With the GOP convention kicking off today, the new Post poll neatly illustrates the main challenges Mitt Romney faces as he makes his opening bid to reintroduce himself to the American people on more favorable terms. The poll finds Romney and Obama locked in a statistical tie, with Romney leading 47-46 among registered voters nationally (Obama leads among all adults, 49-42.).
While Romney holds an edge on the generic question of who would do a better job handling the economy (50-43), Obama holds a significant advantage on a range of other questions — gaps Romney simply must begin to close in Tampa:
* Obama leads on who is more trusted on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, 52-38.
* Obama leads on who is more trusted to address women’s issues, 51-35.
* Obama leads on who seems like the more friendly and likeable person, 61-27.
* Obama is seen as doing more to favor the middle class than the wealthy, 61-24, versus numbers on the same question that are completely upside down for Romney, 30-60.
* Obama leads on who better understands the economic problems people in this country are having, 47-40.
Now keep all that in mind as we move on to this next finding: The two candidates are tied on the question of which would actually get the economy back on track. Forty three percent say they are confident the economy will get on track of Obama is reelected; 56 percent say they are not. The numbers for Romney? A virtually identical 43-55.
The key here is that swing voters may be concluding that neither man has the answer to their economic problems. As I’ve been saying, Obama’s best hope may be to fight Romney to a draw on the economy by persuading voters that even if they are disillusioned with the pace of the recovery under the President, neither does Romney have the answer. That’s the goal of the attacks on his Bain years (undercutting his core case that private sector experience has equipped him to turn the country around ) and the new ad starring Bill Clinton claiming Romney would bring back the policies that “got us into trouble in the first place.”
This would free up the election to be fought on other turf — women’s issues, empathy, personal attributes, who would protect the priorities of the middle class — where Obama holds a clear advantage. At the convention, Romney needs to make a more persuasive case that he does have the answer to people’s economic problems. And he needs to begin closing the gap on likeability, empathy and the interests of the middle class, while casting himself as less threatening, hidebound or reactionary to women and minorities. The question is what material Romney has left to accomplish all this.
* Romney has weathered some Dem attacks: One other finding: 63 percent say Romney has a strong character (which is less than the 73 percent who say that about Obama, but it’s very high, given that Dems have painted him for months as a flip flopper with no core convictions.
* Public opposes Ryan plan, but gives Romney edge on Medicare anyway: Still one more finding: Only 31 percent support Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, versus 64 percent who oppose it. But Romney has a slight edge on who should be trusted to handle Medicare, 45-42. Needless to say, Dems need to do a better job persuading voters that the two men would actually do what they’ve promised to do.
Relatedly: Romney holds a big edge on the deficit (51-38), even though Romney has not detailed how his plans would reduce the deficit.
* Romney’s welfare and Medicare assault — all about race? Must read from Tom Edsall: Romney’s false welfare attacks are all about using race to win over economic struggling whites that are deemed persuadable by Obama’s attacks on Romney’s Bain years and tax returns. Edsall argues that the claim Obama would gut Medicare to pay for Obamacare is also racially themed:
Medicare recipients are overwhelmingly white, at 77 percent; 10 percent of recipients are black; and 8 percent Hispanic, with the rest described as coming from other races and ethnicities. Obamacare, described in the Romney ad as a “massive new government program that is not for you,” would provide health coverage to a population of over 30 million that is not currently insured: 16.3 percent of this population is black; 30.7 percent is Hispanic; 5.2 percent is Asian-American; and 46.3 percent (less than half) is made up of non-Hispanic whites.
It bears repeating that these themes show Romney has given up on his previous theory of the race — that he could win on the economy alone.
* Dems plan aggressive response to convention: The Obama campaign is out with a new Web video deriding the GOP convention as a makeover staged by advertising experts who are repackaging him as warm and likeable. It is accompanied by a new Web site, ConventionReinvention.com, a sign Dems are breaking with past protocal in planning an aggressive counterattack during the convention.
* Like father, not like son: E.J. Dionne recalls that George Romney walked out of the 1964 convention to protest Barry Goldwater’s hard right turn on civil rights, and contrasts that with Romney’s accommodation of the hard core conservatism driving the GOP today. As E.J. notes, the contrast perfectly captures the decades-long triumph of the party’s conservative wing.
* GOP convention begins amid Tea Party era: Adam Nagourney has a nice piece on how the convention is getting underway as serious challenges remain for the GOP: Rising no-holds-barred hatred of government, the Tea Party’s insistence on refusal to compromise with Dems, and the Todd Akin controversy are challenging the identity of a party that should be focused single-mindedly on ousing Obama.
* Guess who won’t be at the GOP convention: Alex Roarty has a good roundup of all the people who will not be at the convention because they would complicate the GOP’s effort to portray itself as a “competent, forward-looking party.”
What does it say about the party that its former president and vice president and a number of its leading candidates for president this time around would interfere with that message?
* Obama reelect reality check of the day: I don’t agree with a fair amount of it. But Jay Cost’s analysis of Obama’s remaining weaknesses, how Romney can capitalize on them, why he hasn’t so far, and the pick of Paul Ryan as “change” agent is worth your time.
* And Romney’s strategic dilemma: Niall Stanage notes that Romney is grappling with a perplexing strategic problem: How specific should he get?
Romney needs to get just specific enough to create the impression he has an actual plan to fix the short term economic crisis, while remaining just vague enough to avoid serious scrutiny of his proposals, such as they are, and their actual real world implications. (Edited for clarity.)