Republicans had hoped to be well into a general-election battle against President Obama by now. But this week’s intra-party Etch A Sketch debacle, a viral free-for-all headlined by two rivals attacking front-runner Mitt Romney, shows just how far the candidates and the party are from that phase of the 2012 campaign.
As the GOP presidential candidates continue to go after each other in a race that has lasted far longer than anyone expected, taking the fight to Obama has fallen to a group of Republican officials and conservative allies. They are stepping up their efforts to ensure that he isn’t handed a free pass to boost his campaign while the GOP nomination fight rages on.
Just this week, as the president has been touting his energy policy in the swing states of Ohio, New Mexico, and Nevada, Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit arm of the conservative outside group American Crossroads, made a six-figure ad buy blasting Obama over high gas prices. Earlier in the week, the Republican National Committee began airing TV ads in six swing states criticizing Obama on the anniversary of his 2010 health care law – part of a spate of events the group plans to tie Obama to his most significant legislative achievement.
Saul Anuzis, a Republican National Committee member from Michigan, said efforts to take on Obama are “clearly kicking into high gear” and that is appropriate. “As you turn people’s attention to campaigns, it takes time to get through to them on issues that matter,” he said. “I think you can’t just wait until the last 60 days and do it all out. The earlier you start, the greater and broader your reach can be.”
Republican preparations could be critical in this election. Already, Obama has built his own massive ground game across an array of key battleground states, an effort officials with his campaign say could carry the president to victory in the fall. Romney, meanwhile, has not had the resources or time to develop a general-election infrastructure while fending off rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich throughout the winter and into the spring.
But RNC officials say they have diligently built a nationwide network of fundraisers and volunteers that the eventual nominee can activate the moment the primary ends. It’s part of an effort the committee has made during the last year to take the president to task while the party chooses its standard-bearer for the fall.
The party’s organization is far ahead of where it was in 2008, according to RNC spokesman Sean Spicer, who disputed the notion the GOP nominee will have a lot of ground to make up because of the ongoing primary season. “What are you basing that off of?” Spicer asked. “The problem is, while that’s a great narrative, the facts don’t back it up.”
Conservatives can count on an array of outside groups to help hammer Obama until the Republican nominee is chosen. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-aligned group projected to raise as much as $300 million this election cycle, had long expected to help the eventual nominee battle Obama in the weeks after they secured the nomination – serving as a bridge between the primary and general-election campaigns.
But the unexpectedly long GOP race has them rethinking that strategy, said Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio. The group is now determining when it should begin its campaign against Obama. “The nomination fight is taking longer than expected,” Collegio said. “We still expect to do that, the question is not whether we’ll do it, but when.”