[Krystal Ball’s Provocation]
I agree with Krystal on the basics: Romney has been undercut by Gingrich’s attacks, and most of the Gingrich line of attack will resonate even better in the general. I agree that Romney’s unfavorables are disconcertingly high right now; if they continue, they would be the worst any nominee has carried into the general since 1984 (that path does not end well). I even share the premise that Obama has found a fairness based frame for this election that discomfits Republicans, and is broadly, if not deeply, popular.
There is, however, an overestimation of Obama’s reelection prospects that is taking hold in Democratic circles, and it is worth rebutting. First, at the same time consumer confidence is at its peak level in the past nine months, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 09, its striking that the president’s approval ratings still appear stuck around 46-47-48 percent. Its just as revealing that at the same time Gallup recorded Obama’s best approval numbers since June, its polling gives him no better than a tie with Mitt Romney in swing states. While there is some variance, most battleground state by state polls still put Obama and Romney in a dead heat.
In other words, an incumbent who is defining the race in much the way he wants, who is receiving generally good economic news, and whose likely opponent has stumbled prominently still has over half the country expressing its disapproval and nearly as many voters inclined to reject him as to support him. That’s textbook vulnerability that in polling terms, has not gotten much better.
Second, Obama will eventually face the best funded, most unremitting negative attack any president has ever faced. The Republican Party in 2008 is not the broke, struggling to keep the lines on, kind of party that tried to end off Reagan in 84 and Nixon in 72. In fact, given the circumstances of his rise, and the reluctance of Clinton or McCain to go aggressively negative, its fair to say that Obama will face the first sustained barrage of paid media attacks he has ever encountered. Newt Gingrich can attest that it will make a difference.
Third, the swing group in the 2010 elections, the white working class, remains an Obama trouble spot. These are the voters who formed the vanguard of the Hillary resistance in the late primaries in 08, who moved toward Obama in the aftermath of the near depression in the fall of 08, and who turned decisively away from Democrats in the 2010 midterms in state after state–Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri, etc. Obama’s approval ratings with them are barely above 40 percent.
Its an article of faith with Democrats that Mitt Romney is too elitist or too tone-deaf to appeal to these ancestral Reagan Democrats. The same was said of an awkward investment banker named John Kasich in Ohio; a Pennsylvania think tank analyst named Pat Toomey, who was on record favoring privatization of Social Security; a career politician and lobbyist who had left Indiana, named Dan Coats; and a pedestrian campaigner in Missouri named Roy Blunt, a DC careerist who had more lobbyist ties than any candidate running that cycle. That they all won in 2010, in spite of their liabilities, is one more piece of proof that ideology can trump personality, and that politics is not always high school.
So, color me agnostic on anyone laying odds this cycle. Its been a toss-up for a while now.