“The back-to-school season is here, and as parents take their children to shop for school supplies, I suspect that many of them will be visiting a Staples store. I'm very familiar with those stores because Staples is one of many businesses we helped create and expand at Bain Capital, a firm that my colleagues and I built. The firm succeeded by growing and fixing companies.”
-- Soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in an op-ed written for the Wall Street Journal.
Try to figure how a poll which shows 57 percent of likely voters believe America is a civilization in decline and that has a huge plurality believing the country has changed for the worse in the past years still shows a dead-heat between an incumbent president and his Republican challenger.
If you look at the latest FOX News poll just as it relates to President Obama it seems unimaginable that any incumbent in such a condition could win reelection.
-- Obama is upside down on his overall job approval and lags on his handling of the economy, the number one issue this year by 12 points.
-- By an almost 20-point margin, respondents said that they would rather the federal government leave them alone than lend them a hand.
-- When asked whether it was fair to say Obama wants to make Americans more dependent on the government, 53 percent said yes and only 44 percent said no.
That is a dire slate for any incumbent Democrat, but particularly bad for one whose major liabilities relate to spending too much and intervening too much while failing to revive the consistently crummy economy.
For all the talk about the Obama Democrats “defining” Republican Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, one thing is very clear: the president is very well defined after four years as a big-government liberal. That’s not a good brand in swing-state America.
So how is the race still tied? Because the effort to define Romney has been nearly as successful.
The 10 percent of respondents who said they were undecided or rejected the major party choices reveal that the holdouts in the 2012 election find little to like in Romney.
This group strongly disapproves of the president’s performance (to the tune of 55 percent) but doesn’t seem very pleased with the GOP nominee either. While Obama suffers a 12-point deficit on personal favorability among these voters, Romney’s rating stands at a whopper-jawed negative 28 points.
Every re-election campaign is about the electorate answering two questions: Do we want to keep the guy we have and is the person running to replace him a plausible pick?
As we prepare for the two-week convention kick off for the fall campaign, it is clear that Obama has failed the first question. With 74 days until the election there isn’t a way for the president to turn public sentiment in favor of his administration. That’s probably been a lost cause since May, but now the window is firmly closed.
That’s why Obama and his team have focused on personal attacks on Romney for nearly five months. As Vice President Joe Biden so often says, “Don’t compare us to the almighty, compare us to the alternative.”
The central emphasis of the Obama campaign has been to make Romney an unacceptable alternative. But given all of the slashing and bashing so far, Romney is still hanging on.
Respondents in the poll were 6 points less inclined to believe Romney wanted to make the rich richer but neglect everyone else – a charge that is the ethos of the Obama campaign – than they were the Republican charge that Obama is seeking greater government dependency.
The other big knock on Romney is that he is more interested in political expedience than principle. While nearly 60 percent said Romney would “say and do just about anything to get elected,” Obama scored just as poorly.
And therein is revealed the danger for the president. He has succeeded in his goal of stoking resentment against Romney, but he has also made himself into a very typical politician in the eyes of the electorate.
This creates a scenario in which fed up moderates and independents declare a pox on the houses of both candidates and sit out the election.
Obama has been seeking this kind of base-versus-base election and his long, negative campaign has helped shove people into their respective camps sooner than usual. The president’s team believes that the power of incumbency combined with a superior turnout operation will allow them to win a narrow victory.
But the alarming sign for the blue team is this: The president has failed to close the voter intensity gap for month after month. Romney supporters lead Obama supporters 64 percent to 54 percent on the question of whether it is “extremely important” for their candidate to win.
In a tie race, that would mean victory for Romney.
That’s why the president is trying to ring as many alarms for Democrats as he can. Talking about abortion is a risk for Democrats, who have seen public sentiment move away from their support for elective abortions. But Obama needs to get his voters marching. Maybe not the way they were in 2008, but enough not to get badly out-hustled.
For Romney, the next week is all about reintroducing himself to a crabby and skeptical electorate.
The first step came with his selection of Ryan as his running mate, helping cast Romney as a serious man and a serious fiscal conservative.
The effort continues today in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which Romney told the story of his 25-year career as a corporate turnaround artist. He explained how he could use the same skills to remake the federal government, thereby stimulating the logy economy.
And it will continue through the next week and through his acceptance speech in Tampa on Thursday. The message will be the same one we always expected from Romney: competency, accomplishment and steadiness. It’s not sexy, but it’s certainly a plausible presidential pedigree.
Obama failed to land the kill shot on Romney before this final phase of the campaign begins. If he wants to win, Romney needs to make the most of the next week.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“The media always had a liberal slant since the earth cooled. But what has happened with Obama got out of hand. In 2008, the media was so much in the tank for Obama that they needed snorkels.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.