With his recent push to put the deficit at the center of the campaign conversation, Mitt Romney faces the challenge of getting swing voters in battleground states — not just fiscal conservatives —to care deeply about national debt, an abstract economic principle whose real-world consequences aren't always as obvious as unemployment.
In a Tuesday speech in Des Moines, Romney tested two different metaphors to illustrate the dangers of the deficit, first comparing it to a "prairie fire... sweeping across Iowa and our nation," and then referring to it as a "nightmare mortgage... adjustable, no-money down, and assigned to our children."
But for all the rhetoric's down-home imagery, Romney's most effective object lesson may reside 6,000 miles away from the heartland: Greece.
On a press conference call Wednesday with two of Romney's top surrogates in New Hampshire, Greece's debt crisis was used repeatedly as a cautionary tale for what could happen in America if the deficit isn't reigned in.
To skeptics who dismiss parallels between Greece and America, former NH Senator John Sununu offered a stark warning.
"I remind you that we have watched the inconceivable become inevtiable in the default and disintegration of the Euro," said Sununu. "It can happen here unless we have the kind of leadership that Mitt Romney is willing to provide."
Sununu allowed that Greece's financial woes serve as a useful illustrative tool in the campaign.
"I think what Greece does simply is [show] that unsustainable debt has consequences," he said. "The sources of that unsustainable debt in Greece and in the EU is related to unchecked retirement and health care costs that are not in balance."
In the Republican primaries, Romney didn't need to do much convincing when he preached about President Obama's "out-of-control spending and debt" — opposition to deficit spending, after all, is a Tea Party touchstone. But in the general election, examples will be needed to convince the electorate this is something to consider when they enter the voting booth. The average voter may not be well-versed in the intricacies of Greek fiscal policy — and, to be sure, the two countries' problems have key differences — but chances are, most have seen images of European street riots on the news. And if they haven't, conservatives will likely try to make sure they do in the coming months.