The coming weeks will bring four debates, a new avalanche of attack ads, and massive efforts to turn out voters. As a distracted country begins to tune in, candidates will focus on the sliver of Americans who are political enough to vote but not so partisan that they’ve already decided.
On Friday, President Obama and Mitt Romney began their sprint, each appearing in multiple states. Both focused on new jobless figures, the latest signal of the dismal economy that has hung over this campaign from the start.
“We know it’s not good enough,” Obama told an audience in Portsmouth, N.H. That statement applied just as much to his candidacy as to his country. “We need to create more jobs faster.”
Even now, after all that Romney and Obama have already said and done, it’s likely that many of their campaigns’ defining moments are still in the future. At this point in 2008, for instance, Lehman Brothers was still in business. Joe the Plumber was still just Joe, a plumber. And Obama was behind.
This year, Romney is hoping that the next plot twists will favor him.
“I know there’s a lot of bad news out there, but I’m looking beyond the bad news,” Romney said in Orange City, Iowa, trying to project optimism about both the U.S. economy and his own campaign. “I’m looking over the hill and seeing what’s going to happen just down the road just a bit. And what’s going to happen is America’s about to come roaring back.”
This is the last lap of a race that has always been close. Obama officially began his campaign last April. Romney began his last June. Now, after 15 months, the two remain virtually tied in national polls.
Obama does have a slight lead in two of eight key swing states: Florida and New Hampshire. Obama’s staff believes it has a “small but important” lead in others. But the polls show the remaining six — Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin — are still anybody’s guess.
In the past two weeks, both parties had hoped that their elaborate conventions might finally move this election’s stuck needle. Romney tried and failed: Polls showed no significant “bounce.” Obama’s convention ended Thursday, so it’s too soon to tell whether he did better.
At this point, few voters seem to be genuinely undecided. Polls show that less than one in 10 is genuinely open to changing his or her vote. But now, two vast machines — campaigns and allied organizations with at least $1 billion to spend — will set out to change the minds they can and motivate the ones already on their side.
On Friday, Romney’s campaign rolled out a $4.5 million ad buy, 15 new TV spots in eight states. “Here in [insert state name], we’re not better off under President Obama,” the ads said.
“This is when ordinary people, as opposed to you and I . . . really begin to pay attention,” said Candice Nelson, a professor at American University. “Most people have real lives.”