By Christian Heinze - 08/29/12 09:00 AM EDT
When Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan leave the applause of the Republican National Convention, they’ve got a string of decisions to make as they try to break out of a summer stalemate with President Obama.
Here, then, are the big three issues Romney strategists are facing.
According to The Boston Globe, the Obama campaign outspent Romney by roughly 3-to-1 over the summer, but now that advantage shifts to Romney.
At a Yahoo and ABC News panel on Tuesday, Romney strategists said much of that money would be spent on TV ads and promised an “even mix” of positive and negative ads.
But is that a smart ratio?
Over the last month, Romney’s campaign has released 12 30-second TV ads, all of which contained some kind of attack on Obama. Candidates like to call these “contrast” ads, and they’re intended to drive up the unfavorable rating of the opposition. The only problem is that, many times, they drive up the unfavorable rating of the candidate waging the attack.
That could be particularly troublesome for Romney, who’s already dealing with a problem on that front.
According to the Talking Points Memo (TPM) aggregation of national polls, only 41 percent of respondents have a favorable view of Romney, while 44 percent have an unfavorable view. By comparison, 48 percent have a positive view of the president, while 46 percent have an unfavorable view. To be sure, neither
Romney’s nor Obama’s numbers are stellar, but it’s hard to imagine Romney winning 50 percent of the vote when only 41 percent of voters actually like him.
At this point in the game, Romney needs to drive up his own favorable ratings, not bring Obama’s down. Voters are familiar with Obama and dissatisfied with his record, but they’re even less familiar with Romney.
Mark McKinnon, former ad maven for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, notes, “I think voters know all they need to know about Obama, and they need to know a lot more about Mitt Romney. And that’s where they should spend their money.”
After picking Ryan as his running mate, Romney’s campaign notably pivoted from its singular focus on the economy to a very aggressive pitch on Medicare. It was a surprising move, because Democrats have generally fared better, electorally, on entitlement issues. But the Romney team seems to have calculated that by striking first, it could make the more lasting impression.
And, indeed, there are signs it’s a good impression. According to the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll, voters preferred Romney over Obama on Medicare, 45 percent to 42. Yet, regardless of how impressive that small lead is, Romney was still stronger on the economy, 50 percent to 43, and even stronger on another economic measure, the budget deficit, 51 percent to 38.
As Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, notes, “Romney can’t afford to take his eyes and efforts off the one issue that can make him president: the economy. So the GOP should run an aggressive rear-guard campaign on Medicare, and Romney should focus squarely on jobs and economic growth.”
At this point, both parties are equally galvanized behind their nominees and, more than ever, attention now shifts to independents.
That’s very good news for Romney, because polling suggests he has a much higher ceiling with independents than does Obama, and it’s why this election is, ultimately, Romney’s to lose.
As a group, independents are much more sour on Obama’s job performance than are voters at large. According to a recent Fox News poll, only 36 percent of independents approved of Obama’s job performance, while 54 percent disapproved of it. Yet despite that, Romney was only winning 42 percent of independents.
That leaves 12 percent who didn’t like Obama’s performance but still weren’t sold on Romney.
As rough as that sounds for Romney, it’s nevertheless a great area of unrealized potential for him. Disgruntled, undecided independents voters are ripe for the picking, yet many haven’t made up their minds. According to the TPM aggregate, Romney is leading Obama among independents, 43 percent to 41, but he has the chance to go much higher, thanks to Obama’s low approval rating with the group.
Florida, the most important battleground of all, is a great case in point.
According to the most recent Quinnipiac/New York Times poll of the state, Obama’s approval rating with independents in Florida is just 39 percent, while 52 percent think he’s doing a bad job as president.
Despite that, Romney is only beating the president 48 percent to 44 among independents. If you go by the general axiom that a president only wins the votes of those who approve of him, Romney should actually be winning with independents, 52 percent to 39. That, in turn, would shift the state decidedly to Romney.
Upshot? Romney has a great chance to break out of the summer stalemate, but he’s going to need smart advertising, messaging and targeting to do it.