Romney Scrambles to Catch Up
It’s been three weeks now since Mitt Romney pleaded his case to be president before the American people in his speech before the Republican Party National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Before the convention, the presidential race was essentially tied. Three weeks later there has been a noticeable shift in President Obama’s favor.
So what happened? The Republican convention did little to boost Mr. Romney’s chances of getting elected. The lasting memory from the convention is not Mr. Romney’s speech, but Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood’s bizarre, unscripted appearance with an empty chair that was supposed to contain an imaginary President Obama. The Romney campaign checked with Eastwood early on to find out what he was going to say, but Eastwood simply told them he didn’t know yet and that he would wing it. Amazing that on such little things campaigns sometimes turn.
Mitt Romney’s decision to weigh in early on the anti-U.S. protests in Egypt and Libya was not well-received, even by some Republicans. And his latest distraction is proving to be costly as well as he tries to defend his secretly-recorded comments at a private fund raising meeting in May that the 47 percent of voters who support President Obama are dependent on government handouts and see themselves as victims.
One of the big problems here is that many people, including many undecided swing voters, are going to be put off by comments that seem to divide and polarize people based on income and tax status.
The telling reactions here are from many Republicans who see the Romney comments as a major gaffe and not in keeping with a conservative philosophy that strives to empower and enfranchise all citizens, regardless of humble beginnings. Republicans like to point out that Ronald Reagan was always able to put a smiling face on conservatism, but the Romney comments struck many as divisive and unhelpful in his efforts to woo undecided voters and those who are disappointed with Mr. Obama’s performance.
A Less Sour Public
Some of the latest public opinion polls show slight improvements in how Americans see the direction of the country and their views on the national economy. This has always been the Obama “Achilles Heel,” the thought that voters will simply conclude he’s failed in line with a greater view that the economy is bad and little is being done to fix it or change course.
To be sure these are only slight indications and a number of surveys still show more people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction than on the right course. But if the trend continues for a while, it could give the Obama campaign a much needed undercurrent of optimism about the economy, which has always been something the Democrats have hoped for but couldn’t count on.
Speaking of polls, the latest numbers for Mr. Romney from so-called battleground states – states that could go either way in the November election — are daunting. He’s trailing by notable margins in Ohio, Virginia and Iowa, and though the margins are somewhat closer, he’s also behind in Florida, Colorado and Wisconsin, home state of his running mate, Paul Ryan.
That’s not to say Mr. Romney can’t overcome these deficits with seven weeks to go before the election. But it does appear he needs some sort of major shift in focus or momentum if he’s going to overtake the president. And it’s got to come soon.
Obviously, his crew will look to the upcoming three presidential debates as his best opportunity to make his case and win over converts. But despite all the attention debates get they don’t always have a major impact on the campaign.
As American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman told us this week, Democrat John Kerry was seen by many as the winner of all three presidential debates with President George W. Bush in 2004 and Mr. Bush still won re-election that November.
Romney and the Middle East
If Mitt Romney does win in November, some of his comments from the secretly-recorded fundraiser in May — released by Mother Jones magazine — may come back to haunt him.
Lost in all the furor over Mr. Romney’s description of the “47 percent” were his comments about Middle East peace, the Palestinians and U.S. policy toward Iran.
Mr. Romney cast doubt on the longstanding goal of a two-state solution in the Middle East with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in relative peace. He said Palestinians “have no interest whatsoever” in peace with Israel, a statement that drew furious retorts from Palestinian leaders like Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas. Erekat told the Associated Press that anyone who concludes the Palestinians have no interest in peace is also saying Palestinians are not interested in “their freedom and their independence” and that, in his words, is “absolutely unacceptable.”
In the very same video, Mr. Romney described the mullahs in Iran as “crazy people” who could conceivably blackmail the United States by developing nuclear capability. He also warned that a nuclear-capable Iran would be able to supply terrorist groups with the means to make either a nuclear weapon or a radioactive “dirty bomb.”
Mr. Romney has tried to make U.S. relations with Israel a central part of his critique of the Obama foreign policy, arguing that Washington has been too tough on allies like Israel and not tough enough on adversaries like Iran, Russia and China.
Mr. Romney also likes to recall his special bond with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two men became friends when they worked in Boston many years ago. Mr. Romney also visited Israel on his limited foreign tour earlier this year.
In any event, if Mr. Romney is sitting in the Oval Office come January, it will be interesting to see how quickly his calls are returned from some corners of the Middle East.