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Who’s the Real Extremist?

If President Obama has sounded nostalgic for his 2008 opponent John McCain lately, it’s because he’s trying to make the case that the once-moderate Republican Party has fallen into the hands of extremists like Mitt Romney (cue skeptical side-eye). But according to a Rasmussen poll, likely voters are not buying it. Forty-seven percent say Obama’s views are “extreme” while just 31 percent say the same about Romney:

A bare majority of voters still considers Mitt Romney in the political mainstream, while the number who think President Obama’s views are extreme has edged up for the second month in a row. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 51percent of Likely U.S. Voters describe the political views of the presumptive Republican presidential candidate as mainstream. Thirty-one percent consider his views extreme. Eighteen percent are not sure.

A large part of Obama’s campaign message relies on painting Romney as far-right and out-of-touch. But the public is not buying it. The problem is that Romney does not fit the caricature of a raving right-winger. He has a measured speaking style and amiable demeanor; he was governor of one of the most liberal states in the country; and he worked with state Democrats on left-of-center policies, including the Massachusetts precursor to Obama’s health care plan. He has conservative tendencies, but the idea that he’s the second coming of Barry Goldwater is not believable.

Then there’s the contrast: Obama, for all his talk about bipartisan unity, has no record of crossing the aisle. This is a president who wouldn’t even reach out to Olympia Snowe. His signature achievement, ObamaCare, is a massive government overreach that’s unpopular with the majority of Americans. His policy prescriptions — on environmental regulations, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, taxes, health care, defense cuts, oil production, etc. — range from left-of-center to extreme left. Moderate Democrats are distancing themselves from him. In short, he has very little credibility to label someone like Romney “extreme” — which explains why the public isn’t going along with it.