President Obama is losing. So says the latest Gallup poll, and so do those swelling numbers in key states like Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia and Ohio.
Perhaps Obama lost the presidency weeks ago, on Oct. 3, when he sleepwalked and scribbled through the first debate and helped make Romney a new candidate overnight. It was Obama's night to finish Romney off; behind in the polls, even Romney likely woke up that morning thinking it was over. But Obama underestimated the task, the challenger and the electorate — all in 90 minutes. So a win this week was critical but perhaps not decisive. There is no obvious reason for Obama's performance to reverse the course of the campaign and blunt Romney now. And though there is one final debate next week, a back-and-forth on national security and foreign policy isn't likely to make the sale for anyone who still cannot make up his or her mind.
Romney is arguing Obama has still failed to articulate a reason, plan or purpose for a second term. He is correct. But Obama has indeed, late in the game, come up with a more forceful defense of his first term, and an argument about the economy growing from the middle out instead of the top down.
In addition, Democrats finally did their research and came up with some embarrassing changes in policy positions by Romney to debut at the debates and are cutting new flip-flop ads around the clock. Stunned by the loss of female support the Romney debate surge has cost him, Obama is focusing intently on shoring up the votes of suburban women and giving them binders full of reasons not to buy what Romney is selling.
Romney too is running new ads about his abortion flexibility, his support for contraception and the job losses among women in the last four years. He has been fortunate that Obama's campaign and the Twitterverse have ignored his giddy prediction of Tuesday night that "We're going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I'm going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women." A clunker, one could argue, even worse than his comment about the "binder full of women" he compiled to locate qualified women for his Cabinet as governor of Massachusetts.
Indeed, though President Obama was deemed the debate winner by numerous snap polls this week, the polls show just how firm Romney's support has grown. In every poll he beat Obama by a wide margin on who is stronger on the economy.
Obama can expect, even if he wins another debate on Oct. 22, that this will remain a tight race or that Romney will begin to break away at the end. Obama's September surge resulted from an increase in Democratic enthusiasm, which is waning. As Romney has hardened his support among Republicans, he is also winning over new voters, leaving Obama with the task of exciting his base of Latinos, women, African-Americans and young voters. Without enough of them he loses. With less than three weeks to go it's hard to see where he finds that excitement.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.