When the central issue of an election campaign is a struggling economy, few things could be worse for a candidate than suggesting that things aren’t so bad. US President Barack Obama must gleefully recall when his 2008 rival, Sen. John McCain suggested that the “fundamentals of our economy are strong” as the financial crisis tore the job market to shreds. McCain may have been talking about steadfast workers and American innovation, but that didn’t make the sound bite. The response ad was swift and effective.
Fast-forward four years, and Republican candidate Mitt Romney is finally getting a taste of that same satisfaction while the US president eats humble pie. Obama, arguing to increase funding for public-sector employees such as teachers, firefighters and police, offered the Romney campaign a gift, fully wrapped with a ribbon and bow, in the form in six little words: “The private sector is doing fine.”
The Republican response caused a sense of deja vu. It cleverly ribbed Obama by taking on a nearly-identical format.
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If Republicans have had a little more swagger in their step of late, it is no coincidence. Last week, GOP governor Scott Walker won a recall election in Wisconsin, becoming the first governor in US history to survive a recall election, and exposing Democratic organizing weakness in the process.
More dramatic still, the Romney campaign announced that in May, for the first time, it out-raised Obama, pulling in $76.8 million to the incumbent’s $60 million.
Eager to swing back into the monetary lead, Obama hit up a group that, after a period of lukewarm feelings, recently came out in droves to support him once again: the LGBT community. Ever since announcing his support for same-sex marriage -- and raising one million dollars within an hour and a half -- Obama has been milking his pro-gay record in fundraising appeals for all he can. That’s why he chose to address a star-studded group of LGBT supporters in Los Angeles, including the likes of Cher and Glee star Jane Lynch.
Social media went wild when news of his speech to the crowd included a comment about Mrs. Obama that, depending on how you look at it, could be interpreted as lewd. Referring to the First Lady’s televised push-up contest with Ellen Degeneres, Obama said:
I want to thank my wonderful friend who accepts a little bit of teasing about Michelle beating her in pushups -- (laughter) -- but I think she claims Michelle didn’t go all the way down. (Laughter.) That's what I heard. I just want to set the record straight -- Michelle outdoes me in pushups as well. (Laughter.) So she shouldn’t feel bad. She's an extraordinary talent and she's just a dear, dear friend -- Ellen DeGeneres. Give Ellen a big round of applause.
Twitter quickly responded to the alleged innuendo:
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Thankfully for Obama, the Twitterverse also gave Republicans some tough times. As with other attempts to trend political terms on Twitter to push a specific message, an online anti-Obamacare campaign went horribly awry this week. Telling people to tag their tweets with #IWantRepeal, the National Republican Congressional Committee promised supporters that it would live stream a printer physically adding their name to the petition. Supporters of the healthcare law, which the Supreme Court will rule on this month, starting adding names to the list that were, well, less than wholesome.
Perhaps Republicans would have been better off taking a page from the Obama handbook and orchestrating the whole thing ahead of time. In the world of campaigns, after all, the sound bite is greater than the sentence, and the Internet bows to no one.
#USelections2012 offers weekly insight into the US Presidential election through a social media lens, tracking candidates as they try to reach 270 electoral votes in 140 characters or less.
The writer is a Breaking News editor and blogger at The Jerusalem Post. Read his blog ‘The Bottom Line’ here.