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Democrats mildly resist GOP argument on Obama's presidency

From The CNN Political Unit
updated 8:09 PM EDT, Sun September 2, 2012
President Barack Obama addresses supporters in Boulder, Colorado, on Sunday. The Democratic convention is this week.
President Barack Obama addresses supporters in Boulder, Colorado, on Sunday. The Democratic convention is this week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama advisers won't answer yes or no on whether voters are better off than in 2008
  • Head of Democratic governors' group says voters aren't better off -- but that's not the question
  • Republicans raised the question during their convention last week
  • Obama is on a tour of college campuses ahead of his party convention this week

(CNN) -- Republicans raised the question in their convention of whether the country is better off than it was when President Barack Obama was elected, and it doesn't seem that Democrats have a convincing argument going into their convention this week.

Both Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan had a variation on the theme in their acceptance speeches last week in Tampa, Florida.

Romney: "This president cannot tell us that you're better off today than when he took office."

Ryan: "Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?"

One prominent Democrat said the answer to the question was "no."

"But that's not the question of this election," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said on CBS on Sunday. "The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars -- charged for the first time to credit cards, the national credit cards."

Republicans pounced on O'Malley's admission, with Ryan issuing a statement saying it was proof that Obama's policies aren't working.

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Two of Obama's senior advisers wouldn't give a yes or no answer when asked on Sunday.

While Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod told Fox News, "We're in a better position than we were four years ago," he didn't directly answer the question if voters thought they were better off.

"I think the average American recognizes that it took years to create the crisis that erupted in 2008 and peaked in January of 2009," Axelrod said. "And it's going to take some time to work through it."

White House senior adviser David Plouffe had a similar answer on ABC, saying, "I think everyone understands we were this close to a Great Depression. Because of the leadership of this president, we staved that off. We're beginning to recover."

Obama was riding toward the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, on a speaking tour of Virginia, Iowa and Colorado college campuses hoping to energize young voters, a segment of the electorate critical to his hopes.

Younger voters went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 and he still holds a lead in the age group in polls, but less decisively than four years ago.

Even if they don't vote Romney, the Obama campaign's concern is that that segment and the others that helped elect him don't turn out at the rates they did four years ago.

Senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" that no one in Obama's campaign "is sitting up here saying this is 2008."

But Gibbs didn't think there was a case of buyer's remorse going into Election Day.

"I don't think that there is voter disappointment," Gibbs said. "The voters understand that we have been through a traumatic economic experience in the country, unlike anything that we have ever seen."

And Gibbs said the GOP wasn't offering an alternative, only rehashed ideas.

"In Tampa, we saw nothing but insults and old slogans and tired old ideas," Gibbs said. "In Charlotte, the president is going to focus on a plan to provide the middle class in this country necessary and needed security by investing in research and innovation."

Obama's campaign has used that theme consistently since Republicans wrapped up their convention last week. The president told an audience in Iowa on Saturday that the GOP message was something that might as well have been viewed on a black and white television.

"It was a rerun. We'd seen it before," Obama said.

Obama also challenged Romney over his qualifications to be the country's commander in chief, pointing out at that same rally in Iowa that Romney had failed to mention Afghanistan in his acceptance speech.

"Gov. Romney had nothing to say about Afghanistan last week," Obama said at a campaign rally in Iowa on Saturday. "Didn't mention it. Didn't offer a plan in terms of how he might end the war or, if he's not going to end it, he's got to let people know."

Romney campaign senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said his candidate had addressed the war in an address to the American Legion the day before his acceptance speech.

"President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish," Romney said in that speech. "In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due."

The acceptance speech had a different purpose, Fehrnstrom said, to "introduce himself to millions of voters who were seeing him for the first time."

"We thought that speech was a home run," he added.

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