Media Quick to Overstate Romney's Demise

Top strategists say despite recent Romney obits, he's not likely sunk yet.

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The reports of Mitt Romney's political death are widely exaggerated, so say top political strategists and pollsters from both sides of the aisle.

It's not new to those in the business that thanks to short memories and a non-stop news cycle, media narratives often get built on tenuous premises and snowball into conventional wisdom, particularly during elections. In The Washington Post, it was Michael Gerson opining about "Mitt Romney's Uphill Challenge," Politico ran a story listing top conservatives offering up game changing advice for Romney, and the Christian Science Monitor asked "Should Mitt Romney be worried?"

But the recent spate of stories practically doing post-mortems on the Republican presidential candidate's bid, thanks to an apparent slip in the polls, serves as the latest example of a hyperventilating by the mainstream press, inside the beltway and beyond.

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"If you just look at the data, rather than read the stories, it looks an awful lot like [President] Obama had a 7-point lead that pretty well evaporated during the Republican convention," says Whit Ayres, a top Republican pollster.

Recent polling by Gallup and CNN shows Obama opening up about a 6-point lead in the race, but a Washington Post/ABC News survey shows the candidates separated by just 1-point among likely voters.

"If you want to cherry-pick polls and pick out the one poll that gives Obama the largest lead, sure you can say that. But you might as well have said, ABC News shows it tied," Ayres says.

Ayres admits that the rapid pace of the news cycle does fuel some of the media hysteria, but adds that doesn't have to be the case.

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"The pace of stories has obviously become closer to warp speed. It is so quick and people are writing so quickly and jumping to conclusions so rapidly, that all perspective gets lost," he says. "The main thing that frustrates me is how the conventional wisdom will take hold among reporters and then reporters will start parroting each others' conventional wisdom rather than looking at the actual data."

Donna Brazile, a top Democratic strategist and presidential campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, agrees the "feed the beast" mentality has caused news coverage to suffer.

"This stuff drives you crazy, especially when you are involved in the presidential campaign," she says. "It's just keeping the general public interested, keeping the race competitive, so [the media] can continue to draw viewers in and to keep people engaged. There's no question that social media and technology plays a role in the storyline changing hourly, but this is par for the course when you have a close election."

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Regarding the actual state of the presidential race between Obama and Romney, Ayres and Brazile are of the same mind.

"The truth of the matter is when you go beyond the headlines, when you look underneath the new polling; this is still a pretty close race. It's still nip and tuck," Brazile says.

Ayres says the fundamentals of the presidential race are the same as they have been throughout the summer, despite heavy-breathing from newscasters, television pundits and reporters writ-large.

"This remains a very, very close race with Obama a handful of points ahead, under 50 percent in a toxic political environment for an incumbent running for re-election," he says. "That's where it has been, that's where it remains."

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.

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