US President Barack Obama
So far, President Barack Obama has not been able to convince most Americans that they are better off than they were four years ago. His next step may be to try to convince them that they would be worse off under his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.
In an economic speech on Thursday that could set the tone for months of campaigning, Obama is not likely to unveil new ideas to boost the economy and create new jobs, according to Democrats familiar with the preparations for the address, reports Reuters.
Instead, he will make the case that he needs four more years to undo the damage left by George W. Bush, his Republican predecessor in the White House, and argue that a President Romney would bring back the weak financial regulation and budget-busting tax cuts of the Bush years.
Obama already is making this argument to small groups of supporters.
"The last thing we want to do is return to the very policies that got us into this mess," he said at a fundraiser in Baltimore on Tuesday.
The strategy carries risks for Obama.
Too much finger-pointing could diminish his presidential status and lead voters to question whether he is ducking responsibility, analysts say.
The strategy defies the widely held view among political analysts that most voters decide whether to fire or re-hire an incumbent president based on his own record. And an overly negative campaign could invite unflattering contrast with the "hope and change" motto that carried Obama to victory in 2008.
But many Democrats believe that Obama must put his achievements into context by explaining that he has spent his first term digging out from a disaster that was brought on by a Republican presidency.
They point out that the recovery hasn't been any more lacklustre than those that followed recessions in 2001 and 1991; the difference is that the economy is digging out of a much deeper hole.
The 69,000 jobs added last month, while not nearly enough, should be measured against the 800,000 jobs that disappeared the month Obama took office, Democratic activists say.
"Even though 2007 was five years ago, it's very important to explain to people how we got to where we are," said Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Democrats also are aware that while Romney remains largely undefined to many voters, the budget-slashing policies of the former Massachusetts governor's fellow Republicans in Congress have spooked many Americans.
Democrats also see some evidence that the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's record as a private equity executive may be resonating with voters, despite the objections of prominent Democratic allies such as former President Bill Clinton.