* Obama's team successfully defined Romney
* Ground game, messaging seen as assets that led to victory
* Republicans viewed Obama's campaign as negative, divisive
By Jeff Mason
CHICAGO, Nov 7 On the day after the 2010 midterm
election that swept Republicans into control of the House of
Representatives and decreased Democrats' majority in the Senate,
senior White House adviser David Axelrod had a message for
President Barack Obama.
"I think they just planted the seeds of your re-election,"
he told his boss.
"The most strident voices had seized control of the
Republican Party and you knew that the nominee who would emerge
either would come from that Tea Party base or would have to
yield to it in order to be the nominee," Axelrod told Reuters.
That nominee ended up being former Massachusetts Governor
Mitt Romney, and Obama's campaign went on to exploit his ties to
the conservative wing of his party and outmaneuver him to
victory in the Nov. 6 general election.
Axelrod, who left the White House to oversee strategy for
the president's 2012 campaign, and fellow Democrats attribute
Obama's decisive win on Tuesday to Obama and to a consistent
strategy that sidelined Romney in key swing states.
An early and effective effort to define the former private
equity executive as unfriendly to the middle class, a superior
ground operation to get out the vote, and a deft response to
missteps by Romney and his allies helped Obama overcome his own
perceived weaknesses in presiding over a slow economic recovery.
"They successfully made this a choice election as opposed to
a referendum on the president and the economy," said Michael
Feldman, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Vice
President Al Gore. "They also used the critical months between
the end of the (Republican) primary and the general election to
better define Mitt Romney than the Romney campaign did."
That defining process turned out to be key.
In the spring and summer, Obama's campaign used a massive
advertising package to highlight concerns about Romney's tenure
as the head of Bain Capital and pounded the multi-millionaire
executive for refusing to release several years of his personal
The Romney campaign's slow response to that onslaught and
failure to neutralize the criticism over his tax returns baffled
Obama's Chicago team.
"Their inability to respond to attacks that they knew were
coming, I think, was a major mistake on their part," said one
Obama campaign official. "If they had made a decision they
weren't going to release his taxes, they should have had a plan
around how to deal with that."
MESSAGING, POLICY, GROUND GAME
Obama's campaign made mistakes, too. The president's first
debate performance was widely panned and would have been blamed
by many for his defeat if he had lost to Romney on Tuesday.
Democrats' slow acceptance of the financial influence of
outside groups known as Super PACs was also cited earlier in the
year as a strategic misstep.
But Obama's strength on the ground and effective messag es -
which Republicans viewed as particularly negative - made up for
"They had a ground game that they worked on for five years,"
said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist who advised Romney.
"It's unusual for an incumbent president to run such a
negative, divisive campaign, but they pulled it off."
Axelrod cited Romney's secretly taped comment that 47
percent of Americans were reliant on government, conservative
policy positions on immigration and taxes, and his selection of
budget hawk Paul Ryan as a running mate as key factors that tied
him to the right and turned off mainstream voters.
"I think it was a mistake," Axelrod said of Wisconsin
Representative Ryan's selection. "I think it was a way for
(Romney) to coalesce his base and get through his convention."
In an election that was determined by the fight over swing
states such as Ohio, where jobs tied to the auto industry are
critical, Obama's team also deftly highlighted Romney's
opposition to Obama's auto bailout and his published opinion
piece that suggested Detroit, Michigan-based companies should be
allowed to fail.
"Whoever decided that they should use the phraseology 'Let
Detroit Go Bankrupt' should probably not get employed as a
political consultant again," said an Obama campaign worker. "It
definitely has haunted them in Ohio in a big way."
Obama ended up winning Ohio and most of the battleground
states that he and Romney both coveted, granting him another