I've always felt that the latter strategy was the right one. Not only was it true - the abundant and often amusing evidence is that Romney shifts positions and tone to fit his audiences with a lightness of touch at which even the most seasoned of professional politicians would blanche - it also provides the best contrast with an incumbent who isn't wildly popular but who - it can be argued - has stuck to his guns in office, and seems comfortable with himself.
In other words, I thought the best strategy is to run as George Bush versus John Kerry in 2004.
Up until now, however, the Obama campaign have pursued the first route, focusing on Romney's record at Bain and on his bias towards the rich. It has worked pretty well. Obama is (was?) several points ahead in the polls, with little over a month to go before election day.
But last night's debate - which, whatever I thought on first viewing, must now be considered a win for Romney, whatever the actual content of the debate, if only because of the overwhelming media consensus that it was so - seems to have instigated a sudden and remarkable switch in tack.
At a rally in Colorado today, Obama said this:
"When I got onto the stage I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama told the crowd of some 12,000. "It couldn’t have been Mitt Romney. The real Mitt Romney has been running around the country the last year promising 5 trillion for the wealthy... the fellow on stage [said] he didn’t know anything about that."
Around the same time, his chief strategist was saying this to reporters:
"It was a very vigorous performance but one devoid of honesty," Axelrod said, accusing Romney of "serial evasions and deceptions" in last night's debate. "He's an artful dodger," he added...
It's hard to say for sure whether or not this is a panicked reaction to Romney's success last night - it may be that the Obama people planned to roll out this line of attack in the closing stage of the race anyway.
But it certainly looks that way, and if so, it's a very surprising response from a candidate and a campaign team renowned, above all, for their consistency, for their dogged determination to stick to a strategy, no matter what the rest of the world is telling them to do. It also seems rather late in the day to start building a new framing of their opponent.
But it's tough. If you tell the world your opponent is an evil job-killer and then you fail to make that charge stick on national TV when he presents himself as a smiling, Clintonian defender of the middle-class, what would you do?