Romney Campaign Obituaries Seem Premature
Posted by Ashish on 09.17.2012
Election isn't over yet...
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Last night's Politico story about the internal blame game going on in the Romney campaign, as well as today's story about the Romney campaign abruptly shifting strategy less than 60 days from the election, have set off a round of political obituaries for Mitt Romney's campaign. It all feels a bit premature to me.
Romney has had a terrible few weeks since the convention, there is no denying that. The general consensus on both sides is that:
* Romney squandered the opportunity to gain momentum at the Republican convention. His speech was timid, generic and lacked specifics and he failed to humanize himself and make himself seem likable. * Obama came out of the conventions with the momentum, and he has now secured a small but stubborn lead in the polls and, more importantly, a cushioned lead in the electoral college.
* Romney has a serious problem in Ohio.
* Romney blew it with the Libya situation last week (Pew Research data shows 48% of Americans disapproved of Romney's Libya statements, while only 26% approved).
And on and on. But there have been Presidential campaigns that were badly run that ended up winning. Look at Bill Clinton in 1992, for example.
This election is STILL fairly close. This is not going to be like the Reagan landslides of the 80s, or even Obama's electoral college landslide in 2008. It will likely be closer than that. Is it likely Romney will win based on where we stand right now? I wouldn't put money on it. But would it be surprising if Romney did come back? Absolutely not.
Outside events and/or Obama making a key mistake remain possibilities, particularly with three debates looming.
I don't have much confidence in Romney's strategy shift (the strategy change mainly consists of Romney getting a bit more specific on his plans and playing more culture war/far right cards). Strategy changes this late in the game rarely work and are often signs of desperation. They tend to give off an aura of panic which turns people off from the candidate. Plus Romney trying to become a culture warrior and go further to the right is likely to hurt him, as nobody views him as an authentic crusader on social far right issues. He is not George W. Bush, who was able to make the far right case on social issues in a likable, authentic way. And while I hope he does get more specific on his plans, he blew his chance at the convention to define himself as a candidate with specifics. With so little time left on the clock, trying to get new policy details to permeate through the noise and to average voters will be extremely difficult, especially since he has already been branded as a candidate with virtually no specifics on anything. If he wanted to be a specifics guy, he should have started defining himself as that months ago. It's too late to change that now. Kinda like that whole lipstick on a pig thing.
I get why the campaign strategy change is tempting. Romney has run entirely on the economy up until now. His whole hope was that the economy would sink Obama by itself, forcing voters to pick the only alternative they had. In that scenario, likability, tax returns, policy specifics, none of it would matter. It would be a referendum on Obama and nothing else. That plan has not worked. Obama has made the election a choice, very effectively defined Romney in negative ways, and run a more targeted campaign with a much clearer message. It is obvious now that the economy alone won't sink Obama, leaving Romney in a position where it is too late to really change voter opinions on him, too late to introduce new policy plans, too late to try and define himself. He has to hope that some outside event or Obama making some kind of gaffe will create some movement in support for him.
But despite all my criticisms and skepticism in the Romney campaign and their ability to change this late in the game, it is still premature right now for people to begin assuming that the election is over. Things can and often do change. I do think, however, that Romney will need to be back to where he was pre-conventions -- in a virtual tie -- before the debates begin. If things remain as is, I'm not sure Romney is the type of debater who can erase a 3-4% national deficit from a good debate performance because there are so few undecideds left out there, particularly in key states like Ohio. His challenge is not only does he have to win the majority of undecideds, he is going to have to get a few people who are currently supporting Obama to shift to him. That is very hard to pull off.
I will say this. Campaign negativity can be like a snowball. Once the obituaries begin to be written, once staffers begin to point fingers in articles, once the candidate's own party begins to express disappointment publicly, things can often snowball and go from bad to worse quickly. But let's wait a few more weeks before jumping on the "it's over" bandwagon. It's not over.