Because so much of the 2012 focus has been on the Republican presidential field, and the ads aired by the candidates and their super PACs, we've seen far less from the Obama/Biden campaign when it comes to election messaging. That's changing now that the general-election phase is getting underway.
The president's re-election team unveiled this new ad late yesterday, which is airing in several battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia.
What's interesting about the spot is the context in which it appears. In this case, a Republican-friendly outfit called the American Energy Alliance is already spending $3.6 million on attack ads that falsely blame Obama for rising gas prices. The president's new spot helps make Obama's case on energy policy -- oil production has gone up each of the last three years, for example -- but it's also intended to rebut the AEA attack.
Notice, however, that Mitt Romney is very much a part of the equation. Obviously, the former Massachusetts governor can't be blamed for pain at the pump, but the Obama campaign's message, like the one being pushed by the Priorities USA super PAC, ties the likely Republican nominee to Big Oil through his policy agenda and campaign financing.
The criticism has the benefit of being true: the American Energy Alliance is being financed in part by the Koch brothers and the oil industry, which are enthusiastically backing the Romney campaign because the Republican has vowed to protect the industry's tax breaks, profits, and drilling interests.
The point isn't exactly subtle. "Big Oil" isn't popular with the American mainstream, and the Obama campaign wants voters to make the connection: Mitt Romney is the oil industry's man.
The fact that the president's team is airing this ad at all signals a degree of concern about energy policy -- if Obama didn't feel vulnerable on the issue, his campaign would simply ignore the American Energy Alliance's dishonest attacks -- but it also suggests Obama/Biden has plenty to work with when it comes to pushing back against the Republican/oil industry barrage.
Indeed, it's worth recognizing just how weak an issue energy policy is for Romney and his team.
The main problem, as the New York Times reported today, is that the likely Republican nominee has already argued for the same policies he's now against.
For several weeks, Mitt Romney has seized on the rising cost of gasoline to attack President Obama and his environmental aides for what Mr. Romney calls their misguided desire to see higher energy prices. [...]
But Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has in the past appeared much more open to the notion that rising energy costs could be good for the American economy. In his 2010 book, "No Apology," Mr. Romney described a gradual increase in the cost of energy as the kind of market-based incentive that conservatives could embrace.
Romney even pushed for more energy-efficient light bulbs, though he now opposes the idea.
Clearly, the former governor is aware of public concerns and wants to incorporate energy policy into the 2012 race, but between Romney's Big Oil ties and his previous personas, it's not going to be easy for him to stay coherent on the subject.