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WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama wants to tell America a few things about Mitt Romney: he is rich and indifferent, bad for women, and might wobble at a fateful moment as commander-in-chief.

Obama's reelection campaign has unleashed a daily, negative, character-based slashing of his November foe, ahead of the president's official campaign kick-off rallies in the crucial battlegrounds of Virginia and Ohio on Saturday.

In the latest volley, Obama's camp produced a memo accusing Romney of pursuing an "extreme" agenda towards women, seeking to lock in the Republican challenger's liabilities with the key electoral demographic.

This followed an ad branding Romney's attitude towards the middle class as "just what you would expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account."

Obama weighed in during his victory lap marking the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, questioning whether Romney would have made the gutsy call to launch a high-risk Navy SEAL raid.

An ad featuring an admiring ex-president Bill Clinton made a similar point. Hope and change, circa 2008, this is not.

Obama supporters point out the president is not alone in going negative: the Romney campaign flexed a true mean streak in the Republican primary.

Hard-charging Romney campaign operatives and outside groups flush with corporate cash are meanwhile readying the next anti-Obama barrage.

But Obama's tactics reflect a need to amplify Romney's weaknesses to disqualify him as a potential president at a time when a stuttering economy is clouding his own prospects.

"Romney is coming off a bruising nomination battle that raised some doubts about his character and wants to reintroduce himself to the American people," said Professor John Geer, a negative campaigns expert at Vanderbilt University.

"The Obama campaign is not going to allow him to do that without continuing the choir of criticism. They want to raise some doubts about his character and make him look extreme on issues."

Obama's attacks also seek to frustrate any bid by Romney to trek to the political center where American presidential elections are often won.

"What the president is doing in terms of campaign tactics, and his strong criticism of Mr. Romney, is not unusual for an incumbent," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University polling institute.

"Elections in which there is an incumbent are referendums on that incumbent, and given the president's relative lukewarm job approval ratings... his team has obviously chosen to try to demonize the opposition."

Obama's assaults partly focus on Romney's history as a millionaire venture capitalist who Democrats say sent American jobs offshore and turfed people at ailing companies out of work.

Romney says his corporate past makes him the ideal man to turn around the economy, which is giving off conflicting signs of recovery and slowdown in a slow trudge out of the deepest slump since the 1930s Great Depression.

That is where the Swiss bank account comes in, as Obama hints that he, and not his wealthy foe, best understands middle class economic angst.

A Quinnipiac poll Thursday underlined Obama's challenge, putting the president just two points up on his foe, 44 to 42 percent, in the crucial state of Ohio.

The race in the rustbelt battleground has tightened because signs of an improving economy have ebbed, the pollsters said, sharpening the row on pocketbook issues six months from election day.

Obama's standing in swing states is underwritten by a wider appeal to women voters. He leads Romney among the group 44-42 percent in Florida, 50-37 in Ohio and 52-35 in Pennsylvania, the poll showed.

So, hitting on women's issues, and reviving recent controversies over contraception, for instance, make sense.

Some Obama spots are airing on television already in battlegrounds like Iowa, Ohio and Virginia, while others run on the web or are farmed out to journalists in a bid to shape news coverage.

His campaign has also produced longer, inspirational films aimed at convincing supporters Obama delivered the change he promised.

Republicans are meeting Obama's assault head on and have a new bumper sticker-style slogan "Hype and Blame" a play on Obama's 2008 "Hope and Change" theme, and accuse the president of slamming Romney to hide his own faults.

"Successful incumbents usually run on their record. Failed presidents run from their record," said Republican National Committee chairman

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012


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