It is 178 days until the presidential election. Every day presents an opportunity for the candidates. It will either be an up day, or a down day. At the end of this tight race, the person with the best run of good days will be the winner.
A month ago, the prevailing media narrative was that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney was in trouble, bloodied by a tough primary season which he took too long to close. Not so fast. Four years ago, Barack Obama lost three of five of the May Democratic primaries to challenger Hillary Rodham Clinton, while Republican John McCain wrapped up his nomination by the end of February. We know how that race turned out.
Something happened on the way to the coronation. Things have been going better than expected for Mr. Romney. A Politico/George Washington University poll released this week shows Mr. Obama’s 9-point lead in February has vanished; the race is now neck and neck. Most importantly, Mr. Romney leads among independent voters by 10 points. If the election were held today, Mr. Obama would lose every swing-state on his list of must-wins.
Part of the reason fortunes have shifted is Democrats have had a series of bad days. It began a month ago with the matter of Mr. Obama having eaten dogs in his youth. In policy terms, it was a non-issue, but as a response to the Obama campaign’s taunts that Mr. Romney was less kind to canines, it was a masterstroke. The “ick” factor was off the charts, and remained so for days.
The week-long celebration for the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing was designed to highlight Mr. Obama’s leadership qualities. However, the football spiking went so overboard that the White House was forced to deny it politicized it all. By the time Mr. Obama flew to Afghanistan to give the speech that was supposed to cap the anniversary events, the tide had turned against the president’s self-serving grandstanding. Then Mr. Obama’s phrasing that the troops overseas are “fighting on my behalf” helped undo weeks of effort seeking to build bridges with the military.
Weak April job numbers threw cold water on the official Obama campaign kickoff last weekend. Images of empty seats at what was supposed to be a standing-room-only event became the lead story. This reinforced the sense that there is a lack of enthusiasm about the campaign. Losing primary votes to a prison inmate in West Virginia the following Tuesday didn’t improve the optics.
This week began with Vice President Joe Biden coming out in support of same-sex “marriage,” which led to three days of debate and speculation and general criticism of Mr. Obama’s failure to make the issue a priority. When he finally did back the idea on Wednesday, it caused a temporary wave of pro-Obama hysteria in some quarters. More careful observers noticed it wasn’t a policy shift but a statement of Mr. Obama’s personal beliefs that really changed nothing. Others noted that he hasn’t signed a promised nondiscrimination executive order which would be more substantial than a wordy pronouncement patting himself on the back.
Mr. Romney was mostly absent from the headlines in recent weeks, but that’s no problem. Mr. Obama was doing his work for him. The self-inflicted wounds keep happening, and the president’s down days keep stacking up.