Is it time to start anticipating a Mitt Romney comeback?
When we ask this, we are by no means discounting what has been perhaps the worst stretch of the campaign for Mr. Romney to date. It’s been so bad that political observers (including many Republicans) have gone in the past few weeks from calling the race a dead heat – as they have virtually all year – to declaring Romney an official underdog.
But Romney’s bad stretch has been going on for so long now – with his campaign lurching from gaffe to gaffe, while outside Republicans snipe and wring their hands – that it just seems like, at some point soon, the narrative’s got to change.
Call it a law of presidential politics: Reporters who cover campaigns can only write the same story (“Romney is losing!” “Now he’s really losing!”) so many times before they start looking for a new angle. And often, voters start to root for the underdog.
Some of the pieces for a potential Romney comeback may already be in place.
For one thing, while the polling in a number of swing states has shifted in President Obama’s favor, that shift has also been small – hardly an insurmountable deficit for Romney to overcome. The media has given the polls a lot of attention because it’s the first time either candidate has seemed to hold a true lead, in a race where polling has generally been pretty static.
But already, many observers are calling for a reality check – particularly since some national polls seem to be closing again, with Gallup’s daily tracking poll today giving Mr. Obama just a 1-point lead. As ABC News's Rick Klein writes Wednesday: "National tracking polls have the race back to its pre-convention virtual tie, and the battleground state polls for the most part have Obama leads inside the margin of error. All of which means we could be just a few news cycles away from the Romney comeback – and all that panic would be running to the other side."
In addition, As Decoder’s Peter Grier wrote Wednesday morning, some conservatives now seem to be circling the wagons (though others are exhibiting something verging on despair). Many are encouraging Romney to turn his latest “gaffe” – his secretly recorded comments at a fundraiser, calling 47 percent of Americans “victims” who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives – into a rallying cry. By drawing a clear contrast between himself and President Obama on the issue of government dependency, some argue Romney could actually come out stronger.
Last but not least, we'll say this outright: Romney has a great chance to win the debates. He's pretty much guaranteed to head into the October contests with low expectations – many Americans think of him as stiff and unlikable, a far less natural and convincing performer than Obama – which means that all he needs to do is seem slightly more personable and down-to-earth than he’s been made out to be, and it will be celebrated as a whole new Romney. And as we saw during the GOP primary season, Romney can actually be a very strong debater. If he stays on message and throws in a few good personal asides (funny and self-deprecating; no $10,000 bets) he could charm viewers and pundits anew.
It may not be enough at this point, with just seven weeks left before Election Day. But we wouldn’t be at all surprised if Romney narrows the gap and makes it a race again.