News analysis: From confidence to confusion — Obama's 2012 campaign so far full of fumbles, gaffes and missteps

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this April 25, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama arrives to speak at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

Associated Press

Two months after the Obama campaign was said to be full of confidence regarding its 2012 outlook, the descriptions surrounding the president's reelection have transformed, and that confidence has been replaced with words like "unprepared" and "inept."

At the beginning of April, Buzzfeed reported that the mood inside of President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago was jovial — presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney was viewed "almost as a joke," and staffers were ready for battle. Now, however, things have changed.

"There was this sense maybe a month or two ago that Obama was really riding high — that he had gotten his base behind him and the economy was doing better and it had this Clinton vs. Bob Dole 1996 feeling — that he was going to cruise," a 2008 Obama aide told Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller. "Now it feels like it's going to be really tough — a 2004 race."

The Obama campaign stumbled out of the gate, tripping on issues ranging from motherhood to gay marriage. Even attacks on Bain Capital, which Obama planned to use in dismantling Romney's business pedigree, have become an area of division among Democrats.

"The Obama team has come to resemble Wile E. Coyote — each silly plot intended to wipe out his adversary blows up in the plotter's face," Jennifer Rubin wrote at The Washington Post. "Moreover, with the hyperspeed of a New Media-era campaign, Obama is burning through his negative attacks with lightening speed. By July he might actually have to talk about some of the issues."

The "war on women"

Although Democrats were eager to push the "war on women" meme that began in February, it was derailed in April by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen's remark that Ann Romney "has actually never worked a day in her life." Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, the president and the first lady ended up condemning Rosen's remarks.

Like Ann Romney's quick Twitter response to Rosen, Republicans have exhibited speed in turning Obama attacks back on the attackers. When Democrats attacked Romney over the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that helps women pursue pay discrimination claims in court, Republicans pointed out that although Obama signed the law, women in the Obama White House make about 18 percent less than their male colleagues.

When the Obama campaign released its "Life of Julia" slideshow as an appeal to women voters, it was met with derision by many. Factcheck.org rated some of the assumptions in the slideshow as "false" or "dubious," The Atlantic said the slideshow was "apparently built specifically to be co-opted by right wing meme-makers," and Campbell Brown, a former anchor for CNN and NBC, called it "a silly and embarrassing caricature based on the assumption that women look to government at every meaningful phase of their lives for help."

The "war on women" may officially have ended, though, after a recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows Romney now leading among women. A new WaPo/ABC poll shows Obama leading among women 51 percent to 44 percent, but the poll undersamples Republicans, which suggests the gap may be smaller in reality.

Launching the campaign

On May 5, Obama formally launched his reelection campaign in Columbus, Ohio. However, rather than focusing on Obama's words, the headlines of the day focused on the empty seats in the arena instead. Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams can claim credit for stealing the president's thunder after he tweeted the photo that started the "half-empty" headlines.

Even choosing a slogan has been troublesome for the Obama campaign, with attempts like "Win the Future," "We Can't Wait," and "Greater Together" quickly falling by the wayside. When the campaign settled on "Forward" at the end of April, critics responded by pointing out that the slogan was not only similar to MSNBC's new "Lean Forward," but that it also has historical ties to Marxism and socialism.

Gay marriage 'evolution'

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