- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2011

A newly combative President Obama engaged the Republican field of presidential candidates Monday, attacking them for pursuing failed policies even as Mr. Obama conceded to a TV interviewer that Americans aren’t better off than they were four years ago.

Mr. Obama’s re-election team said in a memo that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “and the Republican field” are out of step with most Americans by opposing tax increases for the wealthy and passage of the president’s $447 billion jobs bill.

“The campaign to win the Republican nomination has become a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the tea party,” Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said.

And in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Monday, Mr. Obama blasted GOP officials as unwilling to compromise.

“I’ve tried every step of the way to get the Republican Party to work with me,” Mr. Obama said. “Each time, all we’ve gotten from them is ‘no.’”

After spending a summer mostly locked in negotiations with congressional Republicans about deficits and debt, Mr. Obama has intensified his attacks on the Republicans in recent days. He criticized the entire field of candidates in a speech Saturday night for failing to speak out against a few people who booed a gay soldier’s question about the ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell” at a Republican debate.

In the interview with ABC, Mr. Obama even hit at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is expected to decide this week whether to run for president. Mr. Christie last week called Mr. Obama a “bystander in the Oval Office” who has divided Americans.

“If the guy’s thinking about running for president, he’s going to say a lot of stuff,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m not sure folks in New Jersey necessarily agree with him.”

But even as he grows more combative about Republican presidential contenders, Mr. Obama acknowledged that he is in a weak position for re-election. Mr. Stephanopoulos asked the president how he can persuade people that they are better off than they were four years ago, the question made famous by Ronald Reagan when he challenged President Carter in 1980.

“I don’t think that they’re better off than they were four years ago,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve been able to make steady progress to stabilize the economy, but the unemployment rate is still way too high.”

Mr. Stephanopoulos, who was one of the principal architects of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 “It’s the economy, stupid” campaign, noted that a new ABC News poll shows 55 percent of Americans think Mr. Obama will be a one-term president. Asked whether he’s the “underdog,” Mr. Obama replied “absolutely,” because of the economy.

“I don’t mind,” the president said. “I’m used to being the underdog. But at the end of the day, people are going to ask — who’s got a vision?”

Upon hearing about Mr. Obama’s assessment, Mr. Romney replied, “Nearly three years ago, President Obama said that if he didn’t fix the economy, he would be a one-term president. Mr. President, we agree. I am a conservative businessman who will get our economy back on track so that Americans are better off in the next four years.”

In his speech Saturday night to gay-rights advocates, Mr. Obama pushed a re-election theme in which he said he wants a “big America” of inclusiveness and robust government spending. He accused the Republicans of pursuing “smallness” by failing to rebuild America’s infrastructure and failing to promote an agenda of shared sacrifice.

“When you tick down which approach the American people prefer, they say it’s mine,” Mr. Obama told ABC.

On Monday, the president’s re-election campaign criticized Republican candidates for their stand on everything from “economics to immigration,” citing various polls.

Mr. LaBolt referred to a poll showing that 73 percent of Americans support repealing tax breaks for oil and gas companies, as Mr. Obama has proposed. “Yet none of the Republican candidates would ask the wealthiest to pay an additional dime, and their economic plans maintain tax breaks for large corporations,” he said.

If the president is showing more combativeness about the campaign, he hasn’t yet settled on a catchy slogan. A youngster who submitted a question online to the president pointed out that his slogan in 2008 was “hope and change,” and the boy asked Mr. Obama for two words that would sum up his campaign in 2012.

The president said he doesn’t have “a bumper sticker yet,” but he suggested: “Our vision for the future.”

“That’s three words. Four,” the president said, correcting himself.

Mr. Stephanopoulos then noted it was five words.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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