Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Bad Week for Romney, Does He Need a Game Change?

Obama Lead Widens
Days Until the Election: 93
Projected Popular Vote Total: Obama +3.8% (+3.5% from last week)
Projected Electoral Vote Total: Obama 332, Romney 206 (unchanged from last week)

The last time that I actually flipped a state on my electoral vote projection was June 30th.  For a race that is supposed to be neck-and-neck and back-and-forth, that is pretty remarkable...5+ weeks of essentially the same map.  And the map is not so kind to Mitt Romney - it shows a pretty resounding victory for President Obama.  Not quite the 365 to 173 whacking that he gave to John McCain in 2008, but a large enough cushion that if the election were being held today, Obama advisers wouldn't be worried about a state here or there.

No states flip this week either, but the trend is decidedly for the President over the course of the past week.  He picks up 3.5% in the average of national polls and moves up the strength of several states.  For the first time in a long time, he now has 271 electoral votes in either the "safe", "strong" or "likely" category for him.  This is big because it means that the President could lose every single close state - North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada, and still win the electoral college 271 - 267.

The reason for this, of course, is the state of Ohio, which now sits in the Likely Obama category.  It is virtually impossible for a Republican to win without Ohio.  No Republican has ever won the Presidency without winning Ohio, going all the way back to the founding of the party in 1856.  Romney HAS to win there to open up the map to possible paths to 270 for him.  If he loses in Ohio, as the present polling would indicate, it's game over early on.

Romney's bad week has been the result of several things.  His first foreign trip was more or less a disaster as he offended the Brits by saying they might not be prepared for the election, offended Muslims across the world by saying that Palestinian poverty was the result of an inferior culture (no, that isn't taken out of context) and his campaign advisers offended the Polish by cursing at reporters during a trip to a sacred burial site.  In short, Romney looked not ready for prime-time on the world stage, and not appearing Presidential is an important defect for a challenger.

Also starting to move the polls is massive spending by the Obama campaign.  Ironically, after caving into the congressional Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for all incomes this year, Obama is campaigning hard on NOT extending the cuts again.  And it seems to be working.  You may call it cheap class warfare (and I have at times), but the theme of "Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy" combined with "the rich need to pay their fair share" and "Romney is a repeat of the Bush policies" are having a meaningful impact on the race.

Finally, the economic news has been relatively good.  It certainly hasn't been the V recovery that I had hoped for (and erroneously predicted) 3 years ago, but the stock market is double what it was then and we had another month of significant, although not stellar job growth.

Put it all together and Romney has some work to do after the Olympics to regain a solid footing in the race.  Things are certainly not insurmountable for him at this stage - after all a 3.8% lead can evaporate in a few days if the right events happen, but he has to be careful not to let this race get too far away from him given the strength of the coffers and strategy of the Obama campaign.

Game Changing or Safe VP Pick?
Romney's inability so far to close the gap has many among the GOP faithful calling for a bolder pick for his VP.  Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty are the two heavy favorites for the nod and both represent very safe picks - unexciting but unoffensive soldiers who possess solid, but not radical, conservative credentials and would widely be seen as qualified to be President on day one.

The call is for a pick like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan, Rubio for his youth and the energy of support for him from the Tea Party, Ryan for his conservative budget credibility, something which could be a big help for Romney, who has struggled to articulate any kind of cohesive economic and budget philosophy.

My bet is still on the safe picks and probably rightly so.  I've made this point before, but it bears repeating - I cannot think of a single winning Presidential Candidate who won because of his VP pick.  VP picks generally can only hurt not help, so the first principle should be to do no harm.

Pawlenty seems like the best choice of the bunch.  Outside the beltway, conservative but mainstream, has run things and therefore buttresses the Romney argument of executive experience.  And he is not at all gaffe-prone.  But it's Romney's call, obviously, and how and what he decides will be our first big reveal into how he might govern.

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