Elections 2012: President Obama Attack Mitt Romney Early to Define Rival

Barack Obama launched a series of attacks at Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, defining his rival as insensitive and out of touch.

Even as Mitt Romney moved from front-runner to likely Republican nominee, President Obama was ready for him, adopting a notably sharper election-year tone this week and launching his first direct attack on Mr. Romney - by name and unprompted - from the presidential podium. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

As soon as Mitt Romney moved from front-runner to likely Republican nominee, President Obama was ready for him, launching his first direct attack on Mr. Romney from the presidential podium, tells The Wall Street Journal.

Barack Obama worded his attack carefully and with bite. Speaking at a journalists conference hosted by the Associated Press, Mr. Obama called the GOP budget “a Trojan horse,” “thinly veiled social Darwinism” and “an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.”

“(Romney) said that he’s ‘very supportive’ of this new budget, and he even called it ‘marvelous’ — which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget,” Obama said during a speech on Tuesday. “It’s a word you don’t often hear generally.”

Obama’s riff on Romney’s use of the word “marvelous” to describe Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plans carried a subtle message.

“It’s a word you kind of associate with the upper class, and I think that the intention was to tweak Romney for being wealthy and, you know, sort of brought up in the kinds of circles where they would say ‘marvelous,'” said Kenneth Sherrill, a political science expert at New York’s Hunter College.

The Obama campaign wants to quickly define Mr. Romney for those voters who have yet to tune in closely. That means more criticism of his positions on economic issues and forcing him to own the votes cast by Republicans in Congress.

However, reports The Huff Post, Romney has made similar efforts to define Obama, portraying him as unprepared and unable to handle the country’s economic challenges. And he began his attacks earlier, deliberately focusing his critiques on the president rather than the other Republican challengers.

Barack Obama’s campaign is already drawing contrasts in areas where it perceives Republicans to be weak. Obama regularly brings up his support for immigration reform at political fundraisers, a dig at Romney’s hard line against illegal immigration.

Hispanics, who could provide the swing votes needed to win battleground states such as Colorado and Nevada, largely back Obama in polls.

The president’s team also tried this week to counter Mr. Romney’s argument that Mr. Obama doesn’t fully believe in American exceptionalism.

During a Monday news conference, the president was asked about Mr. Romney’s criticism and said he would “cut folks some slack.”

But at the AP conference on Tuesday, as Mr. Romney was locking up three primary victories, Mr. Obama confronted the charge. “This sense of responsibility, to each other and our country, this isn’t a partisan feeling,” he said after arguing that Republicans prefer tax breaks for the wealthy to helping the middle class. “It’s patriotism.”

Obama advisers also gleefully describe the president’s 2010 healthcare reform law as modeled on Romney’s own effort in Massachusetts, reminding conservative Republicans of the candidate’s moderate past

Obama will also bring renewed attention on Tuesday to the “Buffett rule,” a measure to raise taxes on the wealthy, which Republicans oppose.

The White House is already saying those who vote against it support policies that benefit the rich over the middle class. In case anybody missed the point, Mr. Obama restated it at a fundraiser Thursday night, again calling out Mr. Romney by name.

“Obama’s smart enough to know … (that) many people in the public are perceiving Romney as an elitist who does not have sympathy for workers or the poor,” said Mark Rom, an associate professor of government at Georgetown University.

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