- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — A beleaguered president seeks re-election. His challenger, a candidate with Massachusetts roots and a presidential demeanor straight out of central casting, has to fight through a primary contest fending off charges of flip-flopping. In the end, the challenger’s strength also proves his vulnerability.

Election 2012 is looking a lot like the presidential race of 2004.

Democrats in and around President Barack Obama’s campaign are preparing to run against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — the man they believe likely to emerge from the Republican contest — by borrowing from the playbook George W. Bush and Republicans used to defeat Sen. John Kerry seven years ago.

As candidates, Kerry and Romney are remarkably similar. Both are wealthy men, products of Massachusetts politics, eloquent on the stump but perceived as remote or aloof on the campaign circuit.

Even before Romney has won a single nominating contest, Obama’s camp is singling him out as a fickle politician and is preparing to go straight at Romney’s perceived strength — his record as a businessman in the face of a flat-line economy. It was a strategy Republicans employed against Kerry, who had to fend off charges of flip-flopping himself and whose strength as a decorated Vietnam veteran running in the first post-Sept. 11 election was undermined by attack ads.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes his point during a Republican presidential debate on Oct. 11, 2011, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (Associated Press)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes his point during a Republican presidential ... more >

A key feature of the Obama strategy is Romney’s tenure as head of Bain Capital, a private equity firm he co-founded in 1984 that saved and launched businesses such as Staples and Domino’s Pizza but sliced jobs elsewhere through cost-cutting and consolidation.

It’s not the first time Romney’s tenure at the helm of Bain Capital has come under attack. Sen. Edward Kennedy pulled away from Romney during his 1994 Senate race in Massachusetts by airing a series of ads that featured workers from an Indiana paper plant that Bain took over, laying off employees, cutting wages and reducing benefits.

“Basically, he cut our throats,” a worker said in one of the ads.

“When we made the decision to define him to voters of Massachusetts and took a hard line in doing so, we had a lot of success,” said Democratic consultant Tad Devine, who crafted the ads for Kennedy and later served as a senior adviser to Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Obama advisers are keenly aware of Kennedy’s line of attack and are counting on similar results.

“In his professional life, he was an expert in stripping down companies and leading them to bankruptcy and profiting from these ventures, with a lot of jobs lost in the process,” said Obama strategist David Axelrod, previewing a potential line of attack.

“Whenever you’re running for president of the United States and you represent yourself in a certain way and you say here’s my core asset, then you need to be able to stand by your record,” Axelrod added in an interview. “It was problematic for him then; it will be problematic for him now.”

Republicans concede that Romney could be vulnerable. But they say the Romney camp should be ready for the onslaught.

Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist, said he remembers Kennedy’s anti-Romney ads as being “just brutal and very, very effective.”

“To some extent it will be effective again,” he said. “The variable is how Romney responds and what they have learned from that 1994 race for Senate.”

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