Nationally, President Obama has been able to keep up a consistent (albeit slight) lead over Romney in most national polls for the entirety of this campaign. Currently Obama leads his Republican opponent 47.6% to 45.1% according to Poll Tracker. In most swing states things are beginning to look worse for Romney. This week there was a largely unnoticed campaign “reset” for Romney so that the voters would get a chance to, yet again, be reintroduced to him. This reset ignores the most apparent and challenging aspect of this campaign for Romney: he and his team are not in control of it.
Even in the Republican primaries Romney had a limit with, at the most 30%, of likely Republican primary voters voting for him. No matter how hard they tried, Romney's primary opponents were their own worst enemies. Whether it was Rick Perry's "Oops" moment, Michele Bachmann saying that vaccinating children could lead to developmental disabilities, or Herman Cain’s sexual harassment allegations, Romney couldn’t defeat them until they defeated themselves. It says a lot that when the campaign became a three-man race between Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum that Romney still faced tough resistance from candidates with such baggage. Romney’s strategy was to stay on message and wait for the others to fall.
But now Romney is in a national campaign and he is facing even tougher opposition. This time he is going against a seasoned campaigner with clear national appeal. Obama is no Cain or Bachmann. People know who Obama is, and even when he does put his foot into his mouth (“You didn’t build that”) the effect is merely to arouse the base that is already voting for Romney; it doesn’t give independents a sudden epiphany about Obama’s character that bring them to Romney’s side.
Worse yet for Romney, he is now the one making gaffes. His steady hand that led him through the primaries is now shaking. For a man with nearly no foreign policy experience that wants to become Commander-in-Chief, his comments on the attack on the American consulate in Libya did him no favors with independents. His comment (however out of context) about being “not concerned about the very poor” did his image as an out of touch elite businessman from a wealthy family no favors. And his now infamous comment about the “47%” was the rhetorical equivalent of blatantly setting himself his own ceiling, while at the same time dismissing a large amount of the exact type of voters he needs (elderly and military).
So what can change this? A lot can happen in the over 40 days until Election Day that will help Romney overcome this challenge. The most obvious is that during debates Obama could make a Perry- level gaffe. While this is unlikely it is a possibility. Romney merely doing “well” in the debates won’t get him over the hump, especially considering the last debate is on foreign policy. The second thing that could happen are not in domestic territory and are truly out of Romney’s hands. A large foreign crisis could happen that rapidly shifts the conversation. A Euro zone collapse that has a majorly negative impact on the American economy would undeniably be good for Romney since he’s clearly been harking on the economy this whole time. And the last but certainly not least is an Israeli strike against Iran. None of these things make Romney president, but they would shake up the national conversation, which Romney desperately needs.