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Down the home stretch

Likeability may handicap Romney

A week from today, it’s all over. Amen.

Billions of dollars in tasteless campaign ads and a bevy of boorish political exchanges — marked by political promises experience has taught us will go largely unfulfilled — have brought us to the cusp of Election Day.

Isn’t it a shame that nice guys have to run negative campaigns to convince us they can take this country in a positive direction?

Where mere months ago it looked like election night would render an early call for Obama, it now looks to be a late night. This race is a dead heat. It could well be that the Democrats who have long decried the Electoral College post Bush versus Gore in 2000 will be parroting its praises in Tuesday’s wake. That is, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Romney will win the popular vote and Obama the electoral vote.

It could get downright ugly.

The infamous white board — brainchild of the late Tim Russert in 2000 — is likely late into the night to read: Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire. (Some have Virginia in the mix, but I think Romney will carry it.) Of course, no Republican has ever won without Ohio. For Romney, however, there is still a path even with a Buckeye loss: Wisconsin, plus one.

An Ohio loss alleviated by a Wisconsin win — with follow up wins in either Nevada, New Hampshire, or Iowa — could balance the board. It’s a tall order, particularly in Nevada, where Hispanic voters never quite warmed to the Romney theory on “self-deportation.” Shocking.

To Romney’s credit, he proved once again that debates MATTER. He won the first, fought to a draw in the second and fell short in the third. Yet even in defeat, he succeeded across the board in looking “presidential” in the end. And, nationwide, independents and swing voters gave him a second look.

As I have said before, he sought in the debates not to defeat President Obama — but the status quo. He resisted the urge to indict Obama the person and focused steadily on Obama the president — highlighting his lofty promises and languishing results. It has resonated.

Deficit? You didn’t cut it in half. The national debt? You’ve accumulated more than virtually all past presidents — combined. Unemployment? Not in the 6 percent neighborhood as predicted for this year (post-stimulus), with 23 million still unemployed and millions more under-employed. Gas prices? Nearly doubled. Food stamps? 15 million more Americans are on them. Those “fat cat bankers” on Wall Street you had no interest in helping? You’ve taken more campaign money from Wall Street than any politician in the past 20 years. Median household income? Down over $2,500. To boot, you passed a health care bill more than half of Americans still want repealed.

Romney robustly highlighting this (failed) record has met with approval on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, problems don’t matter if Americans don’t buy your solutions. And telling them to “visit my website,” well, good luck with that, governor.

The simple fact remains: A lot of Americans, well, just don’t like Mitt Romney. As John Kerry learned, it’s not easy being the rich guy running for president. Swing voters generally agree that Obama has not delivered, but here’s the catch: they still like him.

I have sat in focus groups with voters from Nevada to New Hampshire … Wisconsin to Florida … during this campaign. Ask them who “understands the problems facing people like them” and Obama gets the nod. Ask them who can “solve the problems facing people like them” and Romney gets the nod. And, more often than not, to the sympathizer go the electoral spoils.

Obama has struck a meaningful chord with war weary voters — that is most of us — with his message of getting out of these wars (and leaving it to troops we trained to be accountable for their own security) and doing some “nation building here at home.” Most folks agree.

As for Romney, he largely missed an opportunity to define who he is and what he believes. Obama, his seedy Chicago surrogates, and an unabashedly biased media have gone after him for his infamous “47 percent” remark — much the way folks on the right went after Obama for his own verbal misstep about “guns and Bibles.” I wish Romney had stepped up, addressed it, admitted it was a mistake and then offered this clarification:

“My point, Mr. President, was one about personal responsibility versus government dependency; that we don’t judge the success of government by how much money it gives out — but rather by the opportunity it creates.”

No doubt, Romney gets the problems facing this country and has demonstrated a capacity to fix them. But too many have come to the conclusion that he doesn’t “get” the American people — they are not a “business.”

At the end of the day, a majority of Americans believe we are a country headed in the “wrong direction.” And the sad but simple truth is, we may well wake up one week from now with the SAME government we have today. Democratic White House. Democratic Senate. Republican House.

Whether you are, as they say, a Democrat or an American, I think we can all agree it is hard to change direction with the same drivers at the wheel. I’m just glad it will all be over soon.

Ben Clarke spent 10 years working as a speech writer and political consultant in Washington, D.C. He is now based back in his hometown of Greenfield, where he works for a global political, corporate and entertainment communications firm. You can comment on a piece by sending an email to benclarkeopinion@gmail.com.

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