Those polls are not definitive predictors of the November outcome, by any means. A movement in the national numbers, which could easily occur in the final weeks, will change the look of many of those states. But at this point, the available evidence suggests that the advantage, however small, is with Obama. If this were truly a dead even race, Romney should be ahead in these polls almost as often as he is behind.
Romney’s team saw June and July as difficult months, a period when the Obama campaign would have more money to spend on advertising than they would (not counting super PAC spending) and a time devoted to expanding a relatively lean staff to get ready for the fall campaign.
His advisers long have said that if Romney can get to his convention with the race close to even, he will be well-positioned to pull ahead during the final two months of campaigning. They still believe that and say they are on track. That presumes that any erosion in his personal image can be turned around quickly before it begins to affect the polls nationally and in the swing states.
That leaves Romney with much to do starting this month. Over the next four weeks, he will need to do what the campaign long has said he would do, which is to introduce himself to the voters in a much more positive and appealing way. He’s known now more for his wealth than anything else, and not in a way that’s helpful.
VP pick and the convention
The candidate needs a fresh look from the voters. He has unveiled new ads and a new focus on the middle class. But his vice-presidential pick will be the first real moment for that fresh look to take place, and this weekend, the Weekly Standard urged him not to make a safe choice of Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, but instead to go bold with either Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin .
The second and more important moment will be the GOP convention in Tampa, which starts in three weeks. He needs a well-choreographed event and, even more, an exceptional acceptance speech. Others have accomplished as much at their conventions, and Obama’s team expects Romney to repair some of the damage from the summer. But has Romney now created outsize expectations for his convention?
Steve Schmidt, who was the senior strategist in Sen. John McCain’s campaign in 2008, does not believe Romney has erred by waiting until now to do this — provided the campaign has a good plan ready for implementation. “They haven’t waited too long,” he said, “but they’re coming up on the hour when they have to do it, and they have to do it effectively.”
A number of Republican elected officials have called on Romney to offer a bolder and more understandable plan for addressing the economy and the deficit. Will he be able to effectively frame the final weeks of the campaign in a way that puts Obama more on defense and himself more on offense?
One example of being on the defensive: Romney hasn’t answered difficult questions that have been raised about who would and who would not benefit from the tax and economic plan he’s put forward. A report from the unaligned Tax Policy Center, which said the plan doesn’t add up, has punched a hole in his platform that begs to be filled.
Friday’s jobless report was a reminder of the president’s vulnerabilities and the stiff head winds he faces in his bid for reelection. With unemployment above 8 percent for 42 consecutive months, the president has to explain more effectively why things have not gotten better faster. Romney advisers see that as a key weakness in Obama’s message.
But Romney must do more than count on the weak economy to assure his victory in November. August will begin to show whether he is up to the challenges that await him.
For previous columns by Dan Balz, go to postpolitics.com.