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Presidential campaign: lesser of two evils

Unless something noteworthy happens in the Denver debate this evening, Mitt Romney is going to lose this election; it could be a relative landslide.

No Republican can win without Ohio; Obama is up nearly six points. And the numbers in other crucial swing states — from Florida to Nevada to Iowa — are less than encouraging for Romney. When folks on the right are reduced to criticizing the sample method used in the polling, as many have been of late, you know things are bad.

Every economic indicator paints a grim outlook for America. Unemployment is up. UNDER employment (a more telling indicator) is up. The deficit is up. The debt is up.

As I write this, 23 million Americans are out of work. Millions more have simply given up looking. Less than half of the country approves of the job this president is doing. Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans believe we are a country headed in “the right direction.”

And the incumbent president — who pledged over the past four years to remedy virtually all of the aforementioned problems — is going to win.

Remarkable.

Many on the Obama side blame members of Congress; they are an easy target. The inconvenient truth, of course, is that Obama controlled Congress for two years. He got everything he wanted. And still … here we are.

Really, to assert that Obama struggled to deliver because Republicans in Congress made it their MISSION to see him struggle is an insult to Obama; bet he would agree. This is the guy who was ordained the great unifier — the most inspirational orator of his generation. A “post-partisan” politician, he has crisscrossed the country with his teleprompter the past four years. He has had every conceivable opportunity to get Americans on his side. He has had the bully pulpit.

Republicans may have made his job difficult, but they did not make it impossible. His failures are rooted NOT in the obstruction of Congress, but rather the hesitation of an unmoved en masse electorate. Not to mention the fact that Obama surrounded himself by out-of-touch ideologues. Valerie Jarrett, for example.

For those who believe the point is moot — that Obama has indeed largely succeeded — you are in the minority. I have sat in focus groups with thousands of swing-voting Americans during this election cycle in dozens of states. The hope that drove their ’08 vote for Obama has been supplanted by anxiety and fear.

Obama will win this election NOT because they believe he is better; he will win because they (largely) believe Romney is worse. This has devolved into a “lesser of two evils” campaign.

Romney had the money to make his case; he lacked the message. And the damage was done long before the infamous “47 percent” video hit the airwaves.

To recap, you don’t bet a guy “$10,000” in a nationally televised debate; you don’t tell people your wife drives a few Cadillacs; you don’t state that you like being able to fire people; you don’t talk about knowing NOT NASCAR drivers, but NASCAR owners.

Fair or not, these sound bites linger in voters’ minds; they paint the picture of a rich guy who is out of touch. While Romney holds the edge in polling when it comes to the candidate who can fix the economy, Obama holds the edge in polling when it comes to the candidate who “understands problems facing people like me.”

Historically, the latter carries more weight than the former when voters pull the lever. Obama has succeeded in convincing voters that he UNDERSTANDS their problems; Romney has failed in convincing voters that he can SOLVE them.

Though a long shot, a blow-out debate performance by Romney tonight could turn the tide. Romney’s opponent in this debate is not President Obama — it is the status quo.

Romney cannot come out on the attack, blindly trashing the president. He needs to strike a balanced, respectful tone. Indeed, I think he would be wise to apologize for the Republicans, like Sen. Mitch McConnell, who admittedly pulled for the president to fail and made it their foremost mission to render him a one-term president. Because when Obama fails, we ALL fail.

Romney should focus not on where we have been as a nation the past four years, but where we need to go … and how his policies will get us there. He is not talking to President Obama in this debate; he is talking to the American people. And the American people are infinitely worried. They do not feel better off today than they were four years ago, and go into the booths worried that they will not be better off four years from now than they are today.

In short, Romney needs to convince voters that this election is not about the candidate who understands their problems; this election is about the candidate who can solve them.

Tonight is his last chance to convince the American people that HE is that candidate.

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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