In what looks to be a historically contentious campaign season, there’s at least one point on which there’s no argument: The past week was particularly bad for President Obama – a “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week,” as the headline over Chris Cillizza’s “The Fix” blog at the Washington Post puts it.
Look at what happened: Lousy employment numbers report (just 69,000 jobs created in May and unemployment ticking up to 8.2 percent); failed recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin (a major blow to unions, a key part of the Democratic base); Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee raising a lot more money last month than Obama and the Democratic National Committee; Bill Clinton – again – going off-message on a key point Obama’s been trying to make (end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy).
Then, at week’s end, there was Obama’s own major gaffe now chiseled in stone in GOP campaign ads – his off-hand declaration that “The private sector is doing fine.” – which the normally well-scripted Obama had to quickly walk back.
On Sunday, the Romney campaign released a new video contrasting Obama’s “doing fine” quote with images of Americans recounting their economic struggles.
Meanwhile, press accounts of Obama’s tough-mindedness and direct involvement in fighting terrorism became a dispute over whether the White House had leaked sensitive national security information in order to boost the President’s image. Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress are asking critical questions.
Romney, of course, has had his own major gaffes. Who can forget “I like being able to fire people?” Or “I'm not concerned about the very poor.” Or “I'm also unemployed.”
It’s worth noting that in both Romney’s and Obama’s cases, what seemed like insensitive sound bites made more sense in fuller context.
But Obama’s comes a lot closer to the election – an election that inevitably turns on his record during tough economic times, which he (for the most part accurately) ties to Europe’s problems and Republican congressional intransigence.
"An incumbent wants to be talking about how wonderful things are, not how he's trying to turn things around," Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, told McClatchy News. "It may not be his fault, but people don't think that way. They just know that bills are going up, income is down."
"He set the bar high and he's playing up against the expectations game," Mr. Coker said. "At this point in the game, I think Romney is going to have to make a big mistake for Obama to recover."
Still, the election is not necessarily Romney’s to lose, warns Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a well-respected, moderate Republican many had hoped would seek the presidency this year.
“The American people will rightly demand to know something more than he’s not President Obama,” Gov. Daniels said on Fox News Sunday. “He’s got to use this fall as an opportunity to build a consensus across a broad spectrum of Americans.... He better have an affirmative, constructive message.”
Polls show the election close, but Obama still has the edge, according to recent voter surveys.
Three recent polls (Gallup, Rasmussen, and Fox News) show Obama very near the critical 50 percent mark on public approval. Meanwhile, Congress’ approval rate dwindles below 20 percent – useful to the Obama campaign if it intends (like Harry Truman in 1948) to run against a “do-nothing” Congress.
“However, the outlook for the Nov. 6 election is much less certain, with Mr. Obama having winning odds of just over 60 percent,” Mr. Silver writes. “The forecast currently calls for Mr. Obama to win roughly 290 electoral votes, but outcomes ranging everywhere from about 160 to 390 electoral votes are plausible, given the long lead time until the election and the amount of news that could occur between now and then.”
Any major gaffes between now and Election Day – by either Obama or Romney – could tip the results.