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Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.Carolyn Kaster and M. Spencer Green/AP

Elitist, out-of-touch, and appearing to talk down to Americans.

That may sound like Mitt Romney in the video recorded at a Florida fundraiser in May.

But, in fact, that is exactly what many Americans said about candidate Barack Obama four years ago when an audio recording surfaced of him speaking at a San Francisco fundraiser in April, 2008.

In it, Mr. Obama offered his advice to campaign workers in Pennsylvania about the challenge of connecting with frustrated white working-class voters in small towns in the Midwest.

Manufacturing collapsed, jobs disappeared, and successive White House administrations failed to deliver their promise of regeneration, he said.

"So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them…," said Mr. Obama.

Rather than hearing an expression of empathy, many white voters heard the condescending tone of a liberal, Harvard-educated Democrat.

In Mr. Romney's speech at the Boca Raton fundraiser, many heard the candidate's candid appraisal of the presidential contest and not having to worry about a large chunk of the electorate as being more than just devoid of empathy. It was seen as being mean-spirited.

Both candidates are the product of an elite education, and both have struggled to shake a reputation of being aloof politicians.

Mr. Obama has shown some fire on the campaign trail. But during key moments of his presidency, he has been derided by critics as America's Professor-in-Chief for his lengthy and flat explanations of administration policy.

Mr. Romney, who earned a joint-degree from Harvard's business and law schools, was born into a wealthy family and became a successful businessman, co-founding the investment firm Bain Capital. His estimated wealth is close to $250 million.

During the Republican leadership contest, Mr. Romney repeatedly reinforced the image of an out-of-touch plutocrat running for the White House – whether it's making $10,000 bets during televised debates, talking-up his wife's two Cadillacs, or having friends who own NASCAR racing teams.

That reputation has stayed with him. In the contest of which candidate Americans would rather have a beer with, polls consistently show President Obama polling ahead of Mr. Romney as being more likeable and someone who better understands the struggles of ordinary Americans.

Mr. Romney has described how it breaks his heart to see millions of Americans jobless.

But he has never been able to channel it with the authenticity and feeling of a President Bill Clinton. Nor has he been able to move voters the way Ronald Reagan's genial conservatism peeled traditional Democrats away from the party.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are striving for a warm and meaningful connection with voters. Their wives have done their part – trying to humanize their husbands in speeches at the party conventions.

But with less than seven week before voting day, it is a tall order: President Obama's challenge remains a large swath of white voters; Mr. Romney's challenge: African-Americans, Latinos, women and students.