Sunday, September 23, 2012
Taking an "Objective" Look at Where We Are
I will look at both campaigns and offer a good news, bad news look and then I'll close with my final thoughts. Since Mitt Romney is the challenger, he gets first dibs.
The good news for Mitt Romney is that, even with the most inept campaign imaginable and a personality that would make Al Gore envious, he is still in a virtual dead heat with the President in the national polls. What that means is that the election is there to be won. While he trails in most of the swing states, the leads in many of those states are not insurmountable. There is reason to expect that he can win North Carolina, Florida and at least one of the three Midwest and Southwest states - say Wisconsin and either Colorado or Nevada. If he picks up Iowa, then he is within a few electoral votes of winning the presidency. Given what has transpired over the last few weeks, that's nothing short of miraculous.
The bad news for Mitt Romney is that in order to turn around his fortunes, he has to stop looking like the second coming of Gordon Gekko and start relating to people better than he has. His campaign must stop tripping over itself and looking like some wayward cast from an amateur hour show. The truth is that, with an economy as weak as this and an incumbent equally vulnerable, Romney, by all accounts, should be ahead in the polls. The fact that he isn't speaks volumes about him and his message. He simply hasn't closed the deal with the electorate.
On the other side of the aisle, Barack Obama continues to be the luckiest politician in more than seven decades. With unemployment hovering at just over 8%, he continues to lead Mitt Romney in virtually every poll except Rasmussen. He is ahead or tied in almost every swing state and if the election were held today, it is conceivable that he would win reelection handily. His two biggest assets are his likability among voters who understand that he inherited the worst economy since FDR and an opponent who isn't all that well liked and has run one of the worst campaigns in modern times.
On the flip side, being lucky may not be enough. The simple truth is that it's Mitt Romney's election to lose. Despite the fact that he is well on his way to doing just that, most pundits argue - and I tend to agree - that Obama, even with all the job gains of the last two and a half years, does not fare well when the economy is the central issue. At best he is tied with Romney. Add to that the fact that there are between 4 and 6 percent of likely voters in the undecided column. History shows that most undecideds tend to break away from an incumbent 2 to 1. Translation: if Obama is ahead in say Ohio 48 to 46 percent, Romney could still win that state, albeit by a slight margin. If you look around the country, there are a lot of states where that is the case. Depending on your opponent to constantly stumble isn't the best strategy for success.
So, that being said, what do both candidates have to do to win the election?
For Mitt Romney to win he has to do three things. First he has to stop the hemorrhaging. His campaign must stop handing the Obama team ammunition with which to pummel him with. Next, he has to stop listening to all the neocons and crazies in his base and come up with one central theme and then stick to it. Before the wheels came off back in July, everyone assumed Romney would focus strictly on the economy. Since then he made his ill-fated trip to Europe and Israel, picked Mr. Medicare for a running mate, gave one of the worst foreign policy speeches any candidate could make and then, after getting caught in a candid camera moment expressing his true sentiments about a large percentage of the population, doubled down on those comments and dug the hole deeper. The primaries are over; it's time to run a general election campaign. The only chance Mitt Romney has is to make this election about one thing and one thing only. He has to make it about the economy, stupid.
But then Mitt Romney must do something even harder. He has to become someone people actually like. Of all his biggest liabilities, none have plagued him more than the fact that, for all his supposed prowess in financial matters, he comes across as a fraud. His personal negatives are way too high, even for a Republican. And even those voters who feel he would do a better job on the economy are put off by a perceived lack of authenticity about him. He must change this perception if intends on winning. Maybe he can't become Mr. Congeniality, but Thurston Howell III ain't working either.
For Barack Obama to win he must hit Mitt Romney with everything including the kitchen sink. He has to make it abundantly clear that a Romney Administration would be disastrous for the country. While he can't completely run away from the last four years, he has to connect the dots and make the case that the country IS better off since the collapse of late 2008 and early 2009. He must utilize every tool in the tool box, including Bill Clinton, who is still the best weapon the Democratic Party has in the tool shed. He must reinforce the threat to Medicare and the looming cuts to middle-class tax deductions that will likely ensue should Romney and the Republicans win in November. To put it bluntly, he has to borrow a page or two from the Karl Rove play book. When in doubt, scare the shit out of 'em. Above all else, the Obama campaign can not allow itself to become complacent over the latest poll numbers. The election is still a month and a half away. Anything is possible.
So what do I think will happen? If I knew, I wouldn't be typing this piece, that's for sure. I'd be in Vegas planning my next villa in southern Europe. What my gut tells me is pretty much what I have been saying for quite some time. This will be a very close election. Both candidates will have their chance to lay out their vision for the country in the upcoming debates in October. While Obama will have an edge here, Romney will be no slouch. Let's not forget, he ran against some of the most right-wing ideologues the Republican Party could trot out and prevailed. The litmus test for him will be whether he can rise to the challenge and look presidential outside of his comfort zone, something John McCain was never able to do. If he holds his own against the President, he could manage to do something that heretofore he has been unable to pull off: seal the deal with those still undecideds. Remember, the conventions are for the base; the debates are for the independents and moderates.
Yep, October should be one helluva month!