Now that Mitt Romney is fully in general campaign mode, a theme he seems to be hitting recently is trying to tie President Obama to former President Jimmy Carter. Mitt has now made at least two comparisons of Obama to Carter with the apparent goal of linking them in people’s minds.
Just a few days ago when talking about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Romney tried to down play Obama’s decision by claiming “even Jimmy Carter” would have made the call to raid his compound. Similarly, today Romney unfavorably compared the current economy to the economy under Carter, saying, according to Politico, “Who would’ve guessed we’d look back at the Carter years as the good ol’ days.”
It is easy to guess why Romney is trying to make the connection. Carter was the last incumbent Democratic President to lose a general election. In fact Carter was the only incumbent Democrat to lose a general election in the past century. During his third year in office, Carter had the lowest approval rating of any President from Eisenhower to Obama. And like Obama now, Carter also suffered from a weak economy going into his re-election campaign, and Romney is obviously again hoping a weak economy produces a Republican victory.
While this tactic may appeal to older voters, it’s not clear how younger voters will respond. At an emotional level, they may find Carter to be a strange political boggeyman. Everyone under 31 wasn’t even born yet when Carter left office. Even those under 40 would likely barely remember his tenure. This means roughly half the electorate will have almost no direct memory of the Carter presidency, but may have impressions of Carter’s activities in recent years. In fact, a recent PPP poll found that Americans under 30 had a net favorable opinion of Carter and actually viewed him more favorably than George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan.
Of course given that the GOP has increasingly become the party of older Americans, the fact this line probably doesn’t resonate with younger adults might not really concern Romney.