President Barack Obama's top reelection strategists derisively painted Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney on Wednesday as a weak candidate who alienates key voting blocs and seems unable to unite his party. But they then warned any complacent Democrats that it would take a massive, well-funded and organized campaign to beat him in "a tough race" to November.
The two seemingly contradictory arguments were on display as Obama reelection campaign manager Jim Messina and senior strategist David Axelrod worked and joked their way through a post-Super-Tuesday conference call with reporters.
"Instead of Super Tuesday, it became 'Super Glue Day' for them: They're still stuck with Santorum and with Gingrich and with the prospect of a long race," quipped Axelrod.
Axelrod said Romney was laboring to "grind out" a series of "tactical victories in a kind of death march."
The two aides pointed to what they described as drooping Republican turnout, predicted Romney would struggle to unify the party, said he was alienating groups like independents, Latinos, women, middle-class voters, and young people, and accused him of pandering by taking "extremist positions" on issues like immigration.
So, November 6, 2012? Cakewalk? Not so much, the two officials acknowledged.
"We're fortified for a tough race. We know when they finally do get a nominee, whenever that is, that it'll be a tough race," said Axelord. "We understand that we've lived through difficult time and the environment itself poses challenges to us. We understand all of that."
A big part of that "environment" is the sour U.S. economy, which still struggles with painfully high unemployment three years after Obama took office. And Democrats understand that a desire to beat Obama in November will be the glue that holds the Republican party together as it rallies behind a candidate whose name may as well be "Not Obama."
Messina seemingly sought to distance himself from an e-mailed warning to Obama supporters that too many were still on the sidelines, then confirmed the thrust of the message.
"I sent that e-mail out overnight cause I'm not a big sleeper and was having fun -- but the truth is you have to remind people what we're doing and why we're doing it," he said.
Axelrod said Democrats already felt a "sense of urgency" about the election out of worries about what policies the Republicans would pursue. But he acknowledged that, in one key respect, the drawn-out battle for the Republican nomination was bad for Obama.
"Look, candidly, I do think that it's easier to raise money when you have one opponent," he said.
Still, Messina said, "we've been on the ground building the best grassroots campaign we can build to get ready for the general."
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