While Obama loyalists cling to his nice guy image as a counterweight to Romney’s perceived competence, there’s reason to believe that the president’s surviving likeability advantage is not only overrated but profoundly misunderstood. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, he doesn’t display an effortless common touch and he’s hardly an easy-going, down-to-earth guy. His public profile increasingly conforms to the descriptions of his closest acquaintances: he’s a driven, tightly-wound, fiercely competitive intellectual. It’s not his race that disqualifies him as the neighbor across the fence, or even his high falutin’ Ivy League education: it’s the sense of anything-to-win desperation, and the inescapable mean streak, that increasingly mar his campaign…

Romney supporters insist that their man will emerge as more lovable after his convention showcase and the televised debates, but it may matter more to the outcome of the race that Obama seems less lovable–as he will if his campaign persists in its slashing attacks while paralysis in Washington approaches a crisis. When the incumbent is running one of the most ferociously negative campaigns within memory he can hardly dodge responsibility for the toxic and increasingly dangerous divisions in the nation’s capital.

It’s entirely possible that by the end of an endless and exhausting campaign both candidates will look distinctly unlikeable, so that voters can finally put aside the geniality contest and chose between the off-putting pair based on the best ability to cope with the nation’s dire challenges. Most voters get serious as Election Day approaches, which explains the unbreakable pattern of fringe party contenders always getting fewer votes in the final tally than last minute polls predicted. Especially in presidential contests, most Americans feel a sense of responsibility and earnestness by the time they cast their ballots and prove reluctant to waste their precious franchise on empty gestures.