Otherizing Mitt Romney in Ohio

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 1 2012 12:21 PM

Otherizing Mitt Romney in Ohio

Molly Ball files from Ohio's coal country, whose TV stations are being steadily enriched by "war on coal" ads from the Romney campaign. She finds voters who, demographically, probably should go for the Republican candidate. Darn it, though. They just can't bring themselves to like him.

The Obama ad is called "Not One of Us," and that was another theme of my conversations with voters about Romney. (It's an insidious title -- can you imagine Romney making an anti-Obama ad called "not one of us" without getting shouted down for implicit racism?) Those opposed to Obama cited various reasons, from disappointment to anger to being convinced he's a Muslim. But the impressions of Romney were remarkably consistent: He's for the rich.
"I think Obama's more for the regular working class people, and Romney's for the big business and the well-to-do," said Eric Burkhead, the road and cemetery superintendent for Kirkwood Township, working on a truck in the gravel driveway of the local garage. The 66-year-old didn't like what he saw happening with coal and wasn't wild about Obamacare, but he planned to vote for Obama.
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We hear a lot about "otherization" -- I mean a lot, proportionately, because it's not really a word -- in the context of Republicans attacking Barack Obama. But the stunningly successful class warfare that's hurting Romney is surely a kind of otherization. Obama and liberal PACs have been relentlessly telling voters that Romney isn't like them. Voters, who had already kind of decided that Obama isn't like them, either, buy into it. The get-Romney strategy was telegraphed more than a year ago, in a Politico story about Obama's goal of exploiting his rival's "weirdness." At the time, the Romney campaign basically trolled back, accusing Obama advisers of exploiting Romney's religion -- Mormon = "weird." But Obama and Democrats haven't even touched the religion stuff. (Remember the freak-out over one lone Democratic activist who posted on the Obama campaign site about Mormonism? That's how rare this is.) They've focused on Romney, the uncaring cartoon character. And it worked, somehow! Or it will work, pending the debates.

Ohio's full of Democrats trying to pull this off. Check out Sen. Sherrod Brown's hit on Josh Mandel, which both makes a substantive scandal argument while exploiting Mandel's youthfulness and his colleagues' bro-ishness... and ends with Brown's chewed-gravel rumble of a voice.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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