Three days before the GOP convention begins, the race is effectively tied. The first CNN poll to feature “likely voters” has it 49-47 with Barack Obama on top; Gallup and Rasmussen, which have daily tracking polls, have it dead even. I go into greater detail about Mitt Romney’s pretty good position here.
More important, though, is the opportunity Romney has when he delivers his convention speech Thursday night with the entire country watching. It is likely that 75 percent of the people who will see him on Thursday may never have heard him say more than a soundbite or two. Romney tends to rise to occasions, like the 20 Republican debates in which he performed—never badly, and probably outright won 15 of them. But this is the occasion of occasions—the most important night of his life and potentially a turning point in the nation’s life.
This is obviously a huge opportunity for Romney; and it’s an opportunity that Barack Obama does not have.
As far as the convention speeches go, Romney has a surprising advantage over Barack Obama: The gift of novelty. What he will be doing the nation will never have seen him doing before. People will be curious to see how Romney does, interested to hear what he says—and, in a country that has spent a decade watching “American Idol,” will be full of opinions about how he performs.
Obama’s speech will generate nothing comparable. Quite the opposite. In the four years since his nomination in 2008, he has delivered a convention speech, an inaugural address, four State of the Unions, and (by my unofficial count) eight nationally televised prime-time addresses either in front of Congress or from within the White House. He has spoken and spoken and spoken—and at least judging from the response for the past two years, his speeches have not served to push the needle of public opinion in his direction.
So the public knows what Obama has to offer. Those who love him will love him; those who think he’s okay will think he’s okay; everybody else who doesn’t like him to varying degrees are unlikely to alter their views. Which means unless he delivers a masterpiece on September 6, his speech (and the convention that preceded it) are not likely to make much of a difference for him.
For Romney, therefore, the stakes are high and the rewards potentially higher. For Obama, it may just be another day being a rather gabby president.