President Obama and Mitt Romney are neck-and-neck as they enter the home stretch of the 2012 presidential race. The two candidates have embarked on frenetic tours of crucial battleground states — Obama is hitting up nine over the course of a 38-hour period, while Romney is driving his message home in Nevada, Colorado, and Iowa — in a bid to win over undecided voters and fire up their bases. The debates are over, and, barring some cataclysmic event, the outcome of the race will likely be determined by what the two campaigns accomplish over the next two weeks. Here, six things Obama needs to do in the final two weeks of the race:
1. Win the closing argument on the economy
The economy is the top issue for voters, and polls show that Obama's standing on economic issues has slipped in recent weeks. In response to criticism that Obama has failed to articulate his economic agenda for a second term, the campaign began mailing 3.5 million copies of a pamphlet titled "Blueprint for America's Future," a bullet-by-bullet outline of the president's plan that is targeted at undecided voters. Furthermore, Obama has "stepped up his effort to convince the nation that he had brought it back from the brink of collapse and that Mr. Romney would embrace the policies that caused the problems," say Michael D. Shear and Helene Cooper at The New York Times. He has released a new ad in battleground states that urges voters to "read my plan, compare it to Governor Romney's, and decide which is better for you."
2. Paint Romney as a flip-flopper
The Obama campaign is furious at Romney's abrupt move to the center, which has only helped the GOP candidate politically. On the campaign trail Obama is constantly reminding voters of Romney's previous, more conservative positions, such as his opposition to extending government aid to General Motors and Chrysler, a condition Obama describes as Romnesia. The Obama campaign initially tried to characterize Romney as a severe conservative, but it may have more success tagging him as a flip-flopper. "The notion that Mr. Romney isn't centered in any philosophical impulse — that he will say or do whatever it takes to win — seems more plausible, given his contortions on a range of policies, and given his excessive caution as a candidate," says Matt Bai at the Times.
3. And... paint Romney as an extremist
Sure, that may appear to contradict the previous point. But the Obama campaign is betting that the GOP's far-right positions on birth control and illegal immigration will hurt Romney's campaign with women and Latino voters. Obama is focusing on undecided women voters who think Romney "would be better for job creation but believe President Obama would be more likely to protect abortion rights and access to contraception," says Laure Meckler at The Wall Street Journal. And Obama even admitted in an interview with The Des Moines Register that Latinos were the key to re-election. "A big reason I will win a second term," he said, "is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic in the country."
4. Get out the vote
In addition to winning over a dwindling number of undecided voters, Obama has to ensure that his winning 2008 coalition — largely composed of blacks, Latinos, younger voters, and women — shows up at the polls in 2012. Some doubt that the liberal base is as enthusiastic as last election, but the campaign disagrees. "We think that people aren't getting it always right about who and what this electorate's going to be comprised of on Election Day," said Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina. "We continue to think it's going to be a higher percentage of minorities and young people than some are forecasting." Whether or not that's true, a growing number of political insiders say the Obama organization's much-vaunted ground game could make a difference in close swing-state races.
5. Run like the underdog
"After a debate season that reversed the two men's fortunes in the polls, President Obama indicated that he would run in the last two weeks of the race as an underdog," say Philip Rucker and David A. Fahrenthold at The Washington Post. The Obama campaign has been warning supporters that his historic presidency could come crashing to an end without their aid, a tactic that seems to work well on jittery Democrats, who are reportedly showing up at campaign offices to volunteer their services.
6. Protect his lead in Ohio
Obama's slim lead in Ohio, which has endured despite Romney's recent surge, is his mathematical pathway to 270 Electoral College votes. While there is a scenario in which Romney could win without Ohio, the odds of that happening are close to none. Obama's popularity in the Buckeye State has been largely attributed to the auto bailout, making it doubly important for his campaign to wall off any attempt by Romney to move to the center on that issue.