We are told the 2012 battle for the White House is about preserving and strengthening the middle class. Mitt Romney leads with middle class voters by 14 points.
We are told voters are most concerned with the economy, and those most likely to cast a ballot in November think the economy will fare better with Romney at the helm than if President Barack Obama is re-elected.
We're told Americans are getting worried about the president's foreign policy after "The Libya Debacle" and his inability to get in front of mounting problems in Egypt, Syria, and Iran. We're told anti-American sentiment has spiked around the globe, and that President Obama's efforts to address this—snubbing world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly to make time for an appearance on the TV chat-fest The View and more in-your-face campaigning—have not played well among the American public.
And, as conservative commentator Bill Bennett points out, all of that is on top of the unemployment rate that has stayed above 8 percent for 43 straight months, the $800 billion stimulus that didn't stimulate, the poverty rates at a 20-year high, food stamp use at an all-time high, and participation in the workforce among men at an all-time low.
Given all this, how on earth can Romney be faring so poorly in the polls—particularly in the all-important swing states?
Romney is like the brawler who could take everyone in the bar … if only he could get to his feet. President Obama staggered him early with vicious and specious attacks, particularly in the battleground states, and Romney has never recovered.
It's been one distortion after another from the president's camp. Romney is not a "regular American guy"—as if Obama is. Romney is rich and detached—as if Obama isn't. The policies Romney would push "got us into this mess"—as if the policies Obama has enacted haven't made things worse.
It didn't help that Romney literally handed the president a campaign ad with his surreptitiously taped "47 percent" speech in Boca Raton, Fla., and otherwise has been generous with gaffes. It also doesn't help that left-of-center pollsters seem to be working to suppress voter turnout by skewing results to create a sense of inevitability the president will be re-elected.
But skewed polls or not, it does appear the president is in better shape now in some key swing states, including the all-important Ohio. No Republican ever has won the White House without carrying the Buckeye State. And although Karl Rove says there are 11 different ways for Romney to win without Ohio, the path clearly narrows if Romney can't recover there.
Looking ahead to next week's first of three presidential debates, top Romney staffer Beth Myers already has attempted to tamp down expectations in Denver with release of a memo that says the president—with his experience and rhetorical skills—almost certainly will win the debate in the eyes of voters.
There might be 11 ways Romney can win without carrying Ohio, but if he doesn't prevail by a substantial margin in these debates, it will be hard to prevent that sense of inevitability from setting in.
Romney wants to use the first debate to introduce himself and his vision for America. Karl Rove says there's no time for that … that Romney must challenge "the president's veracity" and show he can't "shoot straight" because his miserable record won't allow it. According to Rove, Romney must expose the president's program for what it is—a doubling down on the failed status quo—and ensure Americans know what they'll be getting if they re-elect him.
Years from now, we'll look back on this election as the one where we learned fact-checkers can't be relied on to fact check objectively and pollsters can't be relied on not to skew their results for their favored candidates.
But although, even now, five weeks out, it's hard to know whose numbers to believe, it certainly doesn't look like Romney has a big lead now. That's not necessarily important. What is important is that Romney continues to look as if he has a good chance. And if he has a strong showing in Denver—that almost certainly will be the case all the way until election night.