This was written Wednesday afternoon, but is doubly true after the first debate.
Those of us who obsess over a second Obama presidency need to stop offering unsolicited advice to our chosen candidate and realize that this is not his first rodeo. It might be useful to instead reflect on the broader shape of the election and the advantages that Romney has.
First, I will stipulate that Obama Is leading by low single digits, a bit more in the battleground states than in the country in general. Time is short and he has slipped a bit in the past month, but the next phase involves an intense exposure of the candidates directly to the electorate.
A year ago, the premise of many was that in an election involving an incumbent the voters first look at the incumbent's record. If it is OK, game over. If not, they look at the challenger to see if he/she is OK. Beginning with the Republican primaries, the Obama strategy has been to debunk Romney rather than to defend Obama's record or to offer strategies for short or long term economic recovery. That leaves a major opening for Team Romney.
1. The Romney campaign does not need to exert much energy pointing out that Obama's economic stewardship has failed. Even the most passionate liberal understands that 23 million unemployed and $16 trillion of debt reflects an ongoing misery. Heck, even Joe Biden is ranting about "the middle class that has been buried the past four years". Ditto foreign policy where our troops are dying as we skulk out of Afghanistan and the State Department's incompetence and cover-up in Benghazi reflect a naive belief that weakness will bring peace to our friends - governments and individuals - in the Middle East. The 15% of the electorate who still need to be convinced understand the state of the nation.
2. Likewise, there is no question about Romney's competence and experience - his education, in business, as governor, in the Olympics. With the millions of dollars of personal attacks, virtually none have been about competence. That's not nothing.
3. So the challenge for Romney - in the debates, in pesonal appearances, in advertising - is to demonstrate that his experience and success in business and government are relevant to the country's problems. This has two parts:
- He is a data-driven numbers guy. He doesn't really need to teach the electorate about the relation of marginal corporate tax rates to deficits. He just needs to demonstrate that he understands and cares. Less is more.
- He needs to demonstrate that he is a decent guy who is concerned about all of the people. Notwithstanding his 47% gaffe, his performance as governor and in his personal life demonstrate the reality.
Pundits will dwell on a phrase or the details of an answer in the October 3 debate, but it will take a few days to determine what the public really saw. The good news for the Romney camp is that at this point the election is about Romney. With three unfiltered shots at 50 million viewers, he has the controls.
This week's video is an Illinois legislative candidate's reprise of a famous cartoon.