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Are 'bittergate' and 'redistribution' audios Obama's own '47%'?

September 18, 2012|By James Rainey
  • President Obama arrives in New York on Tuesday, the same day Republicans responding to a controversial Mitt Romney video worked hard to disseminate Obama's less-than-winning recorded moments.
President Obama arrives in New York on Tuesday, the same day Republicans… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

Scrambling to respond to the inflammatory “47%” video of Mitt Romney saying many Americans embrace victimhood and dependency, Republicans worked hard Tuesday to disseminate President Obama’s less-than-winning recorded moments.

The star exhibits for Romney and his supporters were two older recordings: Obama’s 4-year-old remarks about bitter, economically distressed Americans clinging to “guns or religion or antipathy to people who are not like them” and an audio recording — apparently newly public — with the young Obama talking about his support of “redistribution.”

The GOP intended the two offerings to take some of the heat off Romney for his comments on a secret videotape taken at a Florida fundraiser in May. But it is hard to conceive how the  “bittergate” audio recording of 2008 will stop Obama, since it only slowed him in a hard-fought primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The second recording — the “redistribution” audio from 1998 — captured remarks Obama made as a state senator in Illinois. That audio, posted Tuesday on the right-tilting Drudge Report, seems more appealing to core Republicans who already depict Obama as a socialist than to moderate swing voters, who even GOP insiders have said they believe must be approached with a softer appeal.

As much as then-Sen. Obama pushed beyond the secret audio recording four years ago to victory, he would later acknowledge that it was the single worst stumble he made during the campaign. Huffington Post contributor Mayhill Fowler made the digital recording during an April  2008 fundraiser in San Francisco that was supposed to be “closed press.”

The candidate, then struggling to push past Democratic opponent Clinton in the primaries, told the crowd of well-heeled donors how difficult it was to connect with poor, rural voters who felt they had been left outside the system. “So it's not surprising then, that they get bitter,” Obama said, “they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who are not like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain hammered Obama for weeks as elitist and out of touch. Polls suggested the remarks hurt Obama, at least marginally, in making inroads with white, lower-income voters.

Obama alternately took a number of different approaches to the blowback. He described the comments as inartful, then said he regretted them but also, at other times, defended them as absolutely true. The campaign responded by putting Obama in touch with more everyday folk — lunch-counter meals, beers in taverns, visits to factories and construction sites.

What Newsweek dubbed the “Bubba Gap” never closed in a big way. But Obama’s superior organization — particularly in caucus states and with the party major-domos who served as Super Delegates — finally allowed him to push him past Clinton to the Democratic Party nomination.

Obama had a few advantages in “bittergate” that Romney does not have in “victimgate.” One was time. The Democrat’s stumble came eight months before election day — leaving him plenty of time to try to prove he was not as out of touch as the remark might have suggested. And even though he sounded broad-brush, Obama spoke of a relatively narrow segment of the population (sometimes known as the “Reagan Democrats”), compared with the nearly 50% whom Romney appeared to write off as too government-dependent.

The Reagan Democrats were never going to vote in substantial numbers for Obama, so his downside with the “bitter” comments was relatively limited.

But Romney, in hitting the 47% of those who do not pay income taxes, broad-brushed millions of seniors in retirement (including those who previously paid substantially) who would vote for him, unless something alienated them.

Obama — whether voters accepted it or not — insisted in 2008 he had great empathy for the “bitter” Americans he critiqued. A day after the revelation of his remarks, Romney on Tuesday continued to sound sanguine about giving up on votes from at least 47% of the electorate. In perhaps the most damaging note, Romney said: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Most Republicans and movement conservatives already contend that Obama wants to turn as much of the economy as possible over to the government. But moderates have proved less likely to accept such views.

Republican mastermind Karl Rove argued in a meeting with big Republican donors last month that the foreboding portraits of the president favored by GOP true believers would not win the election. Rove, instead, recommended advertising that acknowledges Obama is a good man, but one whose policies simply do not work.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

MORE COMMENTARY FROM JAMES RAINEY:

Rush Limbaugh discovers another left-wing plot that isn’t

Conservatives divided on how Romney should speak to "47%"

Past Septembers show Obama-Romney could go any which way

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