Obama Now Eager to Take on Romney
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The Fiscal Times
March 8, 2012

“Hello, North Carolina!” President Obama called out yesterday at a truck plant in Mount Holly, N.C. where he again tried to bat away GOP complaints about his energy policies and responsibility for soaring gas prices.

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“If we are going to control our energy future, then we’ve got to have an all-of-the-above strategy,” Obama explained. ”We’ve got to develop every source of American energy -- not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power, nuclear power, biofuels.  We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, in our buildings, in our factories.

“You wouldn’t know it from listening to some of these folks out here -- some of these folks -- but a key part of our energy strategy has been to increase safe, responsible oil production here at home,” he added.

Obama didn’t directly identify who those “folks” might be, but they are the same “folks” he went after at a White House press conference on Tuesday for their policies on going to war against Iran, women and contraception, and immigration.

Jumping into the frenzied fray of the Super Tuesday GOP campaign battles, the president used his first press conference in five months to chide former governor Mitt Romney, former senator Rick Santorum and others for what he characterized as irresponsible or dangerous comments coming from leading public figures.

In particular, he criticized Romney, Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for their “loose talk of war” with Iran if the radical Iranian government doesn’t abandon its drive to develop a nuclear weapon. Obama is trying desperately to prevent a preemptive Israeli strike against Iran’s underground nuclear energy facilities, and suggested that the Republicans’ saber rattling wasn’t helping.

“What is said on the campaign trail – those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Obama told reporters. “They are not commander in chief. When I see the casualness with which those folks talk about war, I am reminded of the costs involved in war.”

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Obama at one time kept his cool and stayed aloof from the Republican primary battle, barely acknowledging the vitriolic rhetoric. His would be opponents took increasing glee in portraying Obama as an incompetent steward of the nation’s economy, a weak commander in chief who unnecessarily apologized to foreign powers, and a usurper of constitutional rights who was trying to jam his health care reform law down the throats of unappreciative citizens.

The political jabs from Romney, Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas have gotten nastier and more personal lately. Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, D.C., on Super Tuesday, Romney described Obama as “the most feckless president since Carter.”

Asked about that at the press conference, Obama would only say, “Good luck tonight.” After his quip prompted laughter, Obama smiled and said, “No, really. Really,” as if he were spoiling for a matchup with Romney this fall.

With the economy on the mend and his job approval rating back up above 50 percent, Obama appears increasingly optimistic about his chances for reelection in November. And GOP rivals bashing Romney on everything from health care to his aloof personality, many Democratic commentators think Mitt would be easy prey this fall.

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Yet Democrats are only kidding themselves if they think a campaign against Romney would be a cakewalk.  And if the economy suddenly goes south again – if gasoline hits $5 a gallon, if a sudden bad turn in the Eurozone debt crisis sends the markets tumbling, or if the U.S. is suddenly at war with Iran – all bets will be off.

Peter Hart, the veteran Democratic pollster, said that Republicans have created “a small disaster for themselves” by veering from the economy to social issues – a pivot that may cost them heavily among swing voters, especially suburban women. Yet he sees a monumental battle brewing between Obama and Romney this fall.

“Look, if we were in a parliamentary situation, I would tell Obama to hold the election today,” Hart told The Fiscal Times on Wednesday.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.