We’ve now been running our presidential forecast model for almost two months, but very little has changed in our analysis of the race. Each day, we have shown Barack Obama as a modest favorite to win re-election.RealClearPolitics' Sean Trende sees something similar and holds that to move the polls Romney must go positive. While 90-percent may have made up their minds already (what the Pew poll he's talking about shows), the remaining "undecided voters" want to know more about Romney (Quote set identical to that in Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish):
Third, among independents -- who are almost certainly the lion’s share of those who have not yet formed a strong opinion of Romney -- 42 percent say they want to know more about his record as governor, 37 percent want to know more about his record as CEO of Bain Capital, and 35 percent want to know more about his tax returns. Just 21 percent of independents want to know more about his wealth, 19 percent want to know more about his family and upbringing, and 16 percent want to know more about his religious beliefs.This stuff, Ed Kilgore says, is exactly the list of things Romney doesn't want to talk about!
But we all understand why Romney hasn’t “gone positive,” don’t we? Just look at the things Pew’s independents say they need to know more about: Mitt’s gubernatorial record is a snake pit for him, featuring accomplishments that he dare not talk about for fear of offending his party “base” and/or exposing flip-flops. He clearly doesn’t want to talk about his taxes. And whether or not you think the attacks on Bain Capital have “worked” so far, they have certainly neutralized that part of Mitt’s life as a clear positive.Can That Work?
As I've said, I think that Romney's plan is to simply wait for the economy to melt down and collect his winnings. If the economy melts down it'll work. If it doesn't--or doesn't badly enough--it won't. But until then he has to avoid looking too scary to moderates and not alienate his base and so that means keeping his mouth shut. That, and going negative: if he can keep Obama from talking about his Bain tenure and manage to have the conversation be about something other than his tax returns, he can presumably keep the vote to a failing economy referendum.
That has its perils too, of course: Scott Walker called out Team Romney for being "too cautious."
What Do I Think?
Apparently Team Obama thinks they have a winning hand with the Bain attacks and despite some early stumbles they've never wavered from their preferred mode of attack. There's some historical credence to this approach against Romney:
From what I understand, he tried to tout his Bain credentials in his 1994 Senate run against Kennedy and was brutalized for it. Eight years later, he began his gubernatorial campaign by running on his biography and quickly fell behind by 10 points; only when he went harshly negative did he close the gap. Four years ago, he tried to remake himself as a social conservative warrior in the Republican primary and he fizzled before CPAC. This year, he went nuclear against Gingrich and then Santorum and cruised to the nomination. That’s a lot of reinforcement for the idea that the path to victory lies through keeping the focus on the other guy.In the end, I think that Romney has a Kerry Problem (The poll shows Romney at 35 / 40 favorable / unfavorable):
It turns out that Kerry, according to NBC polling, never had a net-negative favorability rating. At this point eight years ago, he was 42/35. Even after his September 2004 Swiftboating, he stayed above water 43/42, and was 44/43 right before the election.
For all the comparisons with 2004, that's one big difference—Kerry was far better liked than Mitt Romney. And Kerry wasn't exactly beloved.Romney is a reasonable candidate for president. He checks all the boxes and has, if only barely, enough credibility with the base and enough moderate tonality to win with the more moderate electorate--but he lacks charisma and, to a degree, actively works against it when we see his massive wealth and his apparent inability to keep quiet about "his friends who own NASCAR teams." Team Obama is right to try to get their "introduction" of him in before "the election starts." Indeed, if it's true that 90% of the electorate has "made up their minds" then despite what the conventional wisdom says, the election not only has already started ... maybe it's almost finished.