Elections often turn on character moments and the slopes of lines.
They are about whom a candidate reveals himself to be under pressure more than who he says he is onstage. And they are about the direction of change when the time comes to vote for change – or to forswear it in favor of continuity.
Taking that into account, at this moment, President Barack Obama’s chances of being re-elected look stronger than they have in months. The Romney campaign seems to be coming off the tracks with no clear vision for how to get back on.
Romney’s panicky, premature excoriation of the Obama administration over violence in the Middle East – a response that was factually flawed and widely panned – only served to shake the fragile faith of those who might be holding their noses to support him.
A New York Times/CBS News poll released Friday found that Obama had a 3-point lead over Romney among likely voters and an 8-point lead among registered voters.
And NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls released Thursday found that the president had significant leads in the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia.
Romney needs to win those states, especially given that his supporters are giving up on Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Associated Press reported that “Mitt Romney’s allies have pulled their advertising from Pennsylvania and Michigan while redoubling efforts in other battleground states.”
And, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out about its polls, “Mr. Obama’s support as a candidate is at or near 50 percent in all three states, suggesting that Mr. Romney must peel off voters who now support the president to win.”
A CNN/ORC poll released Thursday found that 68 percent of Americans expect the economy to be “very good” or “somewhat good” a year from now, the highest percentage saying so since 2002.
According to a Gallup report released last Wednesday, 30 percent of Americans said that they were satisfied with the way things are going. That wouldn’t seem to be something to crow about, but last year that number was 11 percent.
And a Thursday Gallup report found that Democrats were tied with Republicans on the issue of who would do a better job of protecting Americans against international terrorism. That same poll found “the Democratic Party leading the Republican Party, 51 percent to 42 percent, in Americans’ perceptions of which of the two parties would do the better job of keeping the country prosperous. The Republican Party was narrowly favored in 2010 and 2011.”
The most stubborn line for Obama is the unemployment rate. It’s stuck above 8 percent, which is not good. But a flat line is not nearly as deadly as one moving in the wrong direction. Whatever voters think of the jobs picture – improving or stagnant – it’s already cooked into their calculations. And Romney has veered so far from his strategy of keeping the economy at the center of the campaign that he’s losing the only advantage he had. According to the Times/CBS News poll, Obama has now erased Romney’s edge on the economy.
The Christian Science Monitor asked Friday: “Is Mitt Romney running out of time?” It continued: “Should we just call this thing for President Obama now? We’re kidding, of course (hold your outraged comments, Romney supporters!). But, as the old saying goes, there’s some truth in every jest.”
No one can predict the result on Election Day – overconfidence could devolve into complacency among Democrats – but, at this point, it’s hard to see a path to victory for Romney.
Political analyst Charlie Cook wrote Thursday under the headline “Obama’s a Good Bet,” that “Mitt Romney could still win, thanks to the debates and outside events, but the president has the advantage.”