For a year now, Obama advisers have believed that Mitt Romney’s pedigree, business background, lower tax rates, offshore accounts and silver-foot-in-mouth tendencies present exactly the wrong profile to run up the vote totals he needs among blue collar whites to win the presidency, potentially enabling Obama to survive a terrible economy. Back when Romney was still locked in a battle with Rick Perry, Obama advisers were telling people about their plans to paint Romney as a corporate predator who prioritizes profits over jobs and communities, is out of touch with what ordinary folks are going through, thinks keeping taxes low on the rich is the answer to everyone’s problems, and keeps his own rates low via murky international financial dealings.
What’s remarkable is how closely Romney himself has voluntarily hewed to the script produced for him.
On Friday, Romney released his 2011 tax returns, but only revealed an average rate paid from 1990-2009. Even some Republican strategists are questioning this move, as well as his broader refusal not to come clean earlier, claiming it allows Dems to continue raising questions about Romney’s offshore accounts and about what he may be hiding about his own low rate. Romney’s dismissive comments about the freeloading 47 percent were perfectly tailored to the narrative the Obama camp has been spinning. And now the Obama campaign is out with a brutal new ad in Ohio, which has a big population of blue collar whites, weaving those strands together:
* Romney’s struggles among blue collar whites: If you want to understand what the above ad is all about, read Tom Edsall’s piece on Romney’s difficulties with those voters. Edsall references last week’s Public Religion Research Institute study of these voters, which shows Romney winning among them by a sizable margin, but he makes the excellent point that this is because his margin among them in the south is huge; elsewhere, blue collar whites are much more divided:
Romney’s relatively poor showing among working class whites outside the South supports the argument that the Republican nominee is having a hard time connecting with some of the voters he needs to win. His problems reinforce the privately voiced fears of Republican operatives, as well as the openly voiced criticisms of the Romney campaign by primary opponents like Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.
The hope harbored by Republican political professionals — that Obama was sufficiently unpopular among non-college whites to make up for Romney’s shortcomings — has failed to take concrete form. The trouble Romney finds himself in today also suggests that the barrage of early advertising by the Obama campaign and allied groups attacking Bain Capital has proven to be a successful tactic, at least so far.
As I noted here last week, that study shows that these voters will probably be receptive to some Romney arguments about dependency, but there’s also a strong strain of economic populism and skepticism about unfettered capitalism that could make it tough for Romney to produce the numbers among them he needs.
Romney may still win this race, which is a reminder of how challenging the economy is for Obama. But if Romney loses, it will be remarkable how closely he hewed to type, as the Obama team envisioned it from the outset. Indeed, even some right-leaning writers foresaw it. As Matt Lewis asked back in January, “Gordon Gekko image to replace the Republican elephant?”
* Romney’s pitch to blue collar whites: The new ad from the Romney camp again blasts Obama for not standing up to China. This again confirms how central winning over those voters is to his chances.
* All eyes on Ohio: Caitlin Huey-Burns on the state of play in Ohio, where Romney’s claims that the Obama economy is a disaster are getting complicated a bit by John Kasich’s repeated assertion that things are getting, well, better. A new poll puts Obama up five there, and as Christian Heinze notes, the numbers show that Romney’s “are you better off” frame is not translating into an advantage for him. Obama leads by 4.1 in the Real Clear Politics average.
* More national polls show Romney losing: Jamelle Bouie rounds up new polls from Politico and Zogby, and concludes:
He consistently trails Obama, hasn’t held a lead in national polls, and is nearly five points way from the 50-percent mark in most polling averages. His support is collapsing among core demographics like older voters, and he has lost his advantage on the economy.
* Obama holds advantage on Medicare: A new Gallup poll finds that Obama holds a sizable edge in a dozen swing states on who is more trusted to address Medicare, 50-44. Obama’s advantage is significant, given Romney’s massive investment in the claim he is looting Medicare to pay for Obamacare. The poll was taken before Paul Ryan was booed before the AARP.
* Romney’s edge among older voters has evaporated: A new Reuters poll finds that not only is Obama gaining the advantage on Medicare, but Romney’s advantage among seniors has dropped from 20 points to just four in the period after the Dem convention.
The convention featured Bill Clinton offering a very effective rebuttal to the Romney charge that Obama looted Medicare to pay for Obamacare. Winning big among seniors is crucial to Romney’s hopes.
* Why Romney’s theory of the race may be flawed: Joseph Cera gives us the political science that explains why Romney’s question — are you better off — is not the one that voters are asking themselves as they choose their next president. Many seem unwilling to acknowledge this possibility, but it may be that voters are not seeing the economy in the simplistic terms they were supposed to.
Relatedly, a good point from Jonathan Bernstein: If Romney has based his candidacy on a misjudgment of how swing voters perceive the economy and the Obama presidency, blame the conservative closed information feedback loop, which encourages politicians to imagine that undecideds view reality in the same terms as the GOP base does.
* But Romney’s team is sticking with it: Mark Halperin:
The unrattled strategists in Boston continue to profess a belief that, in the end, the conditions of the last four years, and the pubic sentiment that the President would continue to govern as a liberal, are enough to cause a surge on Election Day that is not being fully picked up in the polling.
But, again, the vast majority of the recent polling shows that voter thinking on the economy just may not be following Romney’s script.
* And the markets don’t agree with Romney: Romney has claimed the markets will be happy if he wins, and unhappy if Obama does. But as Paul Krugman notes, even as the conventional wisdom has become that Obama is likely to win, the markets have gone up . As Krugman notes, we’re now at the point where Romney himself is supposed to be the “confidence fairy.”