Conservatives have recently expressed dismay that the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is using a "play it safe" strategy of presenting Romney as simply the alternative to President Barack Obama. Instead, they argue, Romney needs to explain to voters what his plan would be to help the economy.
"Governor Romney does seem to be risk averse ... You can't get to the presidency running out the clock. So he's going to have to do something more than say Obama's not working," conservative Washington Post columnist George Will said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
The topic was raised initially in a Thursday column by The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, which wrote, "The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it's Mr. Obama's fault. We're on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that 'Obama isn't working.' Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the President's policies aren't working and how Mr. Romney's policies will do better."
The notion that when presidents run for a second term the election is a referendum on the president's performance, rather than a choice between two candidates, is well accepted among political scientists and pundits. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, believes that the Romney campaign team is basing their campaign upon this maxim, but worries it will not be good enough.
"Their theory of the race is, the economy is bad, the incumbent gets blamed if the economy is bad, we have to stay out of the way and do what voters naturally do, which is blame the president and the incumbent for a bad economy and we will win. ... It makes me nervous," Kristol said on "Fox News Sunday."
To some, one of the strange aspects of this race so far is that the race is so close, and Obama even leads in some key swing states, despite the fact that the economy is so poor.
"Obama is maintaining a lead in the face of pretty bad economic numbers. That's a really interesting fact about our politics," liberal Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne said on "This Week."
Political scientist James Joyner also expressed that sentiment in a June 27 post for Outside the Beltway aptly titled, "61% Say Country Headed in Wrong Direction, Yet Obama Leads Romney."
Joyner suspects the discrepancy can be explained by the fact that, "while the economy remains far and away the most important issue and most people say that the economy is lousy and think Obama is doing a lousy job, there's not an overwhelming sense that Romney will do any better."
Ironically, the Obama campaign sometimes sounds like it is running as the "not Romney" candidate.
Speaking for the Obama campaign on "This Week," Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.) said, "President Obama is not running against the Almighty, he is running against the alternative and the alternative in this case is Governor Mitt Romney."
He then criticized Romney for his off-shore bank accounts.
Liberal Fox News Contributor Juan Williams believes that the reason Obama is doing relatively well in the polls despite the poor economy is that Americans believe Obama's message. Obama has argued that the economy is poor now because it will take a long time to recover from the economic catastrophe that struck just before he was sworn into office.
"What president Obama says about getting out of the deep hole is true in the American mind," Williams said. "They say, 'you know what? He got a bad deal coming in, the economy was in bad shape.' I think he's trying to hammer that point home time and time again."