Note the big “if” built in here.
Worse for Obama, the latest fundraising numbers show he will not be able to outspend Romney forever. Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $106 million in June, while Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised only $71 million. Romney will eventually reach parity with Obama on television spending and will probably surpass him.
So how is Obama doing now, at the height of his incumbency advantage? At best, he’s treading water…
The source of Obama’s weakness is easy to identify. Sixty-three percent of respondents [in today’s ABC/WaPo poll] say the country is on the wrong track. Eighty-nine percent identify the economy as the most important issue in the election. And 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy. However, few people know what Romney will do about the economy if elected president. Only 38 percent of respondents say Romney has presented “a clear plan for dealing the the economic situation.”
If Romney can build on his existing economic advantage (respondents trust Romney more on the economy 49 percent to 44 percent), this may be Obama’s high water mark.
Two potential problems. One: What would an effective anti-Obama attack ad look like at this point? We’re all waiting for Team Mitt and their battalion of Republican Super PACs to launch a nuclear ad blitz against O, but what’s going to be in those ads that’ll move the needle? Probably 80 percent of them will focus on the economy, but even in a nation of low-information voters, we must already be approaching the moment when economic stagnation is mostly priced into the polls, no? Granted, many of the people in the center who’ll decide the election spend their lives in a blissful news coma, but even the comatose have some dim awareness by now that “economy = bad.” If things turned so sour that the economy slipped into a new recession, that might alarm swing voters enough to really move the polls, but barring that, what’s Romney supposed to say to “build on his existing economic advantage”? His message is simple: We can’t risk another four years on Obamanomics. Will that point be more effective after it’s made eight million times?
Which brings us to problem two: Is there any affirmative case for Romney? Matt Lewis made a good point in a post this morning that hadn’t occurred to me:
Think of it this way. Despite the fact that Obama has had a pretty miserable couple of months, he has still driven the debate, and has generally maintained a slight lead in the polls (including in most of the swing states). And during that time, whether the conversation has been the Buffett Rule or the DREAM Act or extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone making less than $250,000 — Obama has defined the turf.
Even in the rare instances where conservatives have been on offense, Romney was mostly just capitalizing on gaffes (Hilary Rosen). In some cases, it was the work of third parties (such as Jim Treacher discovering a young Obama dined on man’s best friend) that turned the tide. (In fairness, Obama has the bully pulpit and much of the media, so it’s not a fair fight.) Still, this question is worth asking: If Obama is still winning now, after getting off to a rough start, why should anyone expect things to change in, say, October…
Ironically, Romney may be harmed by the fact that the race has been so close. He can take solace in the fact that he is within the margin of error, but that will be cold comfort should he lose by a point or two.
Why hasn’t Romney been on offense more often? Is it a simple matter of the point I made above, that Obama’s biggest liability is already so well known that it’s difficult to find new angles of attack? Is it just bad packaging, as Rush Limbaugh alluded to yesterday in wondering how anyone’s supposed to remember Romney’s 59-point economic plan? Or is this just Mitt being Mitt? If you nominate a guy who’s not very ideological, don’t be surprised when he struggles to make an affirmative case for the conservative vision. That’s not how he won the primaries, after all: He won by making Gingrich and Santorum radioactive to voters with negative ads. That was easy to do given his financial advantage and their comparatively low name-recognition; to do it to The One will be orders of magnitude more difficult. So let me ask again: How should he start? What’s the first line of attack besides “the economy stinks”?