ef­forts in the 2008 elec­tion. “The dif­fer­ence now is Obama is no longer a blank slate. [. . .] He is an in- cum­bent pres­i­dent strad­dled with a weak eco­nomic record.”

With those po­lit­i­cal winds at his back, Mr. Rom­ney set out on his first tra­di­tional cam­paign trip of the gen­eral elec­tion look­ing to stoke en­thu­si­asm among the ru­ral vot­ers he will need to win the White House.

Over the five days of the “Ev­ery Town Counts” bus tour, vot­ers got to see him in a va­ri­ety of set­tings. He scooped ice cream in New Hamp­shire, picked up a meat­ball hoagie at a gas sta­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia and took the wheel of a replica steam­boat on the Mis­sis­sippi River.

The jaunt also gave him more chances to tell vot­ers that he plans to re­peal Mr. Obama’s fed­eral health care over­haul, em­brace the XL Key­stone pipe­line and bal­ance the fed­eral bud­get.

But by the time the tr ip wrapped up June 19 in Michi­gan, it had be­come abun­dantly clear be­tween Mr. Rom­ney’s re­peated at­tacks on the stump and the com­ments from cam­paign aides that the Rom­ney camp thinks this fall hinges on con­vinc­ing vot­ers that the elec­tion is about the Obama record.

“It is a ref­er­en­dum on the state of the econ­omy and the in­cum­bent,” said Stu­art Stevens, a top Rom­ney aide.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pre­sump­tive GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney cam­paigns in Franken­muth, Mich., on June 19 along­side his wife, Ann, and Michi­gan Gov. Rick Sny­der.

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