Political Hay

Romney Closing With Obama

But a tough campaign ahead.

By 5.16.12

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Mitt Romney's campaign is making great headway, closing with Barack Obama during this lovely month of May.

It is one thing when Rasmussen's tracking poll puts Romney up by 2 points for May 11-14. Rasmussen is every Republican's favorite pollster. But what does it say when even the establishmentarian CBS News/New York Times poll puts Governor Romney up by 3 points? Moreover, the average of all polls to date give President Obama only a 1.6 percentage lead, according to RealClearPolitics.

This is substantial progress since the beginning of the month when the Associated Press/GfK poll gave Obama an 8-point edge, 50-42, for the May 3-7 time frame. This rapid shift in polling may account for the Obama campaign's nasty swerve toward negativity with an emphasis on class envy, disparagement of free markets, and vilification of successful people generally, including donors opposing the President.

And it is only going to get worse this election cycle. The Washington Examiner ran a story this week on training provided to the House Democratic Caucus "on how to inject the issue of race into nearly any political argument that takes place during the 2012 election season."

Evidently, one Maya Wiley, a former adviser for George Soros's Open Society Institute and founder of the Center for Social Inclusion, spoke to the Caucus on "race and fiscal policy," and insists that all talk of cutting government spending is "racially coded." Even Rick Santorum is accused of playing the race card by calling for cuts in spending and the welfare state. Wiley urges Democrats to steer the public dialogue away from race-neutral language. "'Explain how each racial group is affected [by a government program], but start with people who are white,' she wrote in her presentation. 'Then raise racial disparities.'"

Back to the campaign, the experienced Republican politico, Ed Rogers, got it right in the Washington Post on May 9 when he asked why, despite a bruising primary and Romney supposedly "winning ugly," the GOP "war on women," and other negative spin about the Ryan budget, isn't Obama "cruising" right now with a big lead?

"Romney is stronger than he has been portrayed and Obama is weaker than most people think," wrote Rogers. "How else do you explain the current polls?"

The day before, on May 8, the Wall Street Journal's political reporter, Gerald Seib, wrote a column on the efforts by both campaigns to build up enthusiasm among targeted voters. Seib observed that an April poll by the WSJ and NBC showed Obama leading among all voters by 6 percentage points, 49-46. "But among those who express high interest in the election -- defined as those who rate their interest at a nine or 10 on a 10-point scale -- Mr. Romney leads by three points, 49% to 46%."

For Democrats, 64 percent are highly interested in the election, versus 80 percent four years ago. "By contrast, enthusiasm among Republicans actually is up a few percentage points, to 74% from 71% four years ago," wrote Seib.

An early May USA Today/Gallup Swing State Poll revealed the two candidates to be essentially even with Obama ahead of Romney, 47-45, in the dozen battleground states that will determine the outcome of the November election. Obama had a lead of 9 percentage points in late March. However, the President is generating an edge in enthusiasm among his voters there. "For the first time, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting -- a shift from a 14-percentage point GOP advantage at the end of last year to an 11-point deficit now," wrote Susan Page in USA Today.

However, among those polled in the swing states, 60 percent say a President Romney would do a good or very good job handling the economy as opposed to 52 percent who say the same thing about President Obama.

Republican optimists would say that Romney just won a tough primary battle with wounds still healing and Obama has an early lead in organizing in the target states, both circumstances that are going to change, are changing, rapidly.

James Collins, the celebrated author of the best-selling business book, Good to Great, tells the story of Admiral Jim Stockdale, a prisoner of war who was tortured by the Viet Cong for eight years. In response to Collins's enquiry as to who did not make it out of the camps, Stockdale replied, "Oh, that's easy. It was the optimists. They were the ones who said we were going home by Christmas.… You know, I think they all died of broken hearts."

I am certain that Admiral Stockdale would not counsel pessimism in the face of challenges but realism certainly. This will be a long, grueling campaign that will make the Republican primary look like a pleasant round of croquet. It is certainly winnable, but no one who wishes Mitt Romney well can simply sit on their hands and watch this election from afar. It is time for all hands on deck.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.