In 2012 Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, chief strategist David Axelrod, White House senior adviser David Plouffe, and super PAC strategists Bill Burton and Paul Begala are out to disillusion white voters without college degrees in the Rust Belt and Mountain West, who will elect Mitt Romney president if they vote Republican by the 30-point margin they gave the GOP in 2010, but who could also give President Obama a second term if they do not turn out in great numbers, or if their support drops to the 18-point margin they gave John McCain in 2008.

We are therefore witnessing a well-rehearsed and coordinated and almost balletic exercise in voter suppression, as Obama and his helpers spend hundreds of millions of dollars convincing middle America that Romney is a rich elitist who made a fortune in rapacious finance capitalism, and whose concern for the bottom line trumps transparency, compassion, and community. The objective of this campaign is to tie Romney down, Gulliver-like, with connections to the most lurid aspects of Bain Capital and the global economy, thereby hobbling his ability to make his case and dragooning white voters into apathy.

The chief objective of any candidate is to define himself positively and his opponent negatively. Romney has allowed the Obama team to define him in their terms. He has three opportunities—his vice presidential pick, his convention speech, and his performance in the debates—to seize the initiative and escape the fetters Obama has constructed. Failure to do so would leave this close election to chance. Romney risks John Kerry’s fate.