The Washington Times - June 22, 2011, 11:58AM

Republicans seem to have settled informally on a message for 2012: Obama made it worse.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney used that line of attack in a well-received dig during last week’s GOP debate in New Hampshire. And on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he sees that being the overriding message headed into next year.

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“If the presidential election were today, I think our theme would be: He made it worse,’” Mr. McConnell told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

In last week’s debate Mr. Romney said the president “didn’t cause the recession, but he made it worse and caused it to last longer.”

The argument seems to acknowledge that the problems began under then-President George W. Bush, and voters punished the GOP in 2006 and again in 2008.

Mr. Obama won election in large part by arguing he would turn the country around by moving in a different direction than Mr. Bush, and the economy indeed has come out of a deep recession. But the jobless rate remains high, gas prices have returned to near-record levels, and the debt and deficits that troubled voters under Mr. Bush have gotten worse in the past two years.

A new Bloomberg National Poll released Wednesday found that Americans, by a 44 percent to 34 percent margin, believe they are worse off now than they were when Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, suggesting there is an audience for the GOP’s new argument.

While there has been consternation on the part of some Republican voters over the candidates who have jumped into the race, Mr. McConnell said that should be little comfort to Democrats. He recalled in 1979 and 1980 that then-President Carter’s team had the same appraisal of that year’s field and was eager to face off against Ronald Reagan, feeling he was too far to the right.

Along those same lines, Mr. McConnell said next year’s election is shaping up as a referendum on Mr. Obama.

“Today the president’s in a very weak position, and Romney, just by announcing and getting the wave of the press, moved either even or ahead of the president [in polls]. So I think the president can be defeated. If conditions in ‘12 are anything like they are today, I think he’s got a tough race on his hands,” Mr. McConnell said.´╗┐