“We know big government does not have all the answers. We know there's not a program for every problem. We have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington. And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means. The era of big government is over.”
-- President Bill Clinton in his Jan. 23, 1996 State of the Union address.
CHARLOTTE – President Obama has paid a heavy political price for his months of attacks on Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama’s personal favorability underwater for the first time since February, with only 47 percent of registered voters holding positive views of the president. Romney is underwater too, but there were still 10 percent in the poll who were withholding judgment on the former Massachusetts governor.
Democrats are likely to blame Obama’s falling favorability and stagnant job approval ratings on the weak economy and signs of further troubles ahead.
But as the economy sputtered this spring and summer, the president was also undertaking the most audacious re-election campaign of the modern era with a massive, sustained and very expensive attack on the character of his opponent.
Put the two together – a bad economy and a president fixated on narrow, personal attacks – and you can understand why Americans have soured on Obama of late.
It should be a matter of particular concern to Team Obama that so much of the president’s decline came from women voters, with whom he has dropped 11 points since April – not coincidentally the same month the president turned on the fire hose of negative ads against Romney.
For the middle-class moms who will decide this election, there’s not much to like in endless personal, partisan attacks at a time of deep economic anxiety.
The Democratic National Convention got off to a bumpy start Tuesday. Not only did the gavel come down just as the federal debt hit the $16 trillion mark, but the decision by party leaders to strike references to God from the party platform reinforced the persistent problem Democrats have with Christian voters. Neither will it help that the platform calls for subsidies for abortion.
The party Chairwoman also found herself embroiled in a fight over a claim she made about the Israeli ambassador privately scorning the GOP. The ambassador flatly denied the charge, but Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz denied she made the remark reported by the Washington Examiner until audio surfaced of the event. That came on the same day that the party platform was also revealed to strike a long-standing declaration that Jerusalem be the capital of Israel.
But first lady Michelle Obama helped save the day with a warm speech that sought to remind women of what they liked about her husband in the first place: a family man who sought to unify Americans and end old partisan struggles.
While most of the day was given over to the same attacks on Romney that the president and his team have been making all year, the first lady offered something for disenchanted 2008 Obama voters and a plea for patience for her husband.
Tonight, though, Obama will deploy the most popular former president and his most dangerous ally, former President Bill Clinton.
With moderate Democrats, the heart of the party in the Clinton years, getting squeezed by the Obama-era party on social, fiscal and economic issues, Clinton needs to bind up some old, deep wounds.
Clinton also needs to give his blessing to Obama’s economic policies. Even Republicans credit Clinton for his balanced budgets and the late 1990s tech boom is still a happy memory for voters.
But after all of Obama’s attacks and the acrimonious months of the current campaign, probably the best thing Clinton could do tonight is to vouch for Obama’s leadership.
While the president’s re-election strategy has shrunk his stature with voters, Clinton, perhaps the most popular politician in the country, has the chance to build Obama back up.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.