More than most Americans, I’m guessing, I spend a lot of time walking up to total strangers and demanding to know their name, age, occupation, voting history and current preference in the presidential race. I try to be congenial about it, but direct. We’ve got an election coming up and the last thing we want to do is wait for the actual vote before declaring who’s going to win. This is why we have scientific polling. My job, as I see it, is to take a random sample of opinion from out there on the streets of America, talking to anyone and everyone, though I prefer people with interesting hats.

You know my speech on this. Anyone on a tractor is good. Anyone in overalls. Bartenders. Nuns. A nun on a tractor. Anyone wearing a sandwich board sign, or in a chicken costume. Anyone with an old-fashioned job like farrier, cooper, fishmonger or ragpicker. You get the idea. You are always happy as a reporter when you’re talking to a guy waving a hand-made sign at a lonely crossroads and he turns out to have a name like “Beauregard” or “Leviticus.”

This is all Journalism 101 and I don’t even know why I’m writing it, other than to fill the white space between the ads.

Though I hardly have a comprehensive sample of American opinion, and my reporting is anecdotal in the extreme, one thing I’ve noticed is that very few people say they love Mitt Romney.

Or even that they really, really like Mitt Romney.

Rather, I’ve heard a lot of people say, when I ask who they’ll support, that they really hate Obama. They’ll go on and on about that for a while, and then I’ll say, “And what about Romney?” And they’ll say something like, “Well, he wasn’t my guy, but at least he’s not Obama.”

Some are a bit more positive than that, to be sure (Romney’s sons, for example, think he’s great), but I don’t hear many people saying that Romney is their ideal president, or that Romney has said or done something that has really won them over. No one has said they were wavering until Romney converted them.

That doesn’t mean he can’t win. He can. This will probably be a close election again. But it’s a handicap when you’re trying to win the presidency and you can’t stir the hearts of the people who might potentially vote for you.

In any campaign, that kind of effusive support, laced with emotion and idealism, may be fated to turn into disappointment when the revered political figure fails to deliver on promises (not thinking of anyone here in particular). But it’s probably an essential feature of becoming a winning presidential candidate. You can’t win on negativity alone. You can’t win on being merely an acceptable alternative. I don’t think. I offer this thought with sincere modesty — I’m often wrong about this stuff. But Romney is not merely asking the American people to fire their current president; he is also asking them to elevate him, Mitt Romney, to the highest position in the land.

I doubt he can become president if the election is purely a referendum on Obama.