By all standards of conventional campaigning, John McCain’s candidacy in 2008 was one of the least inspiring in modern times. This bona fide war hero was unable to make the case for moderate conservatism that would have set a different course for the Republican Party. He lacked focus, seemed unable to articulate a coherent position, could not rally his party base, and showed an appalling lack of judgment in choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Still, he did get 47% of the vote and for a brief moment before the Lehman Brothers’ debacle, led in the national polls. Much of this respectable showing had more to do with the notion that America is closer to being a 50-50 nation than McCain’s personal resumé or his campaign. Up against the candidacy of Barack Obama, who had galvanized new voters and benefitted from a relatively favorable press, to achieve 47% of the popular vote in a year of economic recession and financial meltdown says much about the solidity of the GOP vote and the nature of the current American electorate.
Mitt Romney seems to have similar issues about his candidacy. He too has appeared uninspiring, and he has yet to articulate a convincing message about where he intends to lead the country. While he is rallying his primary opponents, the endorsements are tepid and lukewarm to say the least. In addition, the lingering question about his authenticity as a person continues to remain a current topic. Yet, despite an arduous primary season which seemed to diminish him as a candidate rather than enhance his fortunes, it is fair to predict that he will do as well, if not better than McCain come November. He may actually win. Why is this so?
Romney may be gaffe prone, and he is trailing with some key constituents such as women and Latinos, but the polls still indicate a close race. One reason is that the magic around the candidacy of Obama has largely dissipated. Obama is now an incumbent with a record in office and a lackluster economic recovery. He is no longer the inspirational figure bursting onto the national scene. Secondly, even with less than stellar candidates like McCain and Romney, the Republican base vote remains strong, unified and highly competitive.
The battle will likely come down to one of swing states, the robustness, or weakness of the economy, and how each candidate will fare in the 3 national debates. By convention time, we can expect a sharper Romney and one who may have been able to deliver an articulate and compelling vision of the economy under his stewardship. It is also fair to note that the Romney campaign seems more effective and more disciplined than McCain’s was in 2008.
No matter how the campaign evolves, the Republican vote will remain fairly predictable. The Democrats and President Obama have to hope that the economy continues to improve, and that judicious use of the inherent advantages of incumbency can keep the GOP presidential candidate on the defensive and thereby drive the agenda.
Romney is not really a stronger candidate than McCain was in 2008. The only difference is that the Democratic opponent is more vulnerable .