Tomorrow marks three weeks since Rick Santorum dropped out of the GOP primaries and the 2012 general election began in earnest.
The battle lines have already been drawn in what promises to be a very close election.
According to Real Clear Politics average of polls, President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have remained separated by just about the margin of error since April 10th. Gallup’s daily tracking poll renders a picture very similar to the 2004 race between then incumbent George W. Bush and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, one which was decided by less than a field goal when all was said and done.
In trying to open up a lead early, President Obama’s team has gone after Mitt Romney for everything from changing his stance on issues to being too rich to being too moderate to being too conservative to not wanting to kill Osama Bin Laden bad enough. None of it has worked. Why?
Because at this point, the country is not viewing this election as a decision based on the Democrat portrayal of Romney, but as a referendum on the incumbent President Obama. That is what Democrats fear and Republicans are striving for. Making the race about the incumbent is a goal Bill Clinton achieved in 1992 and Sen. Kerry was unable to in 2004.
Romney’s best course of action up to this point has been to allow Obama to keep himself in the negative press cycle. From scandals (Russia, Secret Service, GSA) to continued disastrous Supreme Court hearings (healthcare and immigration) to flagging economic numbers (instability in Europe and worse than expected growth at home), this president has had the worst two months of a bad presidency. Moreover, just as in May of 2011, the killing of Osama bin Laden, one of this president’s few real successes, has not made the voters turn their attention away from his shortcomings for any sustainable time period.
However, staying out of the way will not win this election for the GOP. Voters understand that Obama has not been good, hence his approval ratings continuing to be under water, but that is not enough to tip the scales in November toward Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has to exploit this opportunity by providing a concrete alternative to the struggling president.
The message of “it’s still about the economy,” is the right path since polls consistently show for the economy to be the most important issue to voters and a significant strength for Romney.
Expect for Romney to be steady and methodical in painting a clear distinction between his success in private and public sectors and Obama’s severe difficulties as president. On the other hand, Obama will unquestionably continue to try to distract the electorate from his record on the economy and domestic issues with criticism of Romney and dogged concentration on the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
The result: a close election won by Romney because of… the economy.