Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his advisers have boiled down the presidential race to three "realities":
1. The election will be very close.
2. President Obama's standing is "trending downward" as his job-approval ratings remain below 50 percent.
3. The economy will be the top issue.
This is the political terrain on which Romney plans to wage the general election campaign, and it involves some assumptions that are, at a minimum, open to debate.
A senior Romney adviser tells me that, "Pretty soon, opinion about the economy is going to be calcified" as an issue, and Americans won't believe that Obama can turn it around no matter what public-relations strategy he devises between now and Election Day. This may turn out to be excessively optimistic from Romney's point of view. In the end, Obama's campaign may be able to persuade voters that the economy is getting better at a satisfactory pace and that Romney's conservative policies would hurt the recovery.
But the Romney adviser says Obama "believes everyone else is to blame" and won't take responsibility for his mistakes and his failed policies, such as massively running up the deficit and excessive federal intervention in the economy.
This will be a major Romney theme. Whether the tactic works will depend partly on whether Obama can persuade voters that he needs another four years to give his policies a real chance to succeed.
With 25 million people out of work, the adviser says, Romney will continue to remind voters about "the failed Obama record" on job creation in particular. "This is an election where the economy is the number one issue—it's baked into the cake," he adds. Romney will tell voters they can have "more of the same" or "try a new approach."
The aide says that the overall political situation is favorable for Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, because there are so many doubts about Obama.
"A president under 50 [percent job approval] is a very perilous place for a president to be," he says.
One of the Romney realities that does appear to be beyond dispute, at least for now, is that the election will be tight. Polls show Obama and Romney neck and neck, and it could go either way.
Ken Walsh covers the White House for U.S. News & World Report. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News digital weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.