So we've had the conventions. It's now post-Labor Day. And many in the media and pundit class have concluded the race is over. The obituaries for Mitt Romney’s campaign are already being written, even by those in his own party. The consensus: he’s too vague. (Ironically, that’s a charge that could be but is not also applied to the president.)
The Wall Street Journal criticized Romney’s lack of clarity on his plans to replace Obamacare: “Mr. Romney’s preexisting political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies ... [S]uch vagueness carries its own political risks.”
Conservative talk radio’s Laura Ingraham expressed her frustration: “If the election were held today, Mitt Romney would lose. This is especially vexing when we have survey after survey showing that two thirds of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction ... Mitt Romney cannot at this point be convincing himself that he’s winning.” She even urged him to break out the PowerPoint presentations if that is what it takes.
And Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard crystallized it: “Romney gained some ground when he chose Paul Ryan. But now he seems to be back to a pre-Ryan sort of campaign. When a challenger merely appeals to disappointment with the incumbent and tries to reassure voters he’s not too bad an alternative, that isn’t generally a formula for victory. Mike Dukakis lost.”
This feels eerily similar to September 2000. I remember it well from the first campaign for George W. Bush. As the incumbents, the Democrats’ convention came second, which I think is always an advantage as you get to step on the other team's bounce—especially back then, when the conventions were separated only by days. Al Gore powered to a lead by a few points, in part because he had what was perceived as a "real" moment at the convention when he planted a prolonged lip lock on Tipper in the national klieg lights.
Add in a few unfortunate events of our own making (anyone remember the "Rats" ad?) and suddenly we found ourselves in what we referred to as "Black September."
But they call it a convention "bounce" for a reason. Because it goes up, THEN down.
Thanks in large part to his performance in the debates, Bush turned things around in 2000. And the Democrats that year did not have one of the worst economies in history to defend or deal with. Just the opposite. Comparatively speaking, people were pretty happy with the general direction of the economy.
So before people get too lathered up about polls like the one showing weak support for Romney in Southern states, I say "Cool down." I think there's a high probability that among a lot of voters who may not be too excited about the Republican nominee, their unhappiness with Obama will trump any concern about extraneous factors like Romney's wealth or faith. And in this economic climate, I doubt many voters will stay home.
I'll stipulate that the Democrats had a good convention, in the primetime hours at least. Clinton's speech was Hall of Fame, first ballot. And Michelle Obama did what only she could do with a spectacularly authentic performance. She served as a human microwave and warmed up the first husband. She made Obama seem "of us" and not "above us." But was that enough?
Both candidates have 56 days left. That's like 56 years in campaign time.
I'm just saying don't write this sucker off yet. There's plenty of time for some dramatic turns before this race is over. Anything can happen. This is politics in America.