Yesterday, the Gallup daily tracking poll showed Mitt Romney with a smidgen of a lead over Barack Obama — and a CNN poll showed Barack Obama with a sizable lead over Mitt Romney. Gallup has more good news for Romney, though. The daily tracker shows Romney’s support up by one and Obama’s support down by two, widening Romney’s lead from a mere two points to a full five.
As Allah pointed out in his comprehensive coverage of yesterday’s two conflicting polls, though, it’s a toss-up as to whether we should cover polls closely at all at this point. The election is a full six months away and so much is bound to change between now and then. Yet, it can’t be entirely insignificant that Romney has led the incumbent two days in a row, according to Gallup.
Still, relevant qualifications apply: It’ll all come down to the relatively unpredictable independent vote, much of the Romney vote is driven primarily by anti-Obama sentiment and Obama still has a significant edge in likability.
That last is, I think, the most problematic for Romney. I’m with AP on this one: While “experts” downplay its importance, the old political wisdom is still probably accurate: Voters vote for the guy with whom they’d like to share a beer. If anything, the fact that Romney leads Obama now — with the impossible-to-dislike Ann Romney so much in the news lately — suggests that sheer popular appeal really does matter. Romney might not have the edge on Obama on likability, but his lack of “this guy could be my beer buddy” appeal has been offset somewhat lately by his suddenly prominent “this guy really loves his wife” appeal, which, while different, is still an arbitrary (to the job of president) kind of appeal.
Eventually, though, it will come down to Romney versus Obama. Not even his VP selection will win it for Romney. Romney’s best bet in the face of Obama’s seemingly serenely inalterable likability ratings is to home in on Obama’s incompetence. The one mistake Romney must not make — the one mistake all of us who vehemently dislike Obama must not make — is to try to get voters to not like Obama. He won’t succeed in that effort. Instead, he must allow that Obama is a likable guy — but that doesn’t make him a good president. WSJ opinion writer William McGurn develops this idea fully:
Now, the president’s likability doesn’t mean Mr. Romney shouldn’t go on the offensive. It does mean he ought to attack hardest where Mr. Obama is at his weakest: his failed policies. For all the carping about Mr. Romney, this part he gets. We can see it reflected in both his embrace of the opportunity-oriented Republicanism of Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan—and his repeated refrain that Mr. Obama is simply “in over his head.”
Mr. Romney is hardly the first Republican presidential aspirant to take that tack against a Democratic incumbent. In 1980, Ronald Reagan zeroed in on Jimmy Carter’s competence. Plenty of Americans thought President Carter was a good and decent man too—but by election day Mr. Reagan had persuaded them that his rival just wasn’t up to the job.
The day after that election, Mr. Reagan’s pollster, Richard Wirthlin, explained the campaign this way: “We saw the opportunity for a role reversal—that is, by the end of the campaign, I think we came very close to having people look upon Ronald Reagan as more presidential than Jimmy Carter.”
If Romney can combine a sense of humor with his already established gravitas, he might just be able to replicate Reagan’s path to victory.