A few months ago, I wrote about how I thought that David Axelxrod’s model for this election was George W. Bush’s 2004 victory against John Kerry.
If that’s true (which I think it is), then so far so good.
In 2004 Bush ran a mostly negative campaign against John Kerry, the theme of which was basically: you may not be crazy about me, but this guy is much worse. In the period after Kerry was the inevitable nominee, but before the convention, Bush surrogates absolutely hammered Kerry with their disgraceful “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ads. They went after Kerry’s biggest biographical strength (his military service), and tried to denigrate it, suggesting that Kerry may not have earned the accolades he received in the military and therefore could not be trusted.
Similarly, Mitt Romney has staked the positive rationale for his candidacy on being the economy’s “Mr Fix it.” According to this biographical thread, his experience at Bain Capital makes him uniquely qualified to diagnose the issues with the US economy and provide the necessary fixes. But over the past month and a half, Obama and his surrogates have hit Romney hard on the Bain issue, effectively making the argument that Bain’s profits came mostly at the expense of outsourcing jobs in the United States and demolishing his claim to be a job creator. Romney’s rejection of calls to release his taxes have added to the negative perceptions of his business record, leading to suspicions that the Cayman Island and Swiss Bank Accounts detailed in his past two years of returns may be just the tip of the iceberg for Romney.
Romney allies initially gloated the the Bain attacks had not been successful, pointing to the fact that Obama’s margins have been steady throughout this period, while his campaign coffers were drained. But Mitt Romney’s increasingly negative ratings and Obama’s consistent lead in the swing states where these ads have been airing belies that assertion. The 45% that Romney has been garnering in polls represents a kind of low-water mark for the Republican candidate since it is close to John McCain’s 2008 totals, so don’t expect him to go much lower. The question is whether he can get a large majority of the undecided voters given their negative feelings about him. For an alternate measure of how effective the Obama campaign has neutralized Bain as a positive issue for Romney, look how infrequently Romney mentions his job creating record at Bain during his campaign events.
A few weeks ago, at the height of the Bain controversy, Republican strategist Mark Murray pointed out that the sheer volume of negative campaign ads makes running on biography impossible in modern presidential campaigns and that — the Bain experience effectively demolished — Romney should shift a campaign about the issues. The problem with that advice is that Romney’s not positioned well for that strategy either. While President Obama spent the last four years positioning himself in the center of the electorate in order to win the general election, Romney has spent the last nine positioning himself to win the Republican nomination against people like Texas gun enthusiast and mental midget Rick Perry, paranoid social conservative Rick Santorum and all around demagogue, Newt Gingrich. Independent analysts have determined that Romney’s economic plan which is intended to lower taxes on the rich, will either need to be funded by exploding the national debt, or by eliminating tax breaks that the vast majority if the middle class depend on. The “Right-Wing Social Engineering” of The Ryan Plan has become almost a Republican litmus test and it relies on cutting the second most popular government program in order to (surprise!) lower taxes on the rich.
Meanwhile, Obama continues to outperform Romney where it matters: in the swing states. Nate Silver, the EF Hutton of election prediction, now gives Obama a 71% chance of winning the Electoral College and Dan Balz points out that,
nationally and in the battleground states, the consistency of Obama’s lead is striking. More than two dozen national polls have been conducted since the beginning of June. Obama has led in the overwhelming number of them.
Polls in the most contested states show a similar pattern. In three of the most important — Ohio, Florida and Virginia — there have been roughly three dozen polls total since April, about the time that Romney’s GOP rivals were exiting the nomination race. In Ohio and Virginia, Obama has led in all but a few. In Florida, Romney has done better, but overall, Obama has led about twice as often.
If Mitt Romney can’t make inroads in all three of these states, the election is basically over.
In summary, the 2004 model is looking good for the Obama camp. Obama’s job approval still lingers just below 50%, but the attacks on Romney have gone a long way towards diminishing him as a viable alternative. Last weeks jobs report was anemic by any standards, but it dashed Republican hopes to be able to claim that the economy has completely sputtered. The private sector has now had positive job creation for twenty nine consecutive months. Republicans counter that the economy should be bouncing back much more robustly, but this ignores the fact that this is an unprecedented global recession and that the United States’ economy is growing more than any other industrial country in the world. President Obama’s approval ratings by themselves show some evidence that Americans understand the extraordinary situation that the president was handed in 2008 and don’t hold him as responsible for economic conditions as the Republicans would like.
To be sure, there is still an opportunity for Romney to turn things around, but he faces a limited number of opportunities to do this: namely, the VP pick, the conventions and the debates. So far, Romney has provided the public a lot of reasons to vote against Barack Obama, but not very many to vote for Mitt Romney. The Romney camp hopes to start filling those details in with the upcoming convention…but has to be worried that Obama’s campaign has already started doing that for them.