The poll figures posted on Real Clear Politics on the eve of the first presidential debate have President Barack Obama leading in every battleground state.
And with 35 days left to go before Election Day and poll numbers that have been mostly static, Mitt Romney’s window of opportunity to break out is closing.
The former Massachusetts governor’s presidential campaign has had a run of bad luck and unfavorable (if not heavily slanted) media coverage.
Romney’s overseas tour experienced some nasty turbulence in London with a self-inflicted wound.
Romney should have used the Summer Olympics in London as a not so subtle reminder to the American public of his success leading Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics out of a quagmire of scandal and financial problems.
Instead, Romney unwisely aired his personal reservation about the city’s readiness for the Summer Olympics, which drew unkind responses from London’s mayor and the UK’s prime minister.
That both of those political figures are members of Britain’s Conservative Party added insult to injury and the diplomacy gaffe with America’s closest ally overshadowed the remainder of Romney’s tour, which included a visit to Israel where he affirmed his commitment to the Jewish State’s security and a stop in Poland where he picked up the endorsement of Lech Walesa, a true freedom fighter and a deserving Nobel Prize winner.
In late August Hurricane Isaac literally rained on his parade, interrupting the Republican National Convention, which was supposed to be Romney’s first real opportunity to introduce himself to the nation.
What attention Romney has attracted since the convention has centered largely around his now infamous (though not necessarily unfortunate) 47% comment captured surreptitiously via video at a fundraiser.
The real problem wasn’t what he said but the media’s hyper coverage on Romney’s comments as opposed to Obama’s economy, a shift in attention that benefits the president and his thus far successful “politics of distraction” operation.
Wednesday night’s debate will be Romney’s chance to frame the election as a choice between two very different directions for the country while doing some damage control.
Romney should not attempt to address all of the attacks by Obama, the Democratic Party and aligned Super PACs but to disarm the most damaging insinuations and mistruths that have been hurled at him while not coming off as rattled or sanctimoniously angry.
The two demographic groups he must make a strong appeal to are female voters and young people, addressing their concerns without pandering.
Romney also needs to speak the language of the hoi polloi and any statistics spouted off should be couched in the form of dollars and people and not percentage points.
For example, the national unemployment rate is 8.2%, which conjures an image of a chart with a sloping red arrow.
Put in faces, that translates into twelve and a half million people out of work.
That’s not a statistic; that’s a breadline that would be America’s seventh largest state or put in another way, more people looking for a job than there are living in Ohio.
Romney must think and speak in “Price Is Right” terms and not the language of an economics professor or the Wall Street Journal Financial section. Save the GDP talk for the Club for Growth speech.
Also, he should avoid wasting any lines. The debate is going to last ninety minutes, meaning Romney will have less than forty minutes to get his message out.
Time taken thanking the debate commission for undertaking a highly prestigious task is time not used discussing the economy and how a Romney White House will make things better.
Romney should avoid following John McCain’s example from 2008 of trying to make people care about issues that they do not, such as campaign finance reform and earmarks.
The debate is not about what matters most to the candidates but to the public choosing between the candidates. Amazing how something so simple was lost on a man who has been a US Senator since 1987 and a two-time presidential candidate.
The biggest priority for Romney on Wednesday night is to paint an economic picture of how things really are, a job that the media refuses to.
One good sign for Republicans is that the debates in the 2012 presidential cycle have been consequential, at least within the primaries.
Though Romney had financial and party establishment advantages over his one-time GOP rivals, the debates were his strong suit and that’s where he eliminated his opponents one by one, debate by debate.
Wednesday night’s debate won’t decide the election. It will, however, be Romney’s best opportunity to reset the race and start moving his poll numbers out of the political doldrums.