Obama Misses Mark on Massachusetts

The Obama campaign assault on Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts record feels surprisingly muted.

It’s not that the president’s team isn’t picking the record apart. It’s that the effort doesn’t seem particularly coordinated: a David Axelrod appearance at the State House in Boston, some guests on the Sunday talk shows, a new TV ad.

When the Obama camp began training its ammunition on Bain Capital, that was a full-fledged rollout.

Unfortunately for the president, the drive was undercut by skeptical comments from leading Democrats, including Bill Clinton. But the subject dominated the political debate for two weeks.

We all figured that the Obama folks were holding back on Massachusetts so as not to play every card at once. Surely there would be another sustained campaign, perhaps closer to the conventions. After all, unlike Bain, Romney’s record in the only elective office he’s ever held is obviously prime hunting ground.

But so far, this new attack has gotten less attention than the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee or the Wisconsin recall. Maybe it’s harder to grab control of the conversation in June, when interest in the campaign is clearly flagging and cable news ratings are down.

The Obama TV ad starts with a well-known statistic: “When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs, a rate twice the national average, and fell to 47 in job creation, fourth from the bottom.” The spot then spits out these criticisms: Romney “outsourced call center jobs in India” and “cut taxes for millionaires like himself while raising them on the middle class,” deepening the state’s debt. The tag line: “We’ve heard it all before.”

Whether this gets any traction depends on whether voters believe one man can turn around a state’s economy in four years. Aren’t governors battered by national economic wins? Aren’t call centers outsourced to India in lots of states?

In a conference call Monday, Obama strategist David Axelrod accused the Romney campaign of "breathtaking hypocrisy," saying his surrogates had argued on television that "you can't really include his first year" because of the difficult financial picture he inherited in Massachusetts.

"That's not the standard to which Governor Romney has held this president...The question really is, are they kidding? Do they expect people to take this seriously?"

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul was happy to play the dueling statistics game. "We are happy to compare Governor Romney’s record of positive job creation and a 4.7% unemployment rate in Massachusetts to President Obama’s record of declining job growth and 40 straight months of unemployment above 8%," she shot back in an e-mail.

Perhaps the standard political dissection of a gubernatorial record is too dull to break through the media static these days, lacking the sexier dimension of whether the attack on Bain was an assault on free-market capitalism. Or perhaps people are just more concerned with Friday’s anemic jobs report, in which the unemployment rate blipped up to 8.2 percent.

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This is undoubtedly just the first round, but I suspect that Massachusetts won't be front and center until the campaigner-in-chief breaks out his megaphone.