Obama sets campaign mode to attack
President Barack Obama has decided that fiery self defense and withering mockery of Republicans are the best modes of attack, as he tries to save Democrats from a drubbing in November's elections.
Obama road-tested his pitch to grassroots Democrats and wavering independent voters during a two-day western campaign swing last week, flinging partisan rhetoric at foes of his 17-month presidency.
His swipes at Republicans and calls for change were a reminder of stump skills that few US politicians can match, recalling his 2008 campaign.
Obama adopted a sarcastic tone, rarely seen back then, likely distilled from months of frustrating political combat in Washington.
He branded Republicans as extreme and incompetent, mocking, for instance, an apology to BP by Republican lawmaker Joe Barton who described a compensation fund set up by the company for victims as a "shakedown.”
And he lampooned Republican House of Representatives leader John Boehner, who criticized measures Obama used to rescue the crisis-riddled economy as tantamount to using a nuclear weapon to kill an ant.
"It should be a movie: "The Ant That Ate the Economy," Obama said, in a mocking tone while stumping for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at an event in Las Vegas.
On the economy -- probably the top campaign issue in November -- Obama reminded voters that Republicans were in charge when the economy pitched into the deepest recession since the 1930s.
Obama argued that he, by contrast, had made the tough decisions that staved off a second Great Depression.
"This is a choice between the policies that led us into the mess, or the policies that are leading out of the mess," he said in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Those words were echoed yesterday by his top advisor David Axelrod.
The senior White House aide said that while Democrats may be struggling in the polls at the moment, Republicans are likely to come in for tough voter scrutiny in the midterm election -- particularly over their handling of the economy.
"On the other side of the ballot in November will be a party that has an economic theory, and it was tested, and it led to catastrophe," Axelrod said.
"We lost three million jobs in the last six months of 2008. The financial market almost collapsed. They turned a 237 billion dollar surplus that Bill Clinton left into a 1.3 trillion dollar deficit. And they're running on the same policies.
"So people have to decide," Axelrod told ABC television. "Do they want to go forward or do they want to go back?"
Mid-term elections in November are crucial for Obama, as Republicans are threatening to win back the House of Representatives and trim the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Such a scenario would enable them to block the still-ambitious political program the president is intent on passing.
Democrats see the polls with increasing dread -- a number of party big names are in unexpectedly tough reelection fights.
The party is hampered by the sluggish economic revival at what Obama frequently said has been a "tough time" for America, and faces apathy from young, multi-cultural electoral coalition that was so fired up by his campaign when he is not on the ballot.
First-term presidents often take a beating at their first mid-term elections, as voters perform a course correction to previous polls.
In mid-2010, Obama's political brand seems so different than in his euphoric, hope-fueled White House campaign.
His poll numbers are touching all time lows -- some in the mid 40s -- and US optimism is in short supply amid 9.5 percent unemployment, tumbling stocks, the dragging Afghan war and the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
Though Democrats fear the elections, much remains uncertain about polls which will see nearly a third of the Senate and the entire 435-seat House up for grabs.
But given the anger sweeping the country, incumbents of all stripes, and not just Democrats have reason to look to the voters with trepidation.
Republicans cannot yet bank on exploiting the current unpopularity of the Democrats.
It is unclear how the influence of the ultra-conservative "Tea Party" movement -- a radical grass roots reaction to the Obama presidency -- will play out.
Tea Party activists have electrified the conservative grass roots with their condemnations of Obama's "big government" agenda and opposition to his reforms.
Several Republican heavyweights have lost primaries to Tea Party candidates and Democrats blame the group for losses in several key state races in an anti-Obama backlash.
And some analysts believe the Tea Party movement may be saddling the Republican Party with radical candidates who will struggle to win over the crucial center ground -- reviving the midterm election prospects of some ailing Democrats.