When an incumbent president seeks re-election, it’s usually about him

To some extent, a presidential election featuring an incumbent always focuses on that incumbent’s performance — whether he likes that fact or not.

That’s why it’s a bit surprising to read TIME‘s Michael Scherer chide Mitt Romney for focusing so much attention on President Obama’s record.

This time, since the beginning, Romney has focused on a single argument. Ask him about abortion, his Massachusetts record, guns or health care and Romney will try to steer the conversation back to the White House. “Barack Obama,” Romney now argues endlessly, “has failed America.” At every turn, Romney plans to pin the current economic hardship squarely on Obama, glossing over the fact that the financial collapse started well before Obama took office. His campaign speaks of the “Obama misery index,” is intently focused on highlighting the economic difficulties of 17 potential swing states and has prepared a slew of testimonials from unemployed Americans. “Have you been to a job fair?” asks another Romney strategist. “Please go. If John Steinbeck were alive today, he would not be voting for Barack Obama.”

What was different about Barack Obama’s strategy for election in 2008? The man he attacked — George W. Bush — wasn’t on the ballot.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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