Which will exact the highest political cost: Mitt Romney’s Bain record and tax returns or Barack Obama’s “you didn’t do that on your own” speech? That’s one of the biggest questions of the presidential campaign to date.
So far there hasn’t been much movement in the polls, though the Obama speech is still relatively new compared to the Bain attacks. Jennifer Rubin makes the case that the Bain strategy has failed and Nate Silver wonders if the Romney campaign has overreacted to the charges.
But I’ve already seen strong anecdotal evidence that Obama’s speech minimizing personal achievement has created a backlash outside the Eastern corridor, among people who are not usually close followers of the presidential election. It has also had the effect of injecting some real passion into the robotic Romney’s campaign stump speech. As a businessman, Romney seems genuinely offended by the president’s remarks as opposed to some of the feigned outrage he has previously mustered on the trail. This is a simple philosophical issue, easy to understand, while the details of Bain and Romney’s tax returns are complicated.
That’s not to say that Romney’s finances can’t hurt him. Polls show large numbers of Americans view Romney as out of touch and are distrustful of his wealth, including many people in that small universe of undecided voters. How they weigh that against their judgment Obama is a failed president, an opinion many of them also hold, will determine the election’s outcome. Disclosures of facts like Romney earning $100,000 a year from a company he was effectively no longer working for could feed into concerns about him being out of touch with the economic concerns of ordinary voters.
But so far, there is no evidence Bain and taxes are moving the needle in this close race. We’ll soon learn what impact Obama’s anti-self-made gaffe has had, which is something very much worth paying attention to.