Mitt Romney’s camp is up in arms today about a Politico report that team Obama plans to “kill Romney” with a barrage of personal attacks that make him out to be a weirdo who flunks the have-a-beer-with-him test. (“Disgraceful,” Romney’s campaign manager told Fox News this morning.) Never mind that the metaphor quoted above is exceedingly ill-advised for the post-Giffords era. And never mind the Obama campaign’s (mild) protest that Politico isn’t privy to its real strategy. The story raises a few important points about the current 2012 campaign dynamic. One is that Mitt Romney is the hands-down consensus Republican front-runner. The Obama camp would prefer to run against any number of other challengers, most especially Michele Bachmann, and probably even Rick Perry. But the President’s men aren’t even trying to pretend that Romney’s not currently the likeliest nominee.There has to be an asterisk next to the point about the president's popularity. As the first African American president, he enjoys an unusually high level of support among black survey respondents. But about 90 percent of blacks vote Democratic in presidential elections anyway, so this level of support will not add much to the party's tally in 2o12. His support among white voters is much, much lower.
Two, Obama remains relatively popular, given the mess we’re in. Pollsters have expressed surprise that the economy hasn’t dragged Obama’s approval ratings further down, and one working theory that seems plausible is that Americans are inclined to like him personally, even if they’re not impressed by his job performance...
Finally, the resonance of the word “weird.” To my ears, that rings of innuendo about his Mormon faith, and surely any sophisticated political strategist would anticipate that reaction. ...You’d like to think that the people who work for a man who has been slurred countless times because of his race would take a higher road, so hopefully I’m just reading too much into this. Time will tell.
As for potential attacks on Romney's faith, Ted Kennedy set the precedent back in 1994, as the New York Times reported at the time:
On Monday, with the polls showing the two candidates in a horse race, Mr. Kennedy said in response to a reporter's question that Mr. Romney should be asked about his stand on the Mormon church's racially exclusive policies of the past. Until 1978, the church forbade black men from becoming priests. It still denies the priesthood to women.
Mr. Romney, who refuses to discuss his church's past policies on issues of sex and race, responded on Tuesday by accusing Mr. Kennedy of betraying his brother's stand against religious prejudice, enunciated in a pivotal campaign speech in 1960 before an association of Protestant ministers in Houston. In that speech John Kennedy, then a Presidential candidate, declared: "I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.".