Obama switches to Mr. Nice Guy

President Obama is taking a softer, gentler approach in some of his campaign ads in light of poll numbers that show his own favorability ratings taking a lashing amid the incessantly negative tone of the campaign.

Team Obama’s pivot to the positive—a throwback to the campaign’s “hope and change” theme of 2008 — comes as a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that voters have increasingly negative views about both Obama and his opponent, Mitt Romney.

The survey indicated that 22 percent blame Obama for running a negative campaign while 12 percent pointed the finger at Romney’s negativity. The poll showed that 34 percent blamed both sides. 

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The go-positive shift by the Obama campaign is palpable, said one top Democrat involved with one of the outside groups working to reelect the president. The Democrat said that presenting Obama as “a favorable and credible messenger” speaking directly to the people in ads is a tactical move by the campaign to drive home its message.

“The electorate is becoming much more polarized and much quicker than in previous campaigns, and the undecided vote is becoming smaller and smaller,” the Democrat said. “So the single most important thing they can do to cut through the noise is for the president to lay out his message and do so quickly, on an accelerated timeline.”

In two separate ads released this week, the president — speaking directly to the camera against a backdrop of upbeat instrumental music — seeks to explain his positions directly to the public, without the negative images and cutthroat headlines so prominent in campaign ads of late.

Contrasting his vision with Romney’s in a spot called “The Choice,” Obama offers that “sometimes politics can seem very small, but the choice you face — it couldn’t be bigger.”

In a separate spot, “Always,” Obama responds to criticism from Republicans who have seized on his “you didn’t build that” remarks on the economy. But instead of blasting Romney for trying to “distort my vision” — as he did in a campaign speech in California on Monday — he explains his position and concludes the ad on a feel-good note.

“I’m Barack Obama and I approved this message because I believe we’re all in this together,” he says.

Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of communications at Boston University who specializes in political communication, suggested the approach is a response to the frustration the Obama campaign thinks voters are feeling with the negative campaign. 

“After pummeling Romney like a tin drum for the last two months, now they’re trying to change the focus, talking directly to voters in an effort to appeal to swing voters,” Berkovitz said. 

A poll this week by Knights of Columbus-Marist found that nearly 78 percent of those surveyed are “frustrated” by the campaign’s tone. 

The negativity reflects a campaign that is “months ahead of where campaigns normally are” in terms of advertising and messaging, according to Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducted the NBC-Wall Street Journal survey along with Democratic pollster Peter Hart. 

He predicted that the Obama campaign will respond to the mood of the electorate with a string of positive advertising.

“They did that in 2008, and my guess is they’ll do more of that now,” he said.

Republicans say the new efforts are proof the Obama campaign is worried about the public perception that the president is no longer the candidate he was perceived to be in 2008, when he promised to bridge the political divide.

“He was supposed to be the guy who changed politics, who brought all the hope and change, but people are disappointed, and you’re seeing that reflected in the polls,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary at the Republican National Committee. 

Team Obama, Kukowski added, is “trying desperately to get back to the hope and the change that had been there before. The president promised it would be different, and voters are holding him accountable.”

During an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod acknowledged that the campaign back-and-forth in recent months hasn’t been the most convivial.

“There’s no doubt that we’ve been tough, and we’ve raised questions that needed to be raised and frankly haven’t been answered,” Axelrod said.

Recent polls indicate Obama’s campaign is winning the tactical battle. He leads Romney 49 percent to 43, according to the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.

The two softer ads by Obama don’t mean the negative tone is going away, either. 

Both candidates are attacking one another full-throttle on the stump after a brief pause in the wake of the shootings at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 people dead. 

After a weekend break, the campaigns were back in full force on the campaign trail beginning on Monday.

The ads, Berkovitz surmised, were just a “temporary detour down Mr. Niceness-world.”