A very difficult 10 days in the Romney campaign has brought forward criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Nothing to fret about on the former, but when the harsh words come from the latter, it hurts big time. The attacks came from respected Republican columnists like the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, who called the campaign “a rolling calamity,” and the New York Times’ David Brooks, who referred to Mitt Romney as Thurston Howell Romney, the prototype of a rich snob.
Clearly, Romney’s recent reference to the 47 per cent of the electorate “who don’t pay taxes and would never vote for me,” along with his mediocre performance around the attacks tied to the film “Innocence of Muslims,” made both the candidate and his campaign look dangerously incompetent. The “week from hell” ended with Romney divulging his 2010 tax returns, which only raised more questions and drew additional criticism from the right about the timing of the release.
All of this has given late night humorists a field-day of stand-up material. And though national polls still show a tight race, local ones indicate there’s a growing lead by Obama over Romney in swing states. With less than six weeks to go in the campaign, what we are witnessing is GOP grumblings threatening to blow an election Romney should have been able to win.
So has the fat lady sung? Not yet, and the last thing the Obama campaign should be doing is “opening the champagne.” The game is not over by a long shot. Three debates will occur next month; two more job reports are due in early October and November; Republicans are poised to outspend Obama by a margin of three to one through their Super Pacs; and voter suppression remains a weapon at the disposal of the GOP despite some recent lower court rulings quashing such efforts. And we all have heard of the so-called “October surprise.”
In 2004, Democrat John Kerry was coming off a “no-bounce in the polls” convention and a vicious Swift Boat Veterans’ ad that targeted his major narrative of being a war hero. He dipped in the polls, and had to enlist Clinton operatives like Paul Begala and James Carville to help save the day. Yet, good debate performances in October and a stream of bad news from Iraq helped him climb back up. By the time the campaign ended, Kerry had lost by just one state—Ohio!
Romney has shown to be more gaffe prone than Kerry, but he has also demonstrated polished debating skills. And with economic indicators still coming in sluggish he can continue to make the case against Obama on the number one election issue—jobs and the economy. Obama may have superior oratorical skills, but he is not known to hit too many out of the park during debate performances.
That being said, the Romney campaign has shown some severe cracks—starting with a lacklustre primary season and continuing on with a badly executed foreign visit, a poor handling of the tax return issue, a major communication miscalculation on the Libyan issue, and now the 47 per cent video. The Obama campaign, while far less inspiring than the one in 2008, has been generally flawless in its execution. Still, overconfidence has been known to undermine election campaigns. So it’s still far too early to celebrate, Mr. Obama.