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Commentary: It's time to worry about Democrats' own focus

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Dear Democrats

Me, worry?

Yes.

Every day I'm asked by Democrats whether to worry about Mitt Romney. Many of them, frankly, aren't. They tell me about his being a Mormon (unfair, but true, the prejudice is real) and about the right-wing attacks and the Bain business and his being rich and paying less in taxes than the rest of us. Won't all of that kill him?

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Not necessarily.

In reverse order:

Most Americans would like to be rich. Rightly or wrongly, in the past, there has been more resentment of those who "live off the public dole" (did anyone but a handful of liberals oppose "welfare reform") than of those who have made it. Maybe that's changed with the 99 percent business, but it has yet to be demonstrated. Besides, as my guide in Paris pointed out to us, "Your first lady stayed at the Hotel de Crillon, the most expensive hotel in Paris." Even more expensive than where Princess Di stayed. Ouch.

Bain Capital. Created jobs and cut jobs. Romney says it was a net positive. Can Democrats find folks who will stand up and say they lost their jobs because of Bain Capital? Sure. Can Republicans find people who will say Bain created new jobs for them? No doubt. Two more points. Romney is lucky: All of this is coming out now. The media (and maybe the rest of us) have the attention span of gnats. Old news is not news. Bad news that comes out months before the election is all but forgotten by the fall. Think the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Who? Exactly my point. And by the way, our problem as Democrats is jobs.

Right wing attacks. Couldn't be better. I have a lot of painful memories from the 1988 campaign, but one of my best memories is the spring primaries, with Jesse Jackson attacking my candidate, Mike Dukakis, week after week for not being liberal enough. Hallelujah. Americans like moderates.

Prejudice against Mormons. True. Wrong. But will the evangelical Christians who believe Mormons aren't Christians turn around and vote for Barack Obama? I'm not sure. I certainly wouldn't bet an election on it. Will they stay home and sit on their hands? Ditto.

I'm not pretending Romney is a perfect candidate. Not even close. Multiple-choice Mitt, he was called in Massachusetts. But neither is our president. Back in '88, with Dukakis unwilling to run a negative campaign (same trade-off, principle or pragmatism) and with the other side perfecting the art, we used to joke that there was no problem Dukakis had that couldn't be solved by a few more points of unemployment.

So, yes, I'm worried about Romney. And no, I'm not convinced his problems make him an easy mark.

But what I'm even more worried about is Democrats who veer between complaining about the president and complacency about his re-election. Wrong on both counts. Nothing to be complacent about with this economy. Come November, there still will be too many people looking for work who can't find it, too many working at jobs that pay them too little to support their families, too many mortgages in foreclosure and houses on the market. We vote our lives in elections. And a lot of people's lives are not good.

And the complaining. It's even worse. This is a campaign. For those who would like to see Obama re-elected, now is not the time to bemoan what he hasn't done or could've done better, or how he just hasn't turned out to be the guy you hoped for. Save it for the second-term agenda.

There is a time to complain and a time to contribute. This is the time to contribute -- and not just money, but support, enthusiasm, work. Now is the time to focus on what he's done right and what Democrats are going to have to do to win this election. If you're complaining now, believe me, you'll be complaining even more come November.

Susan Estrich's e-mail address is sestrich@wctrib.com.

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