The groups also police Romney's speeches for potential contradictions, circulating instantly any damaging information and trumpeting every would-be gaffe. When Romney on Wednesday said he was "not concerned with the very poor," the spin machine sprang into action, although the media by this point was so well primed for the latest hyperventilating iteration of "Mitt Romney, Out of Touch Rich Guy" that they hardly needed to.
The Obama campaign is an enthusiastic player of this game, too. On Wednesday, it was circulating a four-page memo from deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter making the argument "Mitt Romney's Negative Campaign Is Backfiring." And, as the president was releasing new policies to help homeowners, the DNC issued a document explicitly framing Obama's proposals as a rejoinder to Romney's.
Romney's team wears the attacks as a badge of honor--proof that the opposition views Romney as the most formidable opponent. "The last thing Democrats want is to have to face Mitt Romney in a general election," campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "Rather than focusing on job creation and helping the middle class, President Obama and his allies are focused on attacking Mitt Romney."
In the best-case scenario for the Democrats, they would torpedo Romney's candidacy so effectively that even Republicans would sour on him, handing another candidate the nomination instead. But they'll settle for merely cementing negative impressions--flip-flopper, right-winger, plutocratic elitist--so that by the time Romney accepts the nomination in August, these perceptions are unalterably baked in.
Is there a potential downside to this strategy? It's possible the Democrats' attacks have already elevated him and bolstered his electability argument by making him the president's de facto opponent. There's also a chance that the constant drumbeat could even end up inoculating Romney: Maybe voters will have heard he's a phony so many times by the fall that they'll begin to tune it out.
The Democrats have decided it's worth that risk. And they believe their furious efforts are having an effect.
"I've been happy with some of the criticisms we've been able to land on Romney, because I think it starts the debate," said Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century, which focuses on tracking and opposition research. He pointed to the group's work highlighting Romney's various inartful comments about money, from "corporations are people" to "I like firing people."
"They're smaller things, but I think after a while we've been able to add them up," Mollineau said. "It all funnels into that narrative that he is the guy that's not on the side of the middle class."
The modern media landscape allows limitless venues for this type of information, from social media to a novel crops of online news outlets and the partisan blogosphere, he noted. "You can start to shape the narrative earlier, so when you do get to the general election, those narratives are already there," he said.
And Mollineau was unapologetic about the focus on Romney. "They all have their flaws," he said of the other GOP candidates. "But when you're the front-runner, you're going to get more scrutiny. You just are."