It is far too early to know whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will win the presidential election, but the latest polls must not be giving Obama much comfort. The New York Times/CBS poll, one heavily skewed to give the Democrats a bigger margin (surprise, surprise), shows Mitt Romney with a 3-point lead over the president. It is within the margin of error, but it nevertheless reveals Romney quickly widening what was a large gap in the president’s favor. Sixty-two percent of the respondents said that the economy and jobs were most important to them in deciding who the candidate of their choice should be. In other words, Romney’s lead is due to the belief of those polled that he would be able to deal with producing jobs and improving the economy better than the president.
For the president’s base, his recent announcement in favor of gay marriage was greeted with an outpouring of gratitude. But when asked by the pollsters whether Obama’s support of same-sex marriage would make them more or less likely to vote for him, 26 percent said less likely and only 16 percent said more likely. A strong 57 percent said it would not influence their choice at all. Moreover, 67 percent of those polled said Obama’s announcement was done for political reasons, while only 24 percent thought he announced it because he thought it was right. To put it another way, Obama may have motivated his base, but in terms of the general election, his position has not helped him at all.
As others have noted, including Karl Rove, the cover of this week’s Newsweek, depicting the president with a halo over his head and the heading “The First Gay President,” may very well backfire by turning off the half of the country that is strongly opposed to gay marriage. Moreover, the article by Andrew Sullivan in praise of the president’s decision can easily be discounted since Sullivan is not only gay himself and a major advocate of gay marriage, but also a fierce cheerleader for the president.
The poll also revealed that Romney now has the edge in women voters, 46 to 44 percent. Remember that just a few weeks ago, when Rick Santorum was making contraception the issue, all the pundits argued that Romney would lose because he could no longer gain the support of women. And one month ago, the same poll showed the president leading among women by 49 to 43 percent. That is an astounding gain in a short time frame.
All of the above explains why the Democrats are trying to make Romney’s personality, rather than the economy or foreign policy, the issue in the campaign. That is why you will continually hear that Romney is a bully, that he put his dog on top of his car during a vacation trip, and that as head of Bain Capital he caused many to lose their jobs and to suffer. Once a bully, always a bully.
What Romney has to do now is not only counter the disingenuous video released yesterday about how horrible Romney’s leadership at Bain Capital was, but explain to the electorate how democratic capitalism works. And here, surprisingly, Obama’s former auto czar, Democratic financier Steve Rattner, came to Romney’s defense on Morning Joe. When asked by Scarborough what his thoughts were on the Obama campaign video, Rattner replied:
I think the ad is unfair. Mitt Romney made a mistake ever talking about the fact that he created 100,000 jobs. Bain Capital's responsibility was not to create 100,000 jobs or some other number. It was to create profits for his investors, most of whom were pension funds, endowments and foundations. It did it superbly, acting within the rules and acting very responsibly and was a leading firm. So I do think to pick out an example of somebody who lost their job unfortunately, this is part of capitalism, this is part of life. And I don't think there's anything Bain Capital did that they need to be embarrassed about.
If a leading Democratic liberal and Obama supporter like Rattner, who himself has become a millionaire from equity funds management, can tell the truth when asked, clearly the electorate can also be informed about how capitalism works. On this point, the Romney team has already responded with their own video showing that Romney’s team created thousands of jobs in Indiana by funding another steel company. And, of course, they can point to the many jobs lost and dealerships closed as a result of the terms of Obama’s bailout of Chrysler. Under capitalism jobs cannot be guaranteed. As Joe Scarborough pointed out, his late father used to say when he was laid off for a year and a half that “if you want a guarantee of employment, go to the Soviet Union.”
So as it looks now, the president is in for some rough sledding. He will attempt to deal with this by increasing the attacks on Romney as a person, and by shifting left in order to reassure his dwindling base that they have reason to come out and do the kind of legwork that enabled him to win in 2008. Look for more promises to students, women, gays and African-Americans — pie in the sky that the gullible among these groups, he hopes, will respond favorably to.
If the Republican Party does not mess up its chances, it is indeed possible that Mitt Romney will be our next president.