January 4th, 2012
03:41 PM ET
(CNN) - On a conference call just hours after a surprisingly tight finish in the Republican caucuses in Iowa on Tuesday, senior members of President Obama's reelection campaign assured reporters that their operation was built to take on whichever candidate arises out of the GOP nominating process. Yet both Campaign Manager Jim Messina and Senior Strategist David Axelrod reserved most of their time – and their harshest words – for caucus winner Mitt Romney.
After ticking off their campaign's statistical accomplishments at the much-overshadowed Iowa Democratic caucuses held the same day – including attracting 25,000 caucus goers and signing up 7,500 volunteers – Messina argued that the Obama campaign's ground game in the Hawkeye State is as strong today as when the president won it back in 2008.
"Republicans on the other hand tried to win the caucuses on the air," Axelrod said, referring to the large amount of money spent on television advertising in the run up to caucus day. "And after four years of constant effort and four million dollars spent by his allies to carpet bomb his nearest opponent, Mitt Romney received fewer votes and a smaller share of the vote [than in 2008]."
Framing Romney’s narrow victory as a disappointment, Axelrod went on to preview the attack strategy that his operation plans to employ against the former Massachusetts governor should he win the nomination.
Pointing to polls that show Romney lacking support amongst middle-income caucus goers, Axelrod held “in many ways Mitt Romney symbolizes what most concerns people about this economy.”
“But you have the larger issue of credibility and whether people buy his positioning,” he continued. “Because Mitt Romney is a man who has positions on every issue, and usually several, and that has created a great deal of anxiety – not just among conservatives but also among moderates and people across the political spectrum."
Both operatives also tried their hand at the expectations game, attempting to discredit the conventional wisdom that Republicans are more excited about this election than Democrats, while also attempting to raise expectations for Romney in next week’s New Hampshire primary.
Once the final tallies are in from Iowa, the number of GOP caucus goers who participated on Tuesday’s voting is projected to slightly surpass the 119,000 who turned out in 2008, and Messina and Axelrod pointed to this as evidence that expectations of unprecedented GOP enthusiasm to defeat President Obama may have been overstated.
As for how the Republican frontrunner needs to perform in next week’s Granite State, Axelrod called the contest a “home game” for Romney, while Messina simply raised the bar.
"He's been leading all these polls in New Hampshire by 30 something points,” Messina said. “He needs to consistently hold that. You know I think anything less that that has to be disappointing for him and would show him sliding."