Michael Barone

It was a week of risk-taking in the 2012 presidential race.

Barack Obama, his job approval languishing in the low 40s, delivered a much heralded speech in Osawatomie, Kan., framing the choice between the parties in class-warfare terms.

That's a risky strategy. Democrats haven't won a presidential election on class warfare since 1948, when Obama's mother and Newt Gingrich were 5 years old.

Al Gore, in a year when political scientists' formulas pegged him as an easy winner, ran on a "people versus the powerful" theme and managed to win only 48 percent of the popular vote and lost in the electoral college in 2000.

John Edwards, as the candidate of the 99 percent against the 1 percent, finished a poor third to Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Undaunted, and perhaps feeling he has no better option, Obama made it plain he's staking his chances on class warfare.

He did so even though the policies he trotted out amounted to little more than the Democrats' 2009 stimulus package (road building, high-speed rail), education spending (a payoff to the teacher unions) and higher tax rates on high earners.

It's hard to see how this thin gruel is going to strike independent voters as (to use Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election theme) a bridge to the 21st century. And it's notable that Obama scarcely made reference to the Democrats' signal legislative accomplishment, Obamacare.

He has thrown away his image, established in his 2004 convention speech and maintained through the 2008 campaign, of a compromise-minded conciliator.

On the Republican side, the oft-proclaimed and oft-dislodged frontrunner Mitt Romney moved from running a risk-averse campaign to a tactic that is highly risky -- launching negative attacks on one opponent in a multi-candidate race.

Romney did not see fit to do this when Rick Perry zoomed to a lead in national polls in August or when Herman Cain did so in October. In effect, he bet that in the numerous candidate debates Perry would reveal himself as a parochial Texan and Cain would reveal himself as over his head on foreign policy. Both bets paid off.

But Gingrich clearly has posed a greater threat since he took the lead in national polls in Thanksgiving week. Whatever else he is, Gingrich is not parochial or uninformed.

Moreover, Gingrich currently holds sizable leads over Romney in three of the four January contests. And he is closing in on Romney's long-held lead in the smallest of those states, New Hampshire.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM