Commentary Magazine


Bounce Means Uphill Battle for Romney

The Romney campaign made public a memo from their pollster intended to buck up the spirits of activists discouraged by the release of polls over the weekend that show President Obama emerging from his convention with a bounce in his ratings. Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster tells them to “not get too worked up” about the latest numbers and dismisses the reaction to the conventions as a “sugar high” that changed nothing. He may be right about the bounce, as it is more than likely that the few points gained by the Democrats in the past few days will soon evaporate and that we will be looking at a statistical tossup within the week, if not sooner. But any Republican lulled by Newhouse’s “State of the Race” into thinking that everything’s still coming up roses for Romney may be in for a rude awakening in two months. The Obama bounce is an unexpected blow to the Romney campaign that makes it clear the challenger has an uphill slog until November.

Romney entered the conventions trailing the president, and even if the Obama bounce dissipates quickly, he will likely remain behind. Failing to gain ground over the last two weeks is troubling. But even more troubling is the fact that the president managed to pad his small lead even after the release of another terrible jobs report on Friday. Those numbers added considerable weight to Romney’s arguments that the president had run the economy into the ditch from which he cannot extract it. But if more Americans are swayed by a week of liberal rhetoric and the oratory of Bill Clinton to stick with the Democrats than are influenced by the collapse of the jobs market, then exactly how is Romney going to get to 50 percent plus one in 58 days?

Newhouse believes Romney’s advantage on the economy is decisive and that history and a powerful campaign machine are on his side. His argument is that simply by remaining within the margin of error along with a cash advantage and “a winning message on the economy” means Romney will be the next president. His prediction may turn out to be right; a lot can happen in eight weeks and a clear win in the debates would change the dynamic of the race. But the thing that should be scaring Republicans is their seeming inability to convert the bad economy into a clear advantage in the polls.

The Friday jobs numbers should have negated any advantage the Democrats derived from their weeklong infomercial in Charlotte. But if even the latest Rasmussen tracking poll out today (which averages three days of result) is showing Obama up by five points after being tied only a week ago, that illustrates that the Democrats’ arguments that the problems we are experiencing are not the president’s fault are being accepted by voters. Rasmussen’s analysis, like Newhouse’s memo, argues that the economy is still the key issue. Yet the results seem to be telling us that opinion about the economy is influenced more ideology and partisan preferences than it is by the objective proof of Obama’s failure. If, despite the passage of four years, they are prepared to accept the claims of Democrats that blame for the state of the country should be placed on George W. Bush instead of the incumbent, then Obama is in a stronger position that Newhouse is willing to admit.

Optimistic Democrats quoted in an analysis published yesterday by Politico claim there are simply not enough undecided voters out there, and that this means Romney will have to win the support of an unrealistically large proportion of this group in order to prevail. That may not be entirely true, but the data from the surveys of the key swing states seem to show that Romney is trailing in most of them. Something is going to have to happen in the coming weeks for Romney turn a string of close loses into wins.

If all the Democrats have done in the past few weeks is to hold their slim advantage, that is no small achievement. The longer Obama stays in front, the harder it will be for Romney to overtake him even if his edge is within the margin of error. The GOP candidate still needs to alter the dynamic of the race in order to make up that small, crucial gap with the Democrat. That is still quite possible. No one, not even the president is immune to unforeseen developments overseas or concerning the economy. But if the sort of bad economic news we got last week isn’t enough to shake wavering voters into backing Romney, then it’s difficult to imagine what will.

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