Obama the cage fighter and Romney the delicate puncher

The “Romney for president” folks keep promising a new, supercharged phase of the campaign that will launch their stalled candidate on a trajectory straight to the White House.

The “reboot” suggests something big and bold. But there’s a problem: Republican strategists have decided the public — and, particularly, undecided moderate voters — like President Obama too much to smack him rhetorically with two fists.

While Mitt Romney walks that semantic tightrope in a new television ad and on the stump, though, his opponent is walloping him with TV ads that portray the Republican as the hopelessly out-of-touch rich guy. The Obama attacks, making ample use of Romney’s dismissive remarks about the “victim” 47%, give the appearance the president is fighting a cage match, while Romney jabs away, judiciously, with his 16-ounce gloves.

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It’s hard to believe that the Republican’s plan to fight nice will last all the way to election day, when he continues to get pushed around the ring. The most fervent partisans already are pleading with Romney to quit dancing around and charge straight at the Current Occupant. For now, we have an asymmetrical fight. This is how it looked Wednesday:

Romney launches a one-minute TV ad showing the candidate dressed in shirt sleeves and talking directly to the camera. He assures voters he understands those struggling to find work and “living paycheck to paycheck.”

“President Obama and I both care about poor and middle-class families,” Romney says. “The difference is my policies will make things better for them. We shouldn’t measure compassion by how many people are on welfare. We should measure compassion by how many people are able to get off welfare and get a good-paying job.” The ad concludes with Romney saying his plan will create 12 million jobs over four years and strengthen the middle class, because “we can’t afford another four years like the last four years.”

That approach comes out on the stump too, where Romney hits Obama for talk that is “cheap” (on fixing the economy) while saying, “I think the president loves America; I love America.”

Obama, in contrast, isn’t offering assurances that Romney is a swell fella — as Mitt himself might say.

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An Obama ad called “Fair Share” shows the video of Romney’s now-infamous appearance before a bunch of Florida fat cats in May. “When Mitt Romney dismissed 47% of Americans for not pulling their weight, he attacked millions of hardworking people making 25-, 35-, $45,0000 a year,” the narrator says as the camera zooms in on a photo of a firefighter, a policeman and a schoolteacher. “They pay Social Security taxes, state taxes, local taxes, gas, sales and property taxes.”

“Romney paid just 14% in taxes last year on over $13 million in income, almost all from investments,” the ad concludes. “Instead of attacking folks who work for a living, shouldn’t we stand up for them?”

An anti-Romney spot released by the Democratic Party on Wednesday, “Mitt Romney: Those People,” re-ups on the out-of-touch plutocrat theme, throwing some brass knuckles into the hit with awkward Romney statements from the primary campaign season.

The spot, so far released only on the Internet and not TV, has the Republican proposing a $10,000 bet to one of his GOP opponents; saying, “I like being able to fire people”; and offering, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

The Democrats did not, of course, offer the context of the latter two remarks, which made them considerably more palatable, if less than perfect. In the “fire” comment, Romney was trying to explain to a primary-season audience that he wanted consumers to have the freedom to fire and hire insurance companies so they could get the best healthcare. When he said he was “not concerned” about the very poor, Romney added that he would fix the safety net, if need be, to tend to the most needy, but that he believed the middle class needed more assistance.

So far Romney continues to resist calls from conservatives to start throwing the heavy leather. But in rejecting that notion, he got in one rabbit punch Wednesday. When asked by CBS News whether he would heed the calls to get tough, the Republican responded: “This is a campaign, not about character assassination, even though that’s what I think has come from the Obama camp by and large.”

Reporter Jan Crawford asked him whether he meant that. “Oh yeah, sure, they try and completely misrepresent my point of view,” he said, “along with why I’m in this race.”

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