The ‘death hug’ strategy

It appears one of the White House’s preferred campaign tactics has a formal name.

President Obama and his liberal allies tried to kill some of the Republicans’ top presidential candidates with kindness on Thursday.

The president had fun at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) expense last night during a fundraiser in Boston, while a liberal group had kind words for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

Obama renewed his praise for the healthcare plan Romney installed as governor, jokingly thanking Romney for laying the groundwork for the national healthcare law Obama passed and conservatives detest. That sort of political maneuver has colloquially become known as a “death hug” for the frequency with which Obama and his allies have used it against Republicans.

For example, at a DNC fundraiser yesterday, President Obama said to laughter and applause, “With a little assist from the former governor of Massachusetts we said that healthcare should no longer be a privilege in this country. We said that in the United States of America, just like here in Massachusetts, you should never go broke because you get sick.”

This isn’t subtle, and it’s not unusual. The president and his team have been doing this quite a bit in recent months, and it’s very likely intended to help drag Romney down in the eyes of Republican voters.

But it’s not limited to Romney. Obama relished the chance to give Jon Huntsman a “death hug,” and some allies of the president appear eager to give Mitch Daniels a similar embrace.

Protect Your Care launched online ads in Iowa and New Hampshire — two states key to winning the GOP nomination — and Washington, D.C. casting Daniels as divorced from the Tea Party when it comes to healthcare, and as another Republican who, like Romney, crafted a healthcare law similar to Obama’s.

“Governor Daniels could be another welcome adult voice in the health care policy debate. While Governor Daniels has certainly used a lot of the ‘correct’ language for the far right, when push comes to shove on actual policy, his administration in Indiana has been pretty good at helping to implement the Affordable Care Act,” said Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the group. “Daniels assistance in implementing the Affordable Care Act is especially welcome when contrasted with the actions of Governors Perry, Scott and Jindal to block it at behest of the Tea Party.”

Time will tell if the “death hugs” will work — I assume Pawlenty’s campaign is taking assiduous notes at this point — but it’s not a bad tactic. Imagine it’s 2003 and George W. Bush is praising certain Democratic presidential candidates, noting key areas of policy agreement with those candidates, and in one case, noting that one of the candidates was a member of his administration.

Do you think this might affect the attitudes of Democratic primary voters about those candidates? I do.