One year later, Obama campaign looks for lasting bin Laden bounce

The killing of Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly a crowning achievement in President Obama's tenure at the White House. 

Yet one year after the president ordered the successful mission that resulted in the death of the nation's No. 1 enemy, it's unclear how much of a boost Obama will receive in the fall. 

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As ebullient crowds filled the streets surrounding the White House in the late hours of May 1, 2011, it was easy to think the killing of the mastermind behind the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil would ensure Obama a second term. 

Indeed, the president's poll numbers jumped on the news, with 56 percent saying they approved of Obama's overall performance as president in an ABC News/Washington Post poll on May 3, 2011. That was a jump of 9 percent. 

But Obama's bin Laden bump faded almost as quickly as voter attention turned back to the economy. Obama's approval rating reached 57 percent in the ABC/Post poll in May, but by June had fallen back down to 47 percent, trailing away more quickly than the crowds that came to the White House. 

Polls now suggest Obama has a slim lead over presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in an election that is likely to be razor-tight, and seems equally likely to focus on the economy and not national security. 

Nonetheless, Obama's campaign team has touted bin Laden's death in the days leading up to the anniversary to remind the public of the president's decision, and to contrast Obama's leadership on national security with that of Romney.

The most notable part of the push is a Web video that suggested Romney would not have made the decision to target bin Laden. 

“[Obama] took the harder, and the more honorable, path,” former President Clinton says in the video ad. “He had to decide. And that's what you hire the president to do. You hire the president to make the calls when no one else can do it.”

"The commander in chief gets one chance to make the right decision," reads the text in the video. It goes on to ask: "What path would Mitt Romney have taken?”

In arguing that Romney would not have made the same decision, the Obama campaign has pointed to a 2007 interview with The Associated Press in which Romney said: “It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”

Former Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs on Sunday doubled down on the attack, saying it was not clear that Romney would have made the same decision as Obama. 

Though the bin Laden poll bounce was short-lived, the new push around the anniversary suggests Obama's campaign team sees bin Laden as a powerful symbol for the president that, if used effectively, could put Obama over Romney in November. 

Yet there are risks with the approach, too. 

Republicans have used the Web video and criticism of Romney to accuse Obama of crass opportunism. 

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the video attacking Romney was “a cheap political attack ad,” “the height of hypocrisy” and a “pathetic political act of self-congratulation.”

Some also argue highlighting bin Laden's death could spur on new terrorist attacks, or at least leave Obama vulnerable to the argument that he is not making the country safer. 

Al Qaeda and its affiliates have for years used the heated rhetoric and actions of U.S. political figures to inspire terrorists to action.

Obama opted not to release the photos of bin Laden’s corpse because it was thought it could inspire other terrorists to attack. “We don't need to spike the football,” he told CBS at the time.  

“What we don't want to do is it put out anything that is going to unnecessarily incite emotions on this issue,” John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser to Obama, said Sunday when asked about the issue on Fox News. 

Brennan dodged questions from Fox host Chris Wallace about whether using bin Laden in the video and on the campaign trail could incite violence against Americans. 

"I don't do politics. I'm not involved in the campaign," Brennan said in response to a question about why Obama is making bin Laden's death a big deal in the reelection campaign if he is concerned about not inciting violence against Americans.

Brennan went on to make the point that Obama's decision to order the raid, "by all accounts," was "a gutsy call." 

Brennan did not say whether he thought the specific Obama campaign video was a concern. 

Romney's campaign wants the election to be about the economy, but has sought to counter-punch on bin Laden by arguing that Obama is using a moment of national unity to pull the country apart. 

It's a part of a larger argument that positions Obama as the divider in chief, something Romney's campaign has also used in the fight over the economy, in which it often argues the president is engaging in class warfare. 

“The killing of Osama bin Laden was a momentous day for all Americans and the world, and Gov. Romney congratulated the military, our intelligence agencies and the president,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Friday. “It’s sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try and distract voters’ attention from the failures of his administration."

The White House, though, maintains that it has handled bin Laden’s death appropriately in the run-up to the anniversary.

“I think the way that we've handled it represents exactly the balance we need to strike,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said to reporters last week.

Obama will not mark the anniversary with any public events on Monday, but he did sit down with NBC last week in the Situation Room to mark the date. That interview will air Wednesday night, ensuring more media coverage about a decision the White House hopes voters will think about when they go to the polls in November.

This story was updated at 9:30 a.m.

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