If we learned anything during Monday's third and final presidential debate, it's this: President Obama is on the ropes, and he knows it. His debate style—scrappy and combative—gave him away early and often. Momentum is no longer his friend.
The comfortable lead that the president enjoyed heading into the first debate, the one where he was confidently non-existent, has all but evaporated and he’s now barely hanging on in swing states that were once considered “in the bag.”
The proof is in the delegate rich battleground states of “FLOHVA”—Florida, Ohio and Virginia—and the other toss-up state of North Carolina. In recent polls in each of these states, the president’s lead has been erased, leaving Romney to close the gap or even move ahead.
In Ohio, the president’s lost a lead of 6 points from two weeks ago and is now either tied with or losing to Romney. Trend: Romney.
In Florida, the two most recent polls by Rasmussen and Angus/Reid have Romney up by five. There are even whispers in Florida of the Obama camp pulling out altogether. It's a far cry from the 3 to 4 point lead Obama was enjoying back in September. Advantage: Romney.
In Virginia, where polls had been all over the place the past month, some now show Romney with the lead. Here again, the two most recent polls—Wenzel Strategies and Rasmussen—have Romney with a 2 and 3 point lead, respectively. Trend: Romney.
And finally, in North Carolina, the picture for Obama is the bleakest of all. In late September, the race was a tie. Now? Romney is up by six in the most recent Rasmussen poll. Advantage: Romney.
This electoral contest has had Obama ahead for most of the 12 rounds these two have been in the electoral ring. But now, Romney has Obama on the ropes. The question is whether he can pull off a knockout.
Romney has a chance—only a chance—but he’s got to change his playbook to make it happen. From the primaries through last night, Romney has been the management consultant candidate. And like a consultant, he critiques and tweaks the ideas of others—which works for consultants trying to fix other peoples' businesses and strategies, but doesn’t work so well in bare-knuckle politics.
Rather than giving credit to Obama for what's worked, which he has done many times in the debates like a paid business consultant pointing out what's working for the client before revealing his recommended adjustments to those strategies, Romney instead needs to stand up and take ownership of the underlying ideas themselves. After all, he could easily argue that much of what has worked under Obama has been based on conservative and Republican principles. Watching the debate, one is struck by how often Romney could have—and should have—turned Obama's successes into his own.
Let’s take healthcare, President Obama’s signature piece of legislation which Romney says he doesn't like and will repeal. What Romney doesn't do is emphasize that he invented the core of Obamacare in Massachusetts, and that it's similar to healthcare proposals offered in the 1970s by President Nixon and in the '80s and '90s by Republicans in Congress—all of which makes Romney the right guy to fix it and perfect it on a national level.
Foreign policy? Romney says Obama has made the US weaker. How? Not exactly clear, since President Obama has killed Bin Laden and, by all accounts, has weakened al Qaeda. In fact, what President Obama has done is continue many of the Bush policies that he railed against in 2008. He didn't close Gitmo. He ended operations in Iraq not in 2009 on his self-imposed deadline, but in 2011 which was Bush's deadline. He had a troop surge in Afghanistan, just like Bush did in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama's playbook consists of reconstituted Republican foreign policy initiatives and strategies that Romney could and should own, rather than criticize.
Immigration: This past summer, Obama announced that his administration would not deport undocumented immigrants who met the criteria of the DREAM Act—a bipartisan effort—that is rooted at least in part in the policies of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and John McCain. Own it, Governor Romney.
The economy? This is where the president is most vulnerable. Americans don't care what countries Obama has visited. They do care about putting gas in the tank and food on the table and this is where Romney should be strongest. It's not necessarily a Republican strength, but it is his strength. Paint a picture of a terrible job market, of anemic employment numbers, of spiraling debt, of unaffordable education costs, of a real estate market still in the toilet, and tell Americans how you'll use your unique business acumen to make it better. Close the deal, Governor.
Governor Romney, make this case to the American people. With less than two weeks left, and a president reeling in the polls, stand up and take ownership of Republican policies, especially those that Obama has called his own. Make people understand that the ideas that are working and moving the country forward, the ideas that President Obama takes credit for, are Republican ideas and yes, they’re your ideas, Governor.
He's on the ropes and this, sir, could be your knockout blow.