The Romney-Ryan campaign kicks off a three-day bus tour through the key swing state of Ohio today. Folks arriving early at the Republican rallies who pay attention to the warm-up music played before the events may hear an old blues-rock tune that has become a staple in the rotation, the first verse of which proclaims, "I was born lonely, down by the riverside. Learned to spin fortune wheels and throw dice."
"Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" was the title track of Bob Seger's 1969 debut album. It was incorporated into Mitt Romney's campaign-rally music back in February when the candidate was fighting a GOP primary battle against rival Rick Santorum in Michigan, home state of both Romney and Seger. No one has ever confused the Republican presidential nominee with the rock singer, but Seger's lyrics might offer some valuable inspiration to Romney as he rambles across the Buckeye State this week, trying to beat the increasingly long odds in his campaign to defeat Barack Obama.
To listen to some people, in fact, you might get the idea that the campaign is already over. Last week's Romney "gaffe" -- the secret video that was, in fact, recorded in May -- was supposedly the fatal blow to the GOP challenger. The liberal media said so, as did certain Republican commentators who were vehemently denounced by Rush Limbaugh. "The glitterati, the intelligentsia, the stars inside the Beltway think Romney lost the election yesterday -- they really do," Limbaugh told his nationwide radio audience Wednesday. "I never met a bunch of quitters like these in my life. I never met a bigger bunch of defeatists! We haven't even had the debates. It's not even October yet."
Indeed not, but the time is getting short. Election Day is six weeks from Tuesday, early voting has already begun in half the states and, after a month of non-stop negativity from the media, Romney needs to recapture the excitement generated by his Aug. 11 announcement of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate. It may be difficult now for many Republicans to recall just how much energy was unleashed by the young conservative's addition to the GOP ticket (see "Shout It Out Loud," Aug. 13), after the brutal battering Romney has endured in recent weeks. The damage began Aug. 19, when Missouri's Republican Senate candidate, Todd Akin, uttered his now-infamous "legitimate rape" comments, which the media seized on as a cudgel to pound Romney and revive the Democrats' claim that the GOP is waging a "war on women." Next, Hurricane Isaac forced the cancellation of the first day's schedule at the Republican National Convention. The storm bypassed Tampa, but plowed into the Louisiana coast while the media were busy portraying the convention as a complete disaster (see "The Exact Opposite of Truth," Aug. 28). Then came the Democrat convention and, as soon as that ended, the media unleashed a weeklong stream of tendentious stories proclaiming the eminent collapse of the Republican Party, including a poll/prophecy by New York Times wizard Nate Silver calculating a 4-to-1 likelihood of Obama's re-election (see "Omens of Doom?" Sept. 10). This was followed by a Sept. 16 Politico article, heavily reliant on anonymous sources, depicting the Romney campaign team as a hopeless shambles. By the time the left-wing magazine Mother Jones released its "secret video" last week, it was small wonder that some "quitters" and "defeatists," as Limbaugh described them, were ready to raise the white flag of surrender.
Two points are remarkable in this: First, that nearly all of this negativity was created (or at least deliriously hyped) by the media, rather than by anything Romney or Ryan did in the past month; and second, that it seems to have done less damage that the Republican defeatists would have us believe. Yes, the Real Clear Politics average of national polls has Obama ahead by 3.8 points, but that's actually less than the 4.7-point RCP lead Obama enjoyed the second week in August. The most recent Associated Press poll had Obama ahead by a single point, Gallup has Obama up by just two points, and the latest Rasmussen tracking poll has the race now tied. So while the recent blitz of negative coverage has hurt Romney, he nevertheless remains a viable challenger as the GOP ticket begins a three-day Ohio trip, with Ryan speaking at a 2:30 p.m. rally today in Lima and Romney joining him Tuesday in Cincinnati and Dayton, with Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo on the schedule for Wednesday.
What has prevented Obama and his media enablers from scoring an early knockout? One factors was the September 11 debacle in Libya, in which terrorists killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. As bad as that was -- a direct consequence of "Arab Spring" uprising that Obama encouraged and aided -- the administration clearly lied about what happened. The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was not, as administration officials first claimed, a "spontaneous" protest over an obscure video about Mohammed, but rather a carefully planned act of terrorism, following warnings about increased threats from Islamic extremism that the administration seems not to have taken seriously. The steady exposure of the truth about the Libyan attack has revived doubts about Obama's foreign policy (and his trustworthiness), handing Republicans an opportunity to portray the incumbent as both weak and dishonest.
Will Romney and Ryan seize that opportunity? This touches upon a basic criticism of the GOP strategy that Limbaugh and others have made repeatedly in recent weeks, namely the seeming reluctance of Romney's campaign to attack Obama directly and personally. Last week Limbaugh reminded his listeners that in 2008, the Republican nominee John McCain had called Obama "a decent person," a compliment that inspired Limbaugh to scoff: "The military's being gutted.… He's announced timetables where we're gonna pull out. He's announced defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan!… Forty-eight million Americans on food stamps, up 15 million since Obama was immaculated."
To accuse Obama not merely of bad policy, but bad faith, might be rather risky for Romney, although this is exactly the theme that has turned the documentary film 2016 into a surprise box-office success. It will be interesting, then, to see exactly how hard Romney and Ryan hit the president during their Ohio sojourn. Will they, as the song says, spin the wheel and throw the dice? The oddsmakers are already laying 4-to-1 against them, and it might be time for a "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man."