The conventional wisdom is that the election is President Obama's to lose, but after the week he's had, if I were his Chicago campaign office I'd be hitting the panic button.
Three out of the five major polls released this week (CNN, Pew, and NBC/Wall Street Journal) had the president leading former Gov. Mitt Romney, but only by single digits. The fourth (CBS/New York Times) was a tie, and the fifth (Gallup) had Romney ahead by five points. And that was after the bruising Republican primary season. You'd think the president would heading into the summer with a double-digit lead, based on his "likability" numbers.
The problem is that the president is in big trouble on the fundamentals. No matter which poll you look at, or how much you like the president personally, you'll see that a majority of Americans continue to believe that our nation is on the wrong track—and those numbers are stuck like a freight train facing the wrong way. Similarly, there are large and growing majorities of Americans who disapprove of the president's signature accomplishment, healthcare reform. Across all demographic groups, the number one issue is the economy—yet the number of Americans who approve of the way the president is handling the economy is abysmal. Chicago, we have a problem.
The Romney campaign can succeed if it does two things. First, it needs to target the undecided voters—in some polls, up to a third of the electorate—who are willing to give him a second look. Clearly, Romney's got his work cut out for him with women, Latinos, and independents in particular.
Second, Romney needs to better connect with those voters, and show them he can relate to their concerns. He's got a long summer ahead of him with plenty of opportunities to do that. He needs to show Americans he's a problem-solver, just like the problem-solvers we all have in our lives—whether they are nurses, plumbers, firefighters, teachers, or repairmen. We like them because they embody that can-do American spirit that's as old as Ben Franklin and as modern as Steve Jobs. Those undecided voters need to know that Mitt Romney turned the Olympics around, and over the years at Bain, got countless businesses to turn a profit again and hire employees.
For example, the next time Romney goes to a NASCAR event, he shouldn't talk about how much he enjoys meeting the owners. He should hang out with the pit crews. These are men and women who see a wreck on wheels coming at them, fix the problem in seconds flat, then get the car right back out on the racetrack going at 100 miles an hour. Or he could come to my neighborhood, where a shop just opened called "UBreakIFix" and talk about how he's going to fix our economy for working women who have been laid off. Or visit our volunteer rescue squad and talk about the middle class families waiting to be rescued from higher taxes, college debt, and crushing energy bills. Mitt Romney would be smart to get his economic message out this summer alongside the kind of hard-working men and women who want to get this country moving again. Not everybody identifies with Mitt Romney, but everyone knows and loves a good problem-solver. Voters are looking for a fixer.