Obama's Advantage, Romney's Openings

Assessing the campaign's final phase

Normally, a president presiding over 8 percent unemployment and a country that sees itself on the wrong track wouldn't stand a chance. But then a candidate with Mitt Romney's shortcomings, including his failure to ignite much enthusiasm within his own party, wouldn't stand a chance, either.

The combination of the two explains why this election remains close, but President Obama heads into the campaign's last phase with some major advantages, starting, as Ronald Reagan did, with a rock solid base. These voters will support him no matter what the economic numbers say. Their commitment helps create an electoral map that also favors Obama, particularly with Ohio stubbornly retaining a tilt the president's way.

Obama also has a benefit of the doubt from many voters because they know he inherited an economic catastrophe, a point powerfully made by former President Bill Clinton in Charlotte. And more voters are enthusiastic about Obama, the man, than about Romney, the man. That's why Team Romney had to spend so much time at the Tampa convention rescuing Romney's personal image. It also explains the wide energy gap between the two conclaves.

Democrats were so eager to help Obama that it seemed they were ready to cheer even the reading of a phone book or a grocery list. Tampa was flat. Charlotte was hopping.

In fact, the same candidate dominated both conventions. But the centrality of Obama to this election is also where Romney's advantages begin. If Republicans are rather temperate about their own nominee, they are resolutely determined to oust Obama. This gives Romney at least some maneuvering room with his base.

The economy's difficulties form the Alpha and the Omega of Romney's efforts -- and the economic reports between now and Election Day seem unlikely to show a sudden spike upward in the country's financial fortunes. Romney still has time to convince enough voters that they'd be better off if they changed presidents.

Romney will have a money edge. In presidential races, cash gaps don't make that much of a difference as long as they are not too big, and Obama's fundraising will at least be competitive. More worrisome to Democrats is how the super PACs financed by billionaires and multimillionaires might affect House and Senate races.

Still, money does buy Romney additional options. The Republicans will have extra dollars to use in trying to make states currently solid or leaning to Obama -- Wisconsin, and perhaps Michigan -- more competitive. Obama can't afford to be sucked into contests in states he should be able to count on.

The debates next month are Romney's biggest opening, and he's very disciplined in his approach to such encounters. He used them effectively to turn back primary challenges from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. The president, on the other hand, is out of practice. And although Obama performed well in the 2008 debates against John McCain by directing almost every word he spoke to swing voters, debating has never been his strongest suit.

Indeed, some of Obama's most loyal supporters see an additional debate risk for him: The president can look arrogant and dismissive when he doesn't respect an opponent or when he feels he has the upper hand. Obama can afford no "you're likable enough, Hillary" moments. Romney will try hard to cause or manufacture them.

Nonetheless, there is a sense after Charlotte that Democrats are on offense in a way Republicans are not. The Charlotte Democrats were unstinting in expressing their devotion to veterans and to the men and women currently serving in our armed forces. They thereby poached on territory Republicans took for granted, thoughtlessly left open to them by Romney. In Charlotte, there was much talk about upward mobility as a family enterprise. This provided Democrats with a traditionalist counterpoint to a GOP that now speaks in relentlessly materialist terms about investment and business.

Democrats also opened up foreign policy as a new campaign front, both in Obama's own speech and in a forceful and entertaining address by Sen. John Kerry. Foreign policy will only be a marginal issue this year, but it favors Obama -- and close elections are won on the margins.

There is, finally, the politics of class. Romney Republicans really do look like the party of very rich people. Persuading Americans that wealthy people have to do even better for the rest of the country to do well is the hardest sell Mitt Romney has to make.

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

The facts are, congressional Democrats are wealthier than Rebuplicans.  There have been countless article written to back up those facts, just google it.  Another fact is that most of the wealthy Republicans "earned" their wealth while most of the dems inherited it.

Here's one of many articles on the topic:


FYI, Senators Kael, Warner, and Kerry are much wealthier than Romeny.

Money inside, nothing gives a presidential candidate more advantage than already holding the office and unlimited media access.


Where will the battle lines be finally drawn? Over an economy no one seems to be able to control? Over the concepts of austerity or of public funding to stimulate private enterprise and hiring? Over a nation's world demeanor that is war threatening and bullying, claiming an 'exceptionality' that gives it permission to spend freely on its military?

Or, in my observation, the interior fight going on within folk when they enter that voting booth to decide what they really believe about fairness, about race, about wealth, about opportunity, about our social  conscience. I hope the brighter lights prevail.

Mike I think you have it backwards.  Public funding does not "stimulate private enterprise", but private enterprise certainly stimulates jobs and makes public funds possible.  Where do you think the government money comes from, trees?

What I do  agree with you on (at least in a related way),  is that all that is "wrong" is merely the consequences of "we the people."  When we have peaceful hearts, and live in God's truth, not our convenient realities, we will have harmony in all things.  

It's only our disconnect from God that causes the problems we now face,  and only we the people who determine in what kind of society we live, for better of for worse.  The choice is always ours.

Romney has one trait that is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The trait is that he  has no real center, no moral core. He will say anything he thinks the occasion requires even if he said the opposite just an hour before. He has the morals, in other words, of a cheap prostitute. Obama, while he is flawed, he is flawed in human ways and not flawed as a badly-programmed cyborg. I think people sense the inauthenticity in Romney and are both frightened and repelled.

Actually money does come from trees. It is insignificant pieces of paper that only belief in causes value. It is based on our GDP which means our work. As we continue to make less and less in America our money is based more and more on service jobs that produce nothing. So our money is essentially based on nothing. That is why economies can go under as soon as the public loses confidence in their currency. Money is an illusion. One we are forced to participate in to live in this world we have constructed. Christ tried to warn us about the pursuit of money by throwing the moneylenders out of the temple. Obviously a lesson we didn't learn. For many years in America the rich, unions and the government strove to make a more fair playing field and we prospered. Now that the greedy have come to power we are in economic  trouble. No mystery here. A large prosperous middle class produces demand which produces jobs. CEO's cut jobs wherever they can. That is their job. Nothing sinister there. If the Republicans get in this trend will continue. If Obama gets in and he tries to change things even a little, the Republicans will stop him from doing anything their "masters' don't want. We are in a lose lose situation. The only comfort I find these days in in church. There I can atl least commune with the true reality.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment