On Oct. 3, I raised a question here that reflected President Obama’s strong momentum and Mitt Romney’s apparent readiness to accept defeat.
“Are you a good loser, Mitt?” I wrote.
I have my answer. I’ve gotten it so many times in the last 17 days that I am now convinced of it.
The answer is no, Mitt Romney is not a good loser. He is instead determined to be the next president of the United States.
And I am starting to believe he will be.
The New & Improved Mitt took the stage in the first debate, which came on the day of my question. The timing is important, because the day marked what, in hindsight, was the low point of the Romney campaign.
He was drifting, not fighting, and seemed oddly content with a race sliding away, as though the nomination was victory enough. Obama, on the other hand, gave every indication he wanted to keep the job, no matter what it took. His re-election had a growing sense of inevitability.
Then came that first debate, where Romney’s brilliant performance and Obama’s snooze flipped the script. But it is now clear Romney’s sudden zest wasn’t a one-off. He has continued to gain support after the second debate, an illustration of the power and depth of the change to his approach.
Some polls show him leading nationally by as much as 6 points, and the Electoral College map is moving in his direction. Romney still needs more states in his column and there is plenty of time for the race to swing back to Obama.
But there is no denying that we have witnessed a man rising beyond what seemed his ability to meet a challenge. If Romney were an athlete, we would be asking whether he’s on steroids.
That’s how good he’s been. Partially, he moved the needle by putting meat on the bones of his tax-reform plan and linking it to economic growth and jobs. Obama responded by calling him a liar — not very presidential — and failed to match him with a second-term agenda that would give undecided voters a rationale for backing him.
The change in Romney is reflected in his appearance and demeanor. He looks to be standing straighter, yet not as stiffly. His gestures are firm, his language crisp and sure. He projects a level of conviction that, to my eyes, is new.
The new Mitt showed up at the Al Smith dinner Thursday night. His delivery of the biting jokes, some at his own expense, was direct and his timing was shockingly good. His bearing, instead of merely business-patrician, was elegant and leader-like. You could say it was presidential.
That’s part of the change — he is acting as if he is going to be president. It’s more than simply trying on a new coat. I believe he fully intends to own it.
The effect on the 1,600 New Yorkers jammed into the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom was powerful. The ovation he received after his 10-minute speech was far stronger than when he began. It was a killer performance before a hard-to-please crowd.
Obama followed and, while he was good, seemed duller by comparison. He spoke a minute less than Romney, a sharp break from their debates! In the charitable spirit of the evening, both men were movingly gracious to each other and their host, Timothy Cardinal Dolan. But it was Romney who used the occasion to pass another test on another stage.
He still faces a long, winding road to the White House, and doing well in Monday night’s final debate is essential. But because of his newfound determination, Romney controls his own destiny. The race is his to win.
To continue reading Michael Goodwin's column in the New York Post on other topics, including the New York City mayoral race, click here.