Preparing for an interview with Neil Cavuto on pro-Obama headlines, I picked up the Friday New York Times, and there it was on the front page, in the midst of four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices: "Obama Seizes Chance to Score As an Everyman."
This might seem at odds with his 2008 sales job as the Exotic Cosmopolitan Uniter, but that schtick has faded. Reporter/manservant Mark Leibovich touted the president's NCAA tourney talk and his hot-dog chomping at a game alongside British prime minister David Cameron: "It is the latest iteration of the Obama-Just-Folks offensive, and one that coincides — not by accident — with some particularly clumsy efforts by the Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, to shed the stereotypical airs of a super-rich guy."
Turn inside, and there are large photos of Obama at the basketball game with Cameron. Below that is a photo of Obama crouching down for a face-to-face meeting with his dog Bo. We're told about Obama boasting he knew about Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks before the rest of the sports world.
Mr. Obama’s image makers see sports as an opportunity to exploit what they regard as the president’s advantage over the former Massachusetts governor in the quadrennial battle over which candidate can seem more “ordinary” than the other (rich) guy running. Sports also provide a ready-made connection to the male voters among whom Republican nominees typically win majorities.
For his part, Mr. Romney also professes to love sports (or “sport” as he put it), mentioning that he has friends who own Nascar and N.F.L. teams and demurring (“I’m not plugged in well enough”) when asked for his own N.C.A.A. picks. “They asked Mitt if he was filling out his brackets,” David Axelrod, one of Mr. Obama’s top advisers, said on Twitter, “and he said, ‘No I have my accountants to do that.’ ”
Leibovich allowed a little space for former Romney strategist Mike Murphy to joke Obama’s switched from "Evian water to Dasani," and then the Obama line resumed:
While office seekers always strain to be the proverbial “candidate you’d rather have a beer with” — and such contests will never favor a teetotaling Mormon — the president has been laying it on as thick as the Guinness he sipped at a Washington bar on St. Patrick’s Day.
In recent weeks, he has indulged in public basketball-watching, barbecue-eating and blues-singing (with Buddy Guy and B. B. King at the White House) that comports with a re-election message geared to working-class voters.
For good measure, Regular Joe Biden, the muscle-car-loving vice president, has been sent to working-class locations in the Rust Belt while the first lady, Michelle Obama, went on “Late Show with David Letterman” on Monday and reminded everyone she went shopping at Target last year (Mr. Letterman helpfully flashed a photo of the outing.)
It goes without saying that Target is not the kind of store one might envision, say, Ann Romney pulling up to in one of the Cadillacs that her husband says she drives. Or that the Obamas have been playing up their folksiness at a time when Mr. Romney has proven rather butterfingered with his common touch. And no, this is not a coincidence, Mr. Obama’s aides said, although they are reluctant to say so publicly for fear of suggesting that the first couple’s penchant for basketball or Target is somehow less than authentic.
“I don’t think anyone will be elected president by filling out an N.C.A.A. bracket,” Mr. Axelrod said in an interview. “But I do think that that accessibility to a person is important. People want to support people they can relate to and are comfortable with.”
Liberals usually hate the Have-a-Beer-With Test, like with Bush and Kerry in 2004. But now Obama thinks he can campaign as the Non-Mormon Mainstream Guy Who Drinks. Romney adviser Kevin Madden is left with Uptight Boston guy task of saying Romney isn't running for "buddy-in-chief."
Even so, Mr. Obama’s team has proven effective in exploiting each gaffe — and herein, the boilerplate reminder about how it’s much easier to do this in the age of YouTube, Facebook, etc. Mr. Axelrod’s Twitter account has been a preferred weapon. He is fond of playing on Mr. Romney’s curious statement that “the trees are the right height” in Michigan (“So Mitt wins Guam, where the Sea Hibiscus are just the right height!” Mr. Axelrod wrote.)
Mr. Axelrod also sent out a photo of Mr. Obama and his dog, Bo, in the back of a limousine with the caption, “How loving owners transport their dogs,” an obvious reference to how Mr. Romney long ago transported his Irish setter, Seamus, in a cage on the roof of the family car during a long trip. This Axelrod Twitter post came a few days after the president’s re-election campaign created a “Pet Lovers for Obama” group on Facebook.
Mr. Romney’s loyalists give Mr. Obama’s campaign grudging credit for seizing on Mr. Romney’s vulnerabilities and mishaps. “But how hard is it to cash a lottery ticket?” said Mr. Murphy, a former adviser to Mr. Romney who is not involved in this campaign. He added that Mr. Obama had benefited from a complicit news media that loves to point out Mr. Romney’s perceived screw-ups. This in turn makes the Romney campaign — and candidate — overly self-conscious, prompting more gaffes.
“I think Governor Romney knows that he’s now trying to feed a dog that’s trained to bite him,” Mr. Murphy said.
You know how you know Leibovich is cozy with Axelrod? See the Twitter page. Like that trained dog, he re-tweeted Axelrod's dorky Sea Hibiscus joke. He also praised Axelrod for the lame joke "For Cato Institute, things don't go better with Kochs!" He's impressed:
@davidaxelrod you ate your tweeties today, Axe. Impressed.