It's CERTAIN TO BE the most expensive presidential race on record and it's shaping up to be one of the closest as well. With less than three months until Election Day, the campaigns of President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, are each figuring out which path will lead them to 270 electoral votes and the keys to the White House.
For Team Obama, the strategy for these last remaining months of campaigning remains unchanged: convince undecided voters that the administration's policies have helped the country make progress while simultaneously painting Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch Wall Street fat cat who will return the country to the economic policies of President George W. Bush. Unlike the Obama/McCain race four years ago, in which then-Senator Obama could run a largely positive campaign on a message of "hope and change," this campaign has been overwhelmingly negative. As a senior Obama campaign advisor told Politico in August of last year, "Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney."
Mitt Romney's strategy to get to 2.7o essentially boils down to the very effective line that Ronald Reagan used against President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential campaign: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" As a senior Romney strategist told me in mid-June, "This is an election about the state of the U.S. economy. We're focused on issues relating to job creation and deficit reduction. We feel we're in a strong position to make this election a referendum on the economy and how President Obama has managed it."
Although there are stark differences in the way each side views the state of the U.S. economy, there are two key things that both campaigns readily acknowledge: President Obama is unlikely to expand the electoral map the way he did in zoo8; and this campaign, unlike the Obama/McCain race, is going to be close and very competitive.
The mood of the electorate
IN 2.008, BARACK Obama won the White House thanks to the perfect political storm: Voters had grown tired of eight years of Republican leadership under President George W. Bush; Obama sold himself as a new kind of political leader who could unite a divided electorate; and a coalition of young voters, upscale professionals, minorities, and independents embraced his message of "hope and change." For many in this coalition, zoo8 was more than an election--it was a movement.
Four years later, much has changed. The president's job approval ratings have fallen from 63 percent when he was inaugurated to a little less than 47 percent today, according to an average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com. More troubling for the president's re-election prospects is a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that shows that a majority of independents feels that President Obama's policies have made it harder for Americans to gain employment. Fifty-two percent of independents said they agreed with the idea that "the president has not helped create more jobs in America." That's an argument that taps into the central message of the Romney campaign.
With job growth slowing to anemic levels and the unemployment rate stuck above eight percent (and even higher in the battleground states of Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina), it's getting harder for President Obama to blame the weak recovery on the mistakes of his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush.
As for the president's signature domestic achievement in his first term the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act--a majority of the general public views that law as a bust. Among registered voters, 57 percent of those surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos said that they believe the health care overhaul has damaged the economy--an argument that Mitt Romney has been making at campaign stops around the country.
Advisors to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign argue that the Supreme Court's vindication of President Obama's health care law in late June while a short-term win for the president--may actually benefit Romney. …