I was surprised when Frank Luntz’ focus group showed that the best line of the evening’s debate was Governor Romney’s rendition of working with Democrats in Massachusetts and will continue to do so as president. However, it makes a great deal of sense that this line would resonate.
While we professionals are trying to win the war of Democrats vs Republicans and blue vs red, the voters just want the war to end and the parties to come to an agreement, guided by the verdict they will deliver on election day. Ending this toxic division has been a key national goal of American voters during the Clinton impeachment, the government shutdown and the debt limit fight. Indeed, the core of former President Bill Clinton’s current popularity is that he bridged the gap and passed bipartisan legislation to balance the budget and reform welfare.
President Obama’s appeal was largely based on his promise to heal these divisions. It is self evident that they have gotten worse during his term. Any promise now to heal the breech would be seen as fraudulent.
Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts offers some hope that he might succeed where Obama has failed.
Stressing this theme in ads has the additional advantage of assuring moderate Democrats and Independents that Romney would not be manipulated by the ever-feared extreme Republican right. It would remind them that he did pass positive, constructive legislation on health care and education by working with the Democratic legislature. This will give great comfort to swing voters.
The Romney campaign should follow its candidate’s initiative and begin to stress this bipartisan theme in their advertising. By doing so, they will also make it harder for Obama to sustain his negative campaign. He will be seen as the divisive one and Romney as the healer.
The Romney campaign should also do ads which revert to the basic theme of more government vs less. All voters — Democrats or Republicans — agree that:
–Obama has raised spending and borrowing
–If Obama is re-elected government will grow and so will spending and borrowing
–That under Romney, the deficit would probably grow less or possibly shrink due to less spending
Everybody agrees on these points. They disagree about the wisdom of each course of action. But the American voter agrees with the Republicans and Romney much more than they side with the Democrats and Obama over these questions.
These are the key questions over which our politics has been divided for the past four years. By impartially articulating these differences, Romney can make the election about big things like the size of government spending and borrowing.
These two initiatives should dominate the next few weeks of Romney advertising: bipartisanship and more government vs less.