The polls have consistently shown a close contest between President Barack Obama and Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney as we approach the summer convention season. Political conventions usually allow the presidential challenger to present himself and his vision, along with illustrating his decision-making capacity in his choice of his vice presidential running mate. It can be a defining moment. John McCain remembers it well.In recent weeks, Mitt Romney has avoided presenting specific policy initiatives only raising doubts about whether the state of the economy will be sufficient to beat Obama in November.
A recent poll shows the American voter sees little difference between Romney and Obama in dealing with economic issues and claim neither candidate will impact the economy if he wins. This is not good news for Romney who has made the economy his wedge issue. It is still early to dismiss the economy as the primary campaign factor, but it does illustrate that Romney must do more than just making it about “the economy, stupid.”
After his ill-fated campaign run in 2008, one would think Mitt Romney would have done more to introduce himself to the American voter in this campaign cycle. The Republican primary season did little to improve our knowledge of whom Romney really is. The GOP field was weak and extreme. Actually it added to the ambiguity and confusion about Romney. Having to veer farther to the right than in 2008 to win the nomination, Romney comes across as a hardline right winger on immigration issues, gay rights and women issues. Yet, his Massachussetts record would indicate a more moderate, mainstream candidate. Which is it-far right or moderate right? No one knows for sure.
Therein lies Romney’s problem. No one knows ‘the real Romney’ despite the recently published book with the same title. Some have argued that it matters little as he is within the margin of error in matchup polls and this election will ultimately be about the President. They add that revulsion against Obama policies and dissatisfaction about the state of the economy will be enough to close the deal.
When one matches Romney’s identity problem with the president’s , one finds that Obama holds a distinct advantage. As an incumbent, he is far better known. His meteoric campaign of 2008 also did much to foster his identity by the time he entered the White House. A compelling narrative coupled with a hard-fought primary battle against an outstanding opponent called Hillary Clinton made him one of the best-known candidates to challenge for the presidency and eventually win.
Recent polls illustrate that Obama has an added advantage — the likeability factor. The man remains well liked and is much more popular than both his policies and his party. The Romney people would do well to address this aspect of the campaign. Their insouciance about Romney’s identity should be pause for concern and will start to be felt as we near the closing run of the campaign from September to November.
Currently, Obama leads in many swing states giving him the edge in electoral vote count. In a close contest where no one issue favors one candidate over the other, it is better to enter the final stretch with a likeability factor than an identity problem. And here Obama is clearly in the lead.