For the first time in recent memory, Democrats appear more comfortable than Republicans talking about social issues. President Obama and his party have focused the national conversation on things like access to birth control and same-sex marriage. By doing so, they’ve shifted focus away from the jittery economy and put Mitt Romney in an awkward position.
Every time Romney moves to talk about social issues he’s not addressing the economy, the topic where he’s strongest. Moreover, it creates an opening for his opponents to remind voters that he once held positions that are more inline with the Democratic Party than the GOP on these issues, which dampens his base’s enthusiasm in a base-election year.
Romney’s team needs to evaluate and learn from how the Obama camp skillfully controlled the national debate last week. From Sunday to Sunday, the dominant story was same-sex marriage.
Vice President Biden’s remarks last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” where he said he was comfortable with same-sex couples marrying, was considered a gaffe inside the Beltway. Stories were leaked that the Obama folks were “deeply annoyed” by Biden’s remarks and that he’d “apologized” to his boss. But Biden’s statement got the ball rolling.
Then there was the news the president was going to do an interview to express his view on the subject. His sit down with ABC’s Robin Roberts in the Cabinet Room conveyed the power of the presidency. Romney, meanwhile, gave his response at a campaign event with about 50 people in Oklahoma City. The contrast couldn’t have been more striking.
Later in the week, Obama flew to the West Coast to bask in Hollywood’s (financial) appreciation while Romney subsequently took to the pulpit at Liberty University. It was a speech that should have been a major boost to the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign. He was addressing the largest audience – 30,000 – he’d had since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. But he was forced to make same-sex marriage central to his remarks and, as a result, the speech came off sounding old-hat. "Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,” he posited.
And let’s not forget the Washington Post’s story about Romney’s high school bullying of classmates thought to be gay. That piece couldn’t have dropped at a worst time for Romney. How bad was it? The Post had to decide against running it in print next to its news analysis piece about Obama’s interview so as to not appear to be hitting Romney with a one-two punch.
All this played out under a blanket of campaign advertising the Obama Team unleashed in key battleground states where gay marriage has been an issue in the past. Strategists agree: Obama’s announcement couldn’t have come at a better time.
“There is not a lot of other big news so this is filling a gap that might otherwise have been filled by something bad on the economy or by Romney's message,” said Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic strategist.
Devine noted that the announcement has come early in the fundraising quarter, which gives the president plenty of time to solicit campaign contributions for his position, something his team is already busy doing.