by CHARLES M. BLOW
Elections often turn on character moments and the slopes of lines.
They are about who a candidate reveals himself to be under pressure more than who he says he is on stage. And they are about the direction of change when the time comes to vote for change — or to forswear it in favor of continuity.
Taking that into account, at this moment, President Obama’s chances of being re-elected look stronger than they have in months. The Romney campaign seems to be coming off the tracks with no clear vision for how to get back on.
Romney’s panicky, premature excoriation of the Obama administration over violence in the Middle East — a response that was factually flawed and widely panned — only served to shake the fragile faith of those who might be holding their noses to support him. “Anybody but Obama” used to be an effective rallying cry. Lately, it’s been more like “anybody but Mitt.”
Remember: character moments.
It also doesn’t help that Romney seems incapable of concealing his anxiety. He too often looks like a boy who just stepped on a nail and can’t remember his last tetanus shot.
On a side note, it is a poetic twist of fate that a Republican candidate’s crude response to irrational violence resulting from an anti-Muslim video could boost a president who nearly a third of Republicans irrationally claim is Muslim.
Now to the polls. A New York Times/CBS News poll released Friday found that President Obama had a three-point lead over Romney among likely voters and an eight-point lead among registered voters.
And NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls released Thursday found that the president had significant leads in the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia.
Romney needs to win those states, especially given that his supporters are giving up on Michigan and Pennsylvania. Last week, The Associated Press reported that “Mitt Romney’s allies have pulled their advertising from Pennsylvania and Michigan while redoubling efforts in other battleground states.”
And, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out about its polls, “Mr. Obama’s support as a candidate is at or near 50 percent in all three states, suggesting that Mr. Romney must peel off voters who now support the president to win.” In southern farm culture we would call that a hard row to hoe.
A CNN/ORC poll released Thursday found that 68 percent of Americans expect the economy to be “very good” or “somewhat good” a year from now, the highest percentage saying so since 2002. (It’s not clear how many people think it would be better with a change in leadership, but I’d say that growing economic confidence benefits incumbents.)
According to a Gallup report released Wednesday, 30 percent of Americans said that they were satisfied with the way things are going. That wouldn’t seem to be something to crow about, but last year that number was 11 percent.
And a Gallup report released Thursday found that Democrats were tied with Republicans on the issue of who would do a better job of protecting Americans against international terrorism. This is a change after Democrats had trailed Republicans on this measure by as much as 13 points during Obama’s presidency.
That same poll found “the Democratic Party leading the Republican Party, 51 percent to 42 percent, in Americans’ perceptions of which of the two parties would do the better job of keeping the country prosperous. This is a switch from recent years, as the Republican Party was narrowly favored in 2010 and 2011 on this measure.”
Remember: slopes of lines.
The most stubborn line for Obama is the unemployment rate. It’s stuck above 8 percent, which is not good. But a flat line is not nearly as deadly as one moving in the wrong direction. Whatever voters think of the jobs picture — slowly improving or hopelessly stagnant — it’s already cooked into their calculations. And Romney has veered so far from his strategy of keeping the economy at the center of the campaign that he’s losing the only advantage he had. According to the Times/CBS News poll, Obama has now erased Romney’s edge on the economy.
The Christian Science Monitor asked Friday: “Is Mitt Romney running out of time?” It continued: “Should we just call this thing for President Obama now? We’re kidding, of course (hold your outraged comments, Romney supporters!). But, as the old saying goes, there’s some truth in every jest.”
Truly, there is. No one can predict the result on Election Day — overconfidence could devolve into complacency among Democrats — but, at this point, it’s hard to see a path to victory for Romney.
Charlie Cook, an independent political analyst, wrote Thursday, under the headline “Obama’s a Good Bet,” that “Mitt Romney could still win, thanks to the debates and outside events, but the president has the advantage.”
(This column was Published in the New York Times on September 14, 2012 under the title “Advantage, Obama”)
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at [email protected]”