By CARL GOLDEN
In every political campaign, there
comes a time when the realization sets in that the prospect of defeat is no
longer an abstract notion, but a distinct possibility.
For President Obama’s campaign, that
moment has arrived. His comfortable
lead in voter demographics as well as issues has evaporated. The gender gap once lopsidedly in his
favor is no longer unbridgeable.
Even more troubling for the
President are numerous poll results showing that voters, by a slim margin, now
feel Mitt Romney is better equipped than he is to deal with the nation’s
economic distress. Confidence in
the President has fallen from clear leads to margin of error levels.
Ever since the beat down he suffered
at Romney’s hands in the presidential debate in Denver, the President has been
trying to wrest the momentum back from his challenger.
While he came off the consensus
winner in the two subsequent debates, he benefited not at all. The die was cast in the Denver
confrontation, now widely credited as the start of the Romney resurgence.
The President’s campaign is
teetering on the ragged edge of panic and, like others who found themselves in
the same situation, he’s latched onto ideas and gimmicks that would normally be
dismissed by cooler, more reasonable heads.
The campaign wasted a week’s worth
of time and money on the Big Bird issue, attempting to convince voters that
Romney’s pledge to eliminate Federal funding for the Public Broadcasting System
represented a grave threat to the American way of life. His time would have been better spent
addressing the millions of parents worried if they can still afford the cable
bill so their kids can continue to watch Big Bird.
When Big Bird took flight as an
issue, the campaign struggled to come up with catch phrases to make a point,
convinced that the President shouting the word “Romnesia” to describe the
challenger’s switch in positions would capture the public’s imagination. It turned out to be embarrassingly silly
and the staffer who hatched the idea should be assigned to overnight robo-call
He addressed friendly crowd rallies
by waving a 20-page booklet over his head, a document he said outlined the ideas
and programs he intended to pursue in a second term. Why the campaign waited until three
weeks before Election Day to share his vision with voters remains a
Amazingly, Obama has become the
challenger rather than the incumbent, a situation neatly summed up by Romney in
the final debate when he turned to the President and said: “Attacking me is not
Four years ago, “hope and change”
was not an agenda, either, but it worked for Obama because the country had grown
weary of the Bush presidency and was more than ready to embrace change even if
they didn’t know what it was.
Approaching the end of the
President’s first term, Americans in increasing numbers express their
frustration that the change they voted for in 2008 hasn’t materialized. Although they sympathize with the
challenges the President faced when he assumed office, their response to his
plea for more time and patience has been lukewarm at best. His repeating that the nation’s problems
didn’t develop overnight and won’t be solved overnight has become a tiresome
Romney endured months of public
sniping from within his party warning him to avoid a single issue candidacy
focused on the economy and holding the President accountable for failing to pull
the country out of its economic ditch.
He rejected the advice and
disregarded the criticism, understanding that, while a President must deal with
an incredibly broad range of complex issues, the American people wanted a leader
to calm their fears and ease their angst over what many perceived to be an
increasingly bleak future.
By sticking to his theme of job
creation and economic recovery, Romney gained ground steadily, even invoking
Ronald Reagan’s 1980 “are you
better off now than you were four years ago?” campaign mantra to draw a sharper
contrast between he and Obama.
While the Romney campaign has been
energized and encouraged by his resurgence, the odds ever so slightly continue
to favor the President.
In the half dozen states in which
the Electoral College votes will likely determine the outcome, Obama holds
slender leads in a majority of them.
Romney, on the other hand, while competitive in those states, must run
the table to reach the 270 electoral votes to win. Not impossible, certainly, but a loss in
one --- Ohio, say --- pretty much dooms his chances.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way
for the Democrats. Many hoped for
Presidential coattails to help regain seats in the House of Representatives and
survive with their majority in the Senate.
It appears those hopes will go largely unfulfilled.
The abstract notion of a defeat
wasn’t something the President or his party wanted to confront. To their dismay, they’ve discovered that
it’s always lurking in campaigns and always will be.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Copyright © by In The Lobby All Right Reserved.