Advisers to both candidates say they anticipate the continuation of a close race and that they’re satisfied with where they stand.
“We’re very comfortable with the reality of what this race is about, and we’re not in the momentum business,” said Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist. “We’re in the talking-to-voters-about-their-lives business.”
David Axelrod, chief strategist of the president’s reelection campaign, said conditions in the country militate against any major movement in the polls. While predicting that Obama would win a second term, he said, “I don’t think the structure of the race allows for a big breakthrough.”
History is an imperfect guide to the future, but as the presidential campaign moves into its final eight weeks, Obama and Romney may be looking to the past for inspiration and encouragement as they try to open up what has been a closely fought contest.
For Romney, that past campaign is 1980, when a challenger who happened to be a former governor struggled for months to gain the upper hand against a weakened and vulnerable incumbent, only to break open the election in the final days of the campaign.
For Obama, it may be 2004, when an embattled incumbent with approval ratings hovering below 50 percent and whose major undertaking the country had soured on managed to find a path to victory over a challenger tagged as a flip-flopper who had trouble connecting with voters.
The 1980 analogy holds for Romney the potential for a breakthrough during or after the debates. In that campaign, Ronald Reagan trailed President Jimmy Carter into the month of October. He moved ahead after the candidates’ only head-to-head debate. Romney advisers have said for months that the longer they stay roughly even with the president, the better their chances of winning in November.
Obama advisers, however, see that as a flawed analogy. The electorate was less polarized then than now, with more opportunity for each candidate to attract a larger number of undecided voters than exists today. They also note that Reagan’s image was more positive than Romney’s has been. “There are so many ways that’s not plausible,” Axelrod said of the 1980 analogy, “starting with Obama’s not Carter and Romney’s not Reagan.”
Stevens offered this rejoinder just before Friday’s jobs report. “The obvious parallel is Jimmy Carter, but when Jimmy Carter held his convention, unemployment was 7.7 percent. Now it’s 8.3 percent.”