Mitt Romney and the ‘captain of the ship’ question

September 11, 2012

Mitt Romney's hopes of a win this November rely on convincing a majority of voters of one simple idea: That he is uniquely suited to steer the ship of state during these trying economic times.

He's not there yet, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which asked registered voters "on a ship in a storm, who would you rather have as the captain?"

Forty-six percent of registered voters named Obama as their preferred captain, while 43 percent chose Romney. Among electorally critical independents, it was even closer on the "captain" question, with Romney taking 44 percent to 43 percent for Obama.

Why is the captain question so important to Romney? Because on virtually every other character attribute question, he is being swamped by Obama.

Who do you think would make a more loyal friend? Fifty percent of registered voters named Obama, while just 36 percent chose Romney. Fifty-two percent said they'd rather invite Obama to a dinner at their house, while just 33 percent chose Romney. Ditto who you'd rather have take care of you when you were sick: 49 percent chose Obama, while 36 opted for Romney.

Dismiss these sorts of poll questions if you want, but they speak to the broader perceptions that people have of the two men running for president. And perception/feel/heart has far more influence in determining how someone votes than do policies/head. Obama is the caring, friendly one. Romney has to be -- repeat, HAS TO BE -- the competent, trustworthy one.

To win, Romney has to have voters think to themselves two things. 1. "I like Obama more but I don't think he has what it takes to get the country out of this economic mess." 2. "Romney may not be a guy I want to hang out with but he knows that he's doing."

When (or if) you get on a ship or a plane, you don't much care about what a great guy or gal the captain is. You care far more about his or her ability to dock the ship/land the plane.

That's the dynamic Romney needs in order to win in eight weeks times. And the Post-ABC numbers suggest he's yet to grab the tiller -- bad metaphor alert! -- on the "captain" question just yet.

Crossroads GPS launching new Senate ads: The GOP outside group Crossroads GPS is set to announce the launch of $2.6 million worth of new ads in three top Senate races: Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

In total, five spots will run in three states -- three of them in Virginia -- hitting Democratic candidates on a range of issues. The Ohio ad features a football theme, while the Nevada ad hits Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) on Medicare.

The ads will start tomorrow and air for one week.

Crossroads GPS is the issue advocacy arm of the American Crossroads super PAC.

Fixbits:

Paul Ryan returns to the Capitol for Thursday's votes.

Ryan praises Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his stance against the city's teachers union strike, putting Obama on the spot.

new national poll from Business Investors Daily and the Christian Science Monitor shows no convention bounce for Obama, in contrast to other polling.

Todd Akin: Still not dropping out.

A new poll in Massachusetts shows Elizabeth Warren (D) closing to within one point of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) has landed the backing of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), burnishing his bipartisan and foreign policy credentials in his matchup this November with fellow Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman. The two Democrats both made the general election under California's new top-two open primary system.

Must-reads:

"The Ghost of George W. Bush" -- Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast

"Nominees Leave Congressional Candidates to Stump Alone" -- Helene Cooper and Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

"Mitt Romney tries at once to appeal to moderates and to rally conservatives" - Philip Rucker, Washington Post

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Peyton M. Craighill · September 11, 2012