“One of the factors helping Obama overcome the lousy economy“, Jim Geraghty observed last weekend, “is most Americans’ sense that he is a decent, likeable, good-natured man. Obama often wisely let allies and surrogates act as his most relentless attack dogs.”
In recent days, however, he has stepped up his attacks on Romney and has hinted that he plans to do so tonight in the debate. Should he do so, he risks undermining the perception that many Americans still have of the incumbent. Many Americans still do like Barack Obama, at least the idea of Barack Obama. And should they see tonight a character resembling Joe Biden last week, a good number who still have a favorable opinion of Obama will quickly be disabused of their illusion.
And it won’t just hurt Obama’s image. Attacks on Romney may also give the Republican the chance to show that he does not conform to the Democrat’s image. Reporting that Obama “is planning an assault on Romney’s Bain background,” law professor William A. Jacobson predicts “a backfire”:
Romney will have the chance to explain to the nation without media filter his side of the Bain story. Romney will frame the issue as one of the private sector versus “trickle down government.” It puts Solyndra in focus.
Indeed, any attack could backfire, given that Obama is the incumbent.
Undecided voters, particularly those who like Obama personally, but have not been too pleased with his record in office, would rather hear what he has planned for a second term than learn what he thinks about his challenger. They prefer to evaluate Mr. Romney himself — and not through the filter of his partisan rival.
Allahpundit also believes that Obama “light into Romney” tonight, but doesn’t know “how much harm it’ll do,”
especially since Mitt will be well prepared for the “47 percent” attack. Romney’s task was, and is, to show he’s a plausible president, and that depends much more on his own answers (and demeanor) than it does on Obama’s. If “President Romney” seems viable, gravity can do the rest.
It is, in short, a risk for Obama to go negative tonight. That may well help him with his base, but could compromise his standing with independent voters, already drifting toward Mr. Romney.