Dem strategist Bob Shrum: "I don't think the president could win" a referendum

(CBS News) Is the 2012 election a referendum on President Obama, or a choice between Mr. Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney?

According to Bob Shrum, a longtime Democratic consultant known for being chief strategist to John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, a referendum on the president would not be good for the standard bearer of his party.

"I think we ought to just face reality here. [If] you just let this be a referendum, I don't think the president could win," Shrum said Sunday on "Face the Nation." "Because the truth of the matter is, he may have created over 4.3 million jobs, he may have saved General Motors, but the country is still not back to where it needs to be.

"So this needs to be a choice election. People have to have that choice, and if they have the choice, I think the president's going to be fine."

Shrum - who was a part of a panel with former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), and Washington Post columnist and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson - was responding to questions about the negative nature of the campaign so far and the Obama campaign's attacks against Romney.

Gerson said the president's current campaign was a "complete inversion" of Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign.

"Right now, I think President Obama can't talk about his economic performance. His economic plans are quite limited. So he's going to trash Romney. He's going to blame the Congress and President Bush. And he's going to engage in - his campaign is engaging in a lot of culture war arguments, on war on women," Gerson said. "This is really a complete inversion of the president we saw four years ago... The best attribute that President Obama brought to the last election was aspiration. When you remove that aspect from the president's appeal, there's not much left."

But Shrum pointed to other historical examples of successful presidential candidates (including Mr. Obama in 2008) and other presidential incumbents on the attack.

"In 2008 Barack Obama was out there with a message of hope and change. He ran a huge number of ads, tough ads against John McCain, as many negative ads as John McCain ran," Shrum said. "And in 1996, most of Clinton's advertising was negative against Bob Dole, tarring him with Newt Gingrich... Franklin Roosevelt ran in 1936 for re-election. He ran against the economic royalists."

"There is nothing wrong with the president holding Mitt Romney to account for his record in private business and his record as a public official. Harry Truman did the same thing. Ronald Reagan in 1980, one of the most optimistic politicians in America, ran a pretty tough advertising campaign against Jimmy Carter," Shrum added.

When asked by Schieffer about his comment on whether Mr. Obama would lose if the election becomes a referendum on him, Shrum said he was "being honest."

"If this is simply a referendum on the condition of the economy and the country, people aren't happy yet. The president said that. We've got a lot more to do," Shrum said. "So they have to be given a choice. The Romney campaign has made it very clear that they want this to be a referendum."

In response to Shrum, Rendell said he thought the election would be about who has "the best prescription to get us out of this going forward."

"In the end, voters are going to decide not about a referendum on what Barack Obama's done or about Mitt Romney's past. They're going to decide on who has the best prescription to get us out of this going forward," the former Pennsylvania governor said. "I think President Obama has a much better plan... that really will put people back to work. So I'd like them to focus on the future."

Hutchison said it was "laughable" for Democrats to be trying to deflect attention from the president's record.

"I just have to say it is laughable that the Democrats would say, 'Oh, we shouldn't be looking at Obama's record.' Are you kidding? Of course. That's how you run elections," the Texas senator said.

Watch the rest of the panel's discussion on the 2012 presidential campaign in the video above.

More from the panel: Is "moderate" a dirty word in politics?