Mitt Romney on Tuesday unveiled a surprising tactic in his campaign against President Obama during a major Midwestern address -- comparing the president unfavorably to fellow Democrat Bill Clinton.
Speaking in his home-state of Michigan, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee painted Obama to the left of the popular ex-president, who maintains widespread appeal with the white, working class voters who could crown the winner in November's contest.
"President Clinton, remember, he said the era of big government was over; President Obama brought it back with a vengeance," Romney declared in a preview of the attacks he'll use against Obama in the coming days of an expected tenacious scramble for swing voters.
The move, while unexpected, carried echoes of a similar message employed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the GOP nominating race. Gingrich repeatedly touted the economic growth of the '90s -- albeit while trumpeting his congressional leadership as reason for the boon.
Romney aides said the intent in invoking the spectre of Bill Clinton was clear: that Obama had turned his back on moderation and embraced the big government polices of previous progressive politicians rejected by mainstream voters.
"President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we know it," Romney said. "But President Obama is trying tirelessly to expand the welfare state, with more promises of more programs, more benefits, more spending."
Romney's speech marked a new direction from a red meat message that played well with the Republican base during the primary but has limited appeal in more centrist states, such as Michigan.
However, some analysts said that name-dropping Clinton was a losing play by the former Massachusetts governor in light of the former president's close ties to Obama.
"This is like politics for fourth-graders," said Simon Rosenberg, a presidential campaign adviser for Clinton and founder of the think-tank, NDN. "It's just silly stuff. President Clinton enthusiastically supports President Obama. The Romney campaign is flailing right now. The transition from the primary to the general election is hard."
Clinton has held many fundraisers for Obama and was recently featured in a video praising the president's handling of the raid that killed al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden. And his wife Hillary serves as Obama's secretary of state.
Romney's speech was part of a concerted effort to win over the blue-collar Democrats with whom Obama's support is weakest. Romney opted not to mention the auto bailout that, while detested in conservative circles, carries widespread appeal in Michigan.
His remarks seemed tailored for a national audience, as no Republican has carried the Wolverine State since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
While Romney has repeatedly tied Obama to the policies of former President Jimmy Carter, he has no such plans to link the president to his most recent Democratic predecessor in the White House -- unless it's to contrast the leaders.
"President Obama chose to apply liberal ideas of the past to a 21st century America," he said. "New Democrats had abandoned those policies, but President Obama resurrected them with the predictable results."