President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney are working hard at this stage of the campaign to paint each other in as stark and unattractive colors as possible.
Through Romney's prism, Obama is seen as a big-spending liberal partisan who is clueless on how to revive the economy and whose environmental, regulatory and tax policies have made things worse.
The former Massachusetts governor is trying to capitalize on his private-sector resume at a time of high voter anxiety over sputtering job growth.
He was sharpening his attack Tuesday with a speech in Des Moines to focus on Obama's economic stewardship, suggesting the president fanned a "prairie fire of debt" while casting himself as a defender of fiscal responsibility.
It comes on the day of the Oregon GOP primary_ Romney's first without an opponent. Lone rival Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said he would no longer campaign actively in remaining GOP primaries.
Much as 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts saw a top strength _ his Vietnam military record _ mischaracterized and used against him by the outside group "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," the Obama team is trying to transform Romney's business record into a liability.
Thus, Romney becomes a job-destroying "vampire" capitalist. TV ads this week by both Obama's re-election campaign and a supportive super PAC focus on layoffs and bankruptcies at companies bought by Bain Capital, the private-equity firm Romney co-founded.
Both campaigns of course are oversimplifying and omitting important details.
Much of the surge in the national debt is due to lower tax revenues and government anti-recession programs under both former President George Bush and Obama. And many companies bought by Bain are now profitable.
But sometimes negative images stick, especially if repeated enough and not strongly rebutted.
Just ask John Kerry.
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