When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, things were not looking up for the Romney campaign. Several polls (with highly skewed sample) showing Romney down big against Obama. The swing-state polls were not looking good for Team Romney either. And there were worries that Romney was not hitting back hard enough against a barrage of negative attacks from the Obama Campaign.
Now, just before next week’s Republican National Convention, Team Romney has reason to be happy. The polls are showing a major tightening in the race, and several polls are showing a narrow Romney lead. The Ryan pick has energized the Republican base. And Team Obama is looking increasingly desperate, and are about to make a major mistake that could cost them the election.
But first, let’s take a closer look at the polls. Fox News shows Romney with a narrow lead, while CNN shows an Obama lead of 2% – well within the poll’s 3.5% margin of error. Meanwhile, both the Rassmussen and the Gallup daily tracking polls show Romney and the President neck-and-neck. The national polls show an incredibly tight race.
The swing-state polls are more troublesome for Romney. Ohio is a virtual must-win state for Romney, but he’s lagging in the polls there. While the new bipartisan pollster Purple Strategies shows Romney with a narrow lead in the Buckeye State, a more recent poll from CNN/NYT/Quinnipiac shows Obama with a formidable 6-point lead in Ohio. Under all but a few highly unlikely scenarios, the path to the Presidency runs through Ohio, and Romney is going to have to improve his numbers there if he wants to win the White House. Look for Ohio to be the biggest of the battleground states once more in 2012 as it was in 2008 and 2004.
What makes the 2012 race especially interesting is that the number of swing states is increasing. At the beginning of this race, Wisconsin was not considered a serious swing state. In 2008, Barack Obama swept the Badger State in a 14-point blowout. But now, Wisconsin is very much in play. Democratic pollster PPP shows Romney with a narrow lead, a finding that’s supported by GOP-leaning pollster Rassmussen. Even the CNN/NYT/Quinnipiac poll shows only a slim 2-point lead for Obama in Wisconsin. Wisconsin appears to be shifting from a reliably Democratic state to a true swing state – Kerry only narrowly won Wisconsin in 2004, and Obama’s huge win there appears to have only been an interruption of the pro-GOP trend there. With Paul Ryan hailing from the Milwaukee suburbs, it’s possible that Romney could win Wisconsin, which would help pad out his Electoral College position in a tight race.
Romney’s Missouri Problem
But Romney has a big problem in Missouri, and its name is Todd Akin. Akin’s moronic comments about women being able to “shut down” a pregnancy caused by a “legitimate rape” was absolutely inexcusable, and led to massive condemnation by nearly every member of the GOP. Akin, whose campaign is being run by his family (a major mistake for any political candidate), insists that he can still win. The chances of that are slim to zero. And what’s worse is that Akin’s idiocy could impact Romney’s chances in Missouri as well as keeping the Senate in Democratic hands. Losing Missouri would significantly impair Romney’s chances of winning in this highly-competitive race.
This is the second election cycle in a row where the Tea Party has blown a Senate race. In 2010 Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle took winnable races for the GOP and blew them to hell. While there is plenty about the Tea Party that I like, they have not gotten it through their collective heads that picking a hardcore conservative who says incredibly stupid things on national TV is A Very Bad Idea Indeed™. It’s not about picking the most conservative candidate. It’s about picking the most conservative candidate that can win. If Harry Reid remains Majority Leader, it will be in large part due to the Tea Party, a fact that has to be taken into account when assessing the pros and cons of the Tea Party movement.
Obama’s Impending Blunder
But, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that is Todd Akin. And that’s that President Obama is about to completely overplay his hand on social issues. The Democratic National Convention is looking increasingly like it will be a celebration of abortion. Sandra Fluke, the abortion-rights activist will be a headline speaker along with representatives of Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion extremist movement. While Todd Akin represents one extreme of the abortion question, the Democrats are going to embrace the other extreme. This is a mistake for two reasons:
First, the American people care about jobs and the economy, not abortion and contraception. People are wondering whether they’ll have a paycheck next year and are trying to make the paychecks they do have stretch to pay for higher gas and food costs. The more the Democrats talk about divisive social issues, the more they carry themselves away from the mainstream of American politics today.
Secondly, for the voters that do care about social issues, they tend to be more socially conservative voters. Evangelicals may not be crazy about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, but when contrasted with the Democrats celebrating the idea of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, that’s only going to get the more enthused about voting against the Democrats.
Obama and the Politics of Division
But all of this plays into Obama’s strategy for 2012. Obama knows he can’t run on his record. Even Democratic strategists like James Carville realized early on that running on an “economic recovery” theme was not working with voters. So what can Obama do? He can try to make Romney toxic. He can’t run on himself, so he has to bring Romney down.
And that’s why you’ve seen a barrage of attacks against Romney on Bain, on Medicare, on his tax returns, etc. It’s a scorched-earth campaign designed to keep Romney’s poll numbers down far enough for Obama to maintain a narrow win. And while it’s been partially successful, it’s beginning to backfire on the President.
Obama’s appeal with independent voters was that he was a post-partisan, post-racial President. He’s no longer even trying to make that case anymore. Instead, he’s playing it like a typical Chicago politician. That does not make him very attractive in the eyes of voters, and that’s why he’s locked in such a tight race with Romney—while voters are not sure about Romney, they are equally if not more skeptical about President Hope-and-Change becoming just another political hack.
What to Watch for at the Republican National Convention
With that background on the state of the race, the question is what the RNC must do. And first and foremost, it’s got to introduce Mitt Romney to the American people. It seems odd to suggest that someone that’s run for President twice now is not well-known to the American public, but Romney has been largely unwilling to tell his own personal story. That needs to change at the RNC. Romney needs to embrace his personal narrative and give the American electorate a look at why they should vote for him over Obama.
And that’s why the Romney campaign needs to reject the media narrative on this race. The media says that Romney dare not run on his record at Bain—that’s a load of crap. Romney should not run from what he did, but should highlight the businesses that Bain saved from Sports Authority to Staples. The media says that Romney can’t run on his record at the Olympics—again, the media is acting as a wing of the Obama campaign. Romney can and should run on his record.
The American people don’t know Mitt Romney well yet, especially in contrast to a President who wrote two autobiographies before he even accomplished anything. (Even if those autobiographies were carefully-manipulated fictions.) Romney doesn’t need to spend that much time attacking Obama—Obama’s dismal economic record speaks for itself. What Romney must do is introduce himself to the American people and paint his vision of an American Comeback.
If he can do that successfully, watch the polls. Right now Romney’s numbers are moving the right way. If he does what he needs to do at the RNC, the poll numbers are going to start to diverge into Romney’s favor. The fundamentals on the ground favor Romney, and now that the election season is beginning in earnest, the Romney campaign has the opportunity to seize on those natural advantages and build them into a political wave. Romney definitely can win, and he’s in a position to do so as he heads into the week of the Republican National Convention.