The Obama campaign team hasn't hit the panic button but they almost certainly have to be thinking about it. After spending, according to some estimates, nearly $30 million on television ads designed to drive up Republican Mitt Romney's negatives, the best they can manage is a tie.
By any measure, $30 million is a lot of money—not, perhaps, as much as is spent in an average week advertising new movies or potato chips, but as political spending goes, it's considerable.
The data, which has been reported in a number of public and media polls, runs counter to the conventional political wisdom, which holds that Barack Obama is cruising easily to a second term.
Part of this is cheerleading by the media, who like Obama and want to see him win four more years in the White House. He doesn't get the kind if scrutiny that Romney does—and he never has. In fact, the media repeats the charges made by the Obama attack ads as though they are news, in stark contrast to the skepticism with which anti-Obama allegations are met by supposedly neutral fact-checkers and other arbiters of what is and what is not truth.
Looking at the data, it is clear that Obama is in trouble. Most national polls have the race a tie, with the two candidates within points of each other, inside the margin of error. Most of those polls, however, are national surveys of all adults or all voters and not the more accurate, in terms of their predictive value, surveys of likely voters that more closely match the behavior of the electorate.
A recent Resurgent Republic survey found, for example, that Obama's positive job approval rating is 49-46 nationally but is evenly split, 48-49, among likely voters in so-called battleground states and upside down among independents, who disapprove of the job he is doing as president 50 percent to 43 percent.
Helpfully for the GOP, Romney has a slight lead among independents, 45 to 40, and voters say repeatedly that they are truly unhappy with Obama's handling of the economy, nationwide, in battleground states and among independents. This explains the heavily negative nature of the attacks on Romney, which are coming earlier than usual as far as presidential campaigns go. Obama's only hope, it seems, is to discredit the presumptive Republican nominee in the minds of the voters before they really start to focus on the race. The president, it seems, doesn't have a record to stand on.
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