In shift, Obama now complimenting Republicans

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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In another man-bites-dog development, President Barack Obama is now saying Republicans are patriots.

“Yes, they’re patriots; they care about the country,” he told donors at an April 18 fund-raiser in Dearborn, Michigan.

“I am sure they are patriots, I’m sure they’re sincere in terms of what they say,” he told the audience at an afternoon speech in Lorain County Community College, Elyria, Ohio.

The compliments may mark a sudden end to Obama’s repeated claims that at least some Republicans put “party before country.” Those claims began last August after Obama’s failed budget negotiations with GOP leaders.

But Obama’s civil remarks were packaged with sharp criticism of the GOP’s supply-side policies.

“Their basic mission seems to be one in which a few folks are doing well at the top and everybody else is struggling to get by, but that’s okay — that somehow that is a formula for growth,” he told his Dearborn audience.

Republicans “keep telling us, well, if we just weaken regulations that keep our air and water clean and protect our consumers, if we just cut everybody’s taxes and convert these investments in community colleges and research and health care into tax cuts especially for the wealthy, that somehow the economy is going to get stronger,” Obama told his community college audience.

Obama’s new mix of compliment and criticism may be intended to shield Obama’s personal favorability ratings, which remain above 50 or even 60 percent, despite the low ratings for his economic record.

An April Washington Post/ABC poll, for example, shows that 54 percent of registered voters have a favorable view of Obama.

The preservation of that personal rating is important, partly because Obama and his allies are working hard to paint likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney as out-of-touch and strange. At the community college speech, for example, Obama suggested that Romney did not understand middle-class concerns by declaring “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.”

That character-based campaign took a hit this week, when the Democrats’ attempt to stigmatize Romney’s treatment of his dog was countered by the revelation that Obama ate dog meat while a child in Indonesia.

Romney’s favorability rating is 40 percent, according to the Washington Post/ABC poll.

Voters, however, often try to focus on politicians’ performances rather than their likeability. For example, the GOP-aligned research group, Resurgent Republic, interviewed swing-voters in four swing states and concluded that the voters said they liked Obama’s character and eloquence, “but offer minimal support for his policies, including the economic stimulus or health care reform.”

Romney’s speeches eschew personal criticism of the president, and instead portray him as nice but incompetent.

“Even if you like Barack Obama, we can’t afford Barack Obama,” Romney said in an April 18 speech in Charlotte, N.C. “It’s time to get someone that’ll get this economy going and put the American people back to work with good jobs and rising incomes.”

Romney is also avoiding the furor over Obama’s dog-eating, and told a reporter April 18 that the election is about “jobs not dogs.”

Obama’s new mix of compliment and criticism may become a feature in his stump speech, and may soon appear in an upcoming TV ad campaign, as he is known to test out new themes with friendly audiences, such as donors.

He also uses his public speeches to get footage for an upcoming TV ad campaigns. For example, a recent ad campaign used footage of him speaking before a backdrop of drilling rigs. The footage came from his four day March trip to Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio.

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