Whether it's true or not, senior advisers to President Obama's re-election campaign believed, long before presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, that Romney had been oddly and helpfully "collaborative" in making the Obama case against him.
That's the word David Axelrod used in an interview with National Journal to describe Romney's unwillingness to pitch a strong national narrative about his life, his plans for the nation or how he understood the economic travails of the middle class. Axelrod found Romney's dug-in refusal to release more tax returns (only 2010 so far, with 2011 coming) similarly helpful. Axelrod even thought Romney's overseas trip helped Obama reinforce a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time meme.
From team Obama's perspective, the Ryan choice transforms this imagined and perceived collaboration into a virtual partnership.
"It plays right into it," a senior Obama strategist told National Journal. "Romney believes in cutting taxes for the wealthy and making the middle class pay for them. Ryan not only believes it, but he's actually done it. It's Romney's agenda in action."
Obama aides had been convinced that Romney would settle on former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Again, fevered perceptions of rival campaign weaknesses are just that. But they now believe Romney has used his biggest choice of the campaign to drive home their central indictment of his candidacy and his policies -- that they pose a threat to middle-class livelihoods and aspirations.
One Obama backer privately said -- not the least bit in jest -- that the campaign could now siphon off cash donations for margarita machines, because there was so much to celebrate between now and Election Day.
Another Democratic operative declared the election effectively over -- that Ryan was the self-hammered nail in Romney's own coffin.
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"They chose a candidate who is 42, but looks 22, and is a professional Washington politician," said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, a top adviser to John Edwards' 2008 campaign and former chief of staff to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. "He helps Romney with not a single state, not a single demographic and he won't turn a single undecided vote around. He also destroys Romney's argument that professional Washington insiders and politicians aren't qualified to govern. He's a disastrous pick that proves the Romney and Republicans are stuck in some kind of time capsule where they think they can win elections by debating obscure conservative theory."
Obama advisers also see Ryan's presence on the ticket as a way to drive home Obama's most successful TV ad of the campaign, according to copious internal focus group surveys in swing states. It's the one where Obama speaks straight to camera and says the "choice" in the election is about direction and priorities -- his versus Romney's and the latter's resemblance to the Bush era.
Top Obama advisers have been looking for a way to entice rank-and-file Democrats down ballot to adopt that rhetoric as their own, thereby creating a party-wide echo chamber throbbing with "choice" speeches so as to drown out Romney's attempt to win the White House through a throw-out the incumbent referendum pitch.
Since House and Senate Democrats are already well-schooled in criticizing Ryan and his budget (they've done so two years in a row), Team Obama now sees a new opportunity for synergy -- Obama and fellow Democrats for the first this campaign genuinely (as opposed to reluctantly and robotically) singing out of the same songbook.
The assessment in Chicago is that Ryan on the ticket gives Obama and any Democrat who cares to (many is the guess) a perfect opportunity to denounce tax cuts for the wealthy and a fundamental alteration of Medicare.
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The charge that GOP-backed tax cuts for the rich and cuts to Medicare hobbled the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution (at least as it related to the government shutdown with President Clinton), and Obama senior advisers believe it will work more effectively now. Why? Because middle-class anxiety is more pronounced and visceral.
In essence, Obama's entire campaign to date has been aimed at taking economic doubts and worry -- which Romney has tried to pin on Obama -- and increasing them by portraying the GOP nominee as a predatory capitalist indifferent to middle class suffering. They now believe Ryan gives them a contemporary policy toehold in Washington to take that argument from the distant past (Bain Capital) and make it a cutting issue in Romney and Ryan's present-day campaign.
Which is why Obama's senior ranks see Ryan as a gift, and a choice one at that.
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