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Obama's 2012 campaign playbook looks a lot like Bush 2004

The embattled incumbent who’s better at campaigning than governing faces a tough challenge from the Massachusetts flip-flopper who comes across as less-likable.

Is this Obama vs. Romney 2012? Or is it Bush vs. Kerry 2004?

The confusion is understandable. But there’s more than just an interesting coincidence between the way the Democrats and Republicans are framing the other guy’s candidate.

From a tactical political perspective, President Obama’s reelection campaign against Mitt Romney resembles President Bush’s effort against Sen. John Kerry more than the 2008 fight between Obama and John McCain.

Quite simply, incumbents often wage the same type of campaign — promoting and defending their record against rivals.

Democrats borrowed a major lesson from Bush: Go negative early and often to define your opponent. And, in doing so, serve up red-meat to your core supporters.

When Obama’s negative onslaught was unleashed on the Republican’s business record at Bain Capital, some top Democrats like Pennsylvania’s former Gov. Ed Rendell and Newark Mayor Cory Booker were aghast months ago.

You can’t blame them, considering Democrats once preached sentiments like this:

“There are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America…We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?”

But that was sooooo 2004.

Specifically, that was so soooo Barack Obama in 2004, when the little-known state Senator from Illinois made these inspiring comments at the Democratic National Convention. Four years after that, Obama waged his juggernaut of a hope-and-change campaign.

Now he heads up a seek-and-destroy effort. That means TV viewers in battleground states like Florida will face a lot more negative messaging from both sides than in 2008.

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