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Barack Obamversus Mitt Romney: Likability or competence?

Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney: Likability or competence?

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Updated: May 28, 2012 9:04AM

The no-holds-barred Democratic machine is laboring overtime to come up with reasons voters should re-elect President Barack Obama. He’s more likeable than Mitt Romney. The presumptive GOP nominee is a right-wing extremist. The cool, hip Obama has the women and youth vote locked up. In short, the White House strategy is to talk about anything but the economy.

Democrats gleefully cite polls showing Americans like Obama more than Romney. That harkens back to the 2004 race when President George W. Bush was seen as the guy you have a beer with rather than losing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

But the economy was in good shape then, so it was easy to vote for the affable frat boy Bush over the dour Kerry. With unemployment above 8 percent for the longest time since the Depression and the economic recovery limping along at the most anemic pace in modern history, voters might reject the more popular guy in favor of the sober, get-the-job-done executive who has economic home runs like Staples and the Sports Authority on his resume.

To try to further paint Romney as less likeable, the Democratic propaganda apparatus intends to use the long, divisive GOP primary to label the former Massachusetts governor as a right-wing extremist. That ploy might run into trouble with all that videotape of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum condemning Romney as “a Massachusetts moderate.”

On another front, the administration tried to build on the Democrats’ favorable gender gap with women by dragging the Catholic Church into a controversy over insurance coverage for contraceptives. That blew up when a Democratic strategist and frequent White House visitor alienated stay-at-home moms by saying Anne Romney “never worked a day in her life.” Romney used that to talk about how women are attuned to economic reality through daily household buying.

Making matters worse for Democrats was an analysis of White House pay by the conservative Washington Free Beacon showing pay for women employees to be 18 percent below that for men. That recalled a former top female official saying that when she worked at the White House, “It actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.’’

Obama then did a college tour touting his proposal to keep interest rates on student loans low. It turned out that Romney backs that too. Making matters worse for Democrats was an analysis by the Associated Press showing that the labor market in the Obama economy is so weak that half of 2012 college graduates were unemployed or working in jobs below their skill levels. Will young people vote for cool and hip, or for a better chance to get a job so they can pay off those loans?

The line of reasoning that voters might prefer competence to likability got a boost from, of all people, former White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley, though he obviously didn’t mean to. In a Chicago speech, Daley said, “The president has a very difficult time with the business community. Most people in business and most people who are successful are Republican. That’s just a fact of life.”

Considering that fact of life, who would you rather have in the White House, a charisma-deprived guy from the party of success or the likeable guy from the party of, well, not success?

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