Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin report on President Obama's reelection strategy:

Barack Obama’s aides and advisers are preparing to center the president’s reelection campaign on a ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’s character and business background, a strategy grounded in the early-stage expectation that the former Massachusetts governor is the likely GOP nominee.

The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality. Obama remains personally popular, but pluralities in recent polling disapprove of his handling of his job, and Americans fear the country is on the wrong track. His aides are increasingly resigned to running for reelection in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on “hope” in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.

In a move that will make some Democrats shudder, Obama’s high command has even studied former President George W. Bush’s 2004 takedown of Sen. John Kerry, a senior campaign adviser told POLITICO, for clues on how a president with middling approval ratings can defeat a challenger.

The Romney campaign, in turn, issued this response, via campaign manager Matt Rhoades:

It is disgraceful that President Obama’s campaign has launched his re-election with the stated goal to ‘kill’ his opponent with an onslaught of negative and personal attacks. President Obama will say and do desperate things to hold onto power because he knows he has failed. Neither despicable threats, nor President Obama’s billion dollar negative campaign, will put Americans back to work, save their homes, or restore their hopes. On November 6, 2012, this will change.

Now the Obama campaign, however, is pulling back, suggesting that the Republican field hasn't "settled" and accusing the Romney campaign of shedding "crocodile tears." From spokesman Ben LaBolt:

Voters will have a choice in this election between two candidates, two records, and two visions for the country, one that will become clear after the Republican field has settled and they have chosen a nominee. Anyone purporting to hold a crystal ball for our strategy suggesting otherwise does not speak for the campaign. The crocodile tears from the Romney campaign, which has been nothing but negative, do not pass the credibility test.

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