By Lanny Davis - 05/09/12 11:49 PM EDT
Virtually every poll in the last two weeks — Gallup, Democracy Corps, USA Today, Rasmussen, New York Times/CBS — shows that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat nationally as well as in the nine battleground states.
For Obama, is this glass half-full or half-empty?
33 percent wrong track. You’d have to ask Romney the question: If you are not ahead of Obama given these numbers, how can you expect to defeat him in November?
But there is also a lot of bad news in these polls about Mitt Romney, which paradoxically could mean even worse news for Obama.
For example, on the key issue of likability — which I believe in most elections is more important than all — Tuesday’s Gallup Poll reported that Obama is more likable than Romney by a 2-to-1 margin, 60 percent to
31 percent. On a “feel warm”/“feel cold” scale in the American Corps poll, Obama was 18 points ahead of Romney.
Romney has shown the ability to fix his problems on issues — he simply changes his positions. But can he change his poor likability numbers?
We have seen months and months of politically tone-deaf gaffes (“I’ll bet you $10,000,” “I like firing people” or — sorry, can’t resist — “Seamus liked it up there on the car roof” — even though the dog’s bowels had turned to water, leading Romney to hose down the car and Seamus and put him back on top for the rest of the 12-hour trip).
His basic personality — he is perceived as being cold and lacking authenticity — might not be fixable.
Moreover, Romney also consistently shows significant deficits versus Obama among women (especially working women) and Hispanic voters (running behind Obama in most
polls by 2-to-1).
But to state the paradox again: Bad news for Romney can be interpreted as worse news for Obama — if he is not running ahead of Romney, given all his personality and perception weaknesses as a presidential candidate, that shows a fundamental problem that seriously threatens Obama’s success in November.
And what is it? I think it comes down to the core message of his campaign thus far — the liberal populist message that appeals to the liberal base (including me) but doesn’t seem to please the crucial centrist independent bloc, the classic “swing” voters who will ultimately determine the outcome of the presidential election.
This week’s Politico/George Washington University poll shows Romney with a 10-point lead among independents. According to the Democracy Corps, those voters who define themselves as independents — including independents who say they lean Democratic or lean Republican, is as much as 30 percent of the electorate.
And what will move these voters? According to the Democracy Corps poll, voters favor “a plan to dramatically reduce the deficit over the next five years” by a margin of more than 3-to-1
— 59 percent to 19 percent. We know from past history that these are the Ross Perot/Bill Clinton swing voters who are fiscally conservative and socially moderate. They are up for grabs in 2012.
A midcourse correction in message strategy appears to be in order for Obama and his campaign to consider. The president can pre-empt the center and turn these independent voters in his direction by endorsing the across-the-board approach of Simpson-Bowles.
He can do so dramatically in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, if not before. And he can challenge Romney to do the same.
This is a strategy aimed at persuading the persuadables — and, if the economic news remains as mediocre on Nov. 6 as it is today, it could be Obama’s best and perhaps only chance of pushing that glass above half-full and winning in November.
Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which also specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. He is the author of the book Scandal: How “Gotcha” Politics Is Destroying America.