- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

President Obama’s entire campaign strategy is based on an age-old political trick: that he can overcome his weakness on the economy by changing the subject.

His strategists concluded more than a year ago that he was unlikely to win a second term based on his promise to restore the economy to full health and put tens of millions of long-unemployed Americans back to work.

So they fashioned a divisive campaign that was focused heavily on single-issue voters — women, for one, and the large Hispanic vote, for another — in a handful of critical battleground states he needs to clinch a second term.

The latest polls suggest this divide-and-conquer trickery seems to be working, at least for now.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Virginia, a key state Mitt Romney must win if he is to have any chance of beating Mr. Obama.

A new Washington Post poll found that Mr. Obama has “a 19-percentage-point lead (58 to 39) among female likely voters” in Virginia, while he is trailing Mr. Romney by 6 points among men. Mr. Obama’s significant advantage among women is the reason he leads his Republican rival in the state by 8 points.

Heading into this year’s election, Virginia was a tossup state where Obamacare was unpopular and the economy and jobs were the top issues. But the Obama campaign concluded it had little if any chance to persuade voters to change their minds on those issues. Instead, the campaign decided to play Machiavellian politics with an issue that didn’t make the top 10 concerns in voter surveys.

So, during late summer, it ran virtually nonstop ads attacking Mr. Romney for his opposition to abortion and taxpayer support of Planned Parenthood (which spent nearly $2 million on similar ads).

There were no ads to speak of that dealt with jobs and 8 percent-plus unemployment, or the declining economic growth rate that was barely moving. The ads were aimed entirely at painting Mr. Romney as someone who would strike down Roe v. Wade and make abortions illegal again.

You would have to look high and low to find remarks from Mr. Romney on this subject. Despite his pro-life stance, which remains the GOP’s long-held position, it’s not an issue he talks about in his stump speeches. Whatever signal that sends, it’s a subject that was missing from the 2012 election dialogue until the Obama campaign raised the issue for its own political gain.

It’s highly unlikely the high court is going to revisit Roe v. Wade. It remains the “settled law of the land,” Justice John G. Roberts Jr. testified in his Senate confirmation hearings.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama’s pro-choice attack ad has proved effective, and not just in Virginia, but in other battleground states where he has pulled ahead of Mr. Romney or solidified his lead. This has had an impact down the ballot, too. The Washington Post’s Virginia survey now shows that for the first time, Democrat Tim Kaine is leading Republican George Allen in the Senate race, by 51 percent to 43 percent.

The newspaper reported Thursday that “Kaine appears to have a clear edge, helped by a growing lead among women.”

Can Mr. Romney overcome this growing gender gap in the seven remaining weeks in the campaign? It’s a daunting challenge, to be sure, worsened by the videotape of Mr. Romney telling a closed-door meeting of donors that 47 percent of Americans, who pay no federal income taxes, “believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”

Worse, he seemed to write off this 47 percent of the electorate, saying, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mr. Romney forgot the cardinal rule of politics: Never say anything, even in a presumed private event, that you would not want to read in the nation’s newspapers or hear on the nightly news. He should have known better.

Actually, Mr. Romney draws strong support from a significant part of the nation’s low-income voters and seniors, who are among the most numerous recipients of entitlement programs, according to a Gallup Poll. “Romney still gets about a third (34 percent) of the vote among those whose household incomes are less than $24,000 a year,” Gallup’s tracking data revealed this week. He gets 43 percent support from people earning between $36,000 and $48,000.

As for seniors, “a detailed analysis of voting choice by age shows that Americans 70 and older are among Mr. Romney’s strongest voter segments,” Gallup said. This is especially true among the ages of 70 to 79, 53 percent of whom say they are voting for Mr. Romney — a 12 point lead over Mr. Obama.

Gallup said that “among those voters aged 65 and older who have $24,000 a year in income or less, Obama wins, with 49 percent of the vote,” but Mr. Romney still receives 43 percent of their support.

He would have been better served if he had first been briefed on the political demographics of his supporters before wading into a needless analysis that dismissed a major share of his own voters. But since this story broke, major new developments have given Mr. Romney two explosive issues that could cut deeply into Mr. Obama’s support.

Mr. Obama was caught on a newly released 1998 audiotape telling a Loyola University conference in Chicago why “I actually believe in [government] redistribution” of the nation’s income — i.e., taking money from wealthier people and giving it to lower-income Americans “to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

The other is a Congressional Budget Office report that 6 million mostly middle-class Americans — 50 percent more than was forecast in 2010 — will have to pay a penalty tax under Obamacare if they do not purchase insurance. The CBO says the average tax penalty will be about $1,200 in 2016 and rise substantially over the ensuing years.

The first verifies Mr. Obama’s belief in socialism, which has impoverished more economies than any other economic system in world history. The second says he lied when he said he would not raise taxes on the middle class.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.