David Frum

10.02.12

Ohio: The Bain of Romney's Campaign

Video screenshot

Molly Ball's article on Mitt Romney's pending Ohio fiasco is a must-read.

Two parts are especially noteworthy. The first is how President Obama has succesfully painted (with ample help from Mitt) Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy.

The Obama ad is called "Not One of Us," and that was another theme of my conversations with voters about Romney. (It's an insidious title -- can you imagine Romney making an anti-Obama ad called "not one of us" without getting shouted down for implicit racism?) Those opposed to Obama cited various reasons, from disappointment to anger to being convinced he's a Muslim. But the impressions of Romney were remarkably consistent: He's for the rich.

"I think Obama's more for the regular working class people, and Romney's for the big business and the well-to-do," said Eric Burkhead, the road and cemetery superintendent for Kirkwood Township, working on a truck in the gravel driveway of the local garage. The 66-year-old didn't like what he saw happening with coal and wasn't wild about Obamacare, but he planned to vote for Obama.

I heard it over and over again from Ohioans -- the idea that Romney stands for the wealthy and not for them. Obama's depiction of his rival as an out-of-touch rich guy, which has gotten no little assistance from Romney himself, has made a deep and effective impression with these self-consciously working-class voters.

The second, and much more surprising, is Romney's struggle to succeed in portraying the Obama administration as being locked in a vicious "War on Coal:"

A Republican until he switched sides in 2008, Workman plans to vote for Obama a second time. Whatever's happening to the coal industry, he doesn't think it's the president's fault. "I was born and raised here. I worked coal off and on all my life," he said. "It's a cycle. Every seven years or so, it goes up and down."

Experts say the coal industry's recent fortunes have more to do with a transition to cleaner fuels that partly preceded Obama and with the current low price of natural gas. And some of the miners seem to believe that, like Dan Gingerich, a 31-year-old who works underground and told me he blamed oil and gas more than Obama. "I'd like to be a Republican, but I don't know if Romney really knows what to do," he said. "I wish the Republicans would have somebody else."

In recent cycles, the GOP has been very effective in using fossil fuel production as an electoral bludgeon against Democrats. If this is the year that breaks the trend, President Obama will owe thanks to two things: hydraulic fracking, and Mitt Romney.