The Romney dividend
October 20, 2012 1 Comment
The Presidential debates are three-quarters of the way through, and all sides are bracing for Monday’s foreign policy clash in Boca Raton. A lot has happened since the transformative first debate on October 3. The election is far from over, but at the moment the likeliest candidate for the mythic “October surprise” is Mitt Romney himself.
The governor’s numbers have improved on several fronts this month. His likeability ratings are above water for the first time, showing an ability to beat back this Summer’s flood of negative ads and spin from the Obama campaign. On October 17, Gallup had Romney besting Obama by seven points (+7) among likely voters nationally. And looking at recent electoral map changes, it’s obvious President Obama’s September swing state advantage has effectively evaporated. RealClearPolitics’s electoral projection even broke in Romney’s favor for the first time this cycle.
What impact will the vice presidential and second presidential debates have on the polls? One might conclude that Romney’s momentum has dissipated upon meeting renewed energy in Obama’s executive. Biden and the president brought vigor to their exchanges, garnering an arguable draw and an arguable win respectively. But the take away from these middle two contests won’t help their ticket.
More likely to be remembered than any policy point ticked off were the impressions of character: Biden’s dismissive, cartoonish grin and Obama’s finger-pointing truculence. Yes, Romney was a fighter in round two too. But aggression comes off better from the challenger than the incumbent, who should be cheerfully defending a good record. Through three debates now, the Obama presidential ticket has looked unpresidential.
Meanwhile, Romney has benefited from exceeding long-lowered expectations. He has risen as a sleeper candidate, one who seemed dogged by a failure to galvanize a devoted base in the primaries. But recalling his GOP rivals–among them Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, and Cain–could we imagine one delivering on the debates with such a combination of discipline and amiability as Romney? The October boost we’re seeing redounds to the credit of early Romney supporters. It is the Romney dividend.
In the pivotal October 3 debate, Americans glimpsed a dedicated work horse who knew what to say and when to say it. But more importantly, they saw an actual human being, not a robot, or some combination of cardboard, wood, and plastic. The meme of a stiff and aloof Romney will persist as much as Cowboy Bush did among the hard left, and it will be just as untrue. Still, Aloof Romney will continue to be exploited where the media find it profitable.
But like a raja who parades at the head of a princely procession, Romney has been broadcasting an image of genuine likability, conviction, and competence onto the masses. This mutual energy between Romney and the electorate was evident at Thursday’s Al Smith dinner, a neutral forum where elites from both sides of the aisle gathered to civilly toast and roast the two candidates. Romney was very much in his own skin delivering scripted barbs of humor. The president, while also good, couldn’t help but evince a bit of his trademark professorial unease. If only for the laughs, it’s worth watching both routines (Romney and Obama).
Surveying the aftermath of October 3, it appears that Mr. Romney is the Happy Warrior and the president is a bit beleaguered. Of course, the race remains close. But if all goes well, Romney will continue to connect with and persuade voters, capitalizing on a growing desire to send Mr. Obama packing to an early Hawaiian island retirement.