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For Romney, Now Is the Time to Make His Case

Dan Balz at the Washington Post has an excellent column on Mitt Romney's predicament today. Romney is trailing in the national and swing state polls and is starting to give the impression that he would shoot from the hip in foreign policy. He won't release any more tax returns and won't explain the specifics of any of the policies he would follow as President. It is increasingly clear that he has to shake up the race to improve his chances. Other pundits agree with Balz, as do increasingly many Republican lawmakers and other voices on the right, but it is not clear that Romney sees it that way.

His chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, believes there is a wide disconnect between what pundits like Balz think and what the American people think. Maybe Stevens is right, but the polls and Intrade show that Romney is falling behind. Balz thinks Romney has to make the case for himself, not just the case against Obama. So far Romney has focused his entire campaign on a single number: the unemployment figure. That approach is not working, as a new NYT/CBS poll shows that voters now trust Obama slightly more than Romney on the economy. What Romney hasn't done is explain what he would do to fix things other than a big tax cut. He could have laid out his program in detail at the Republican National Convention, when he had a large audience, unfiltered by the media and with nobody talking back at him. He won't get that chance again. His next (and maybe only) shot is the first debate, on Oct. 3. He needs a clear win there to gain momentum. A tie probably won't change the status quo much.

Democrats Winning on Medicare

For better or worse, when Mitt Romney put Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on the ticket, he also tied himself to Ryan's plan to replace Medicare with a plan in which seniors would get a government voucher and be told to go buy their own health insurance. In a new NYT/CBS poll more than 3/4 of the voters say they want to keep Medicare the way it is. Normally, Republicans have a lock on the 65-and-older demographic, but this is the one issue that could break the lock, with disastrous consequences for the GOP in Florida and Iowa, states with large elderly populations.

Both parties understand the potency of this issue. President Obama will address the AARP's annual convention by satellite this week; Paul Ryan will show up in person to make his pitch to the assembled seniors. Another factor in the battle for the senior vote is Bill Clinton, who is traveling around the country as explainer-in-chief, telling people that the Republicans' plan would mean greater-out-of pocket costs for them. It is true that as the baby boomers hit 65, the cost of Medicare is going to shoot up, but the two parties have radically different approaches for dealing with it. The Republicans' plan is to give every senior a fixed amount of money and have him or her pay for any costs above it. The Democrats' plan, which is incorporated into the ACA (Obamacare), is to reduce medical expenses in many ways, for example, by having panels of doctors determine which treatments work and which ones don't work (which Sarah Palin called "death panels"), electronic record keeping, more preventive care, health care exchanges, and much more.

Obama Getting Just Enough White Voters

If Obama can get 39% of the white vote, he is favored to win reelection. Three recent nonpartisan polls show him with 42%, 40%, and 41%. A Democracy Corps (D) poll shows him with 40% of whites without college degrees, the demographic most resistant to Obama. Part of Romney's problem is foreign policy, where he hasn't passed the "Commander-in-Chief test" yet. On jobs, he has made his point over and over, but it doesn't seem to be quite enough.

Obama Maintains a Huge Lead with Jewish Voters

Despite Romney's visit to Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's almost openly campaigning for him, Romney seems to be going nowhere with Jewish voters. A new Gallup poll Gives Obama a 70% to 25% lead, an improvement over his 64% to 29% lead this spring and about the same as his lead of 69% to 25% against John McCain at this point four years ago. Romney's problem is that cozying up to his long-time friend Netanyahu won't do the job since most Jews are liberal Democrats and more than a few strongly dislike Netanyahu. After blacks, Jews form the second most reliable demographic group for the Democrats although there are a few exceptions (Sheldon Adelson comes to mind here) and there is probably nothing Romney can do to change this.

SuperPACs Go Downticket

Mitt Romney's foreign policy stumbles of the past week may have an effect on races for the Senate and House and even lower offices. As billionaires and superPACs begin to think Romney is possibly a lost cause, they may begin diverting their money to these races. Even with Romney getting full support, GOP-allied superPACs have outspent Democratic ones more than 3 to 1 on Senate and House races since June. This ratio is likely to get much greater now that the Grapefruit League games are over and the real thing has started. Karl Rove's groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, are planning to spend $100 million on Senate and House races and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going to spend $100 million as well. While not quite in that ballpark, Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth are also going to prodigious sums to elect Republicans.

With so much money out there, Republicans can not only afford to defend their 25-seat majority in the House, but target Democrats in blue states and districts as well. However, all this funding does have a downside: it allows the targeted Democrats to paint their opponents as puppets of the 1%--assuming they have the money to get their message out.

Libertarian Candidate Gets on the Pennsylvania Ballot

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, has won one and lost one. A three-judge panel in Pennsylvania ruled that he has enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot. The Pennsylvania Republican Party fought to keep him off the ballot, but lost. No one expects Johnson to win Pennsylvania, but he could get 1-2%, making it even harder for the Republicans to win the state. A new poll in Pennsylvania gives Obama an 11% lead there, but that could be sharply reduced due to the new voter ID law the state legislature passed. Still, almost every vote that Johnson gets is a vote that would otherwise have gone to Romney.

Johnson also lost one battle. He will not appear on the Oklahoma ballot, but that hardly matters since even if he got 10% of the vote there, Romney would trounce Obama. A court battle is still pending in Michigan. Depending on its outcome, Johnson will appear on 48 or 49 states' ballots. As Romney continues to drop in the polls, more and more Republicans may concede that Obama is going to win and then vote for Johnson as a protest.

Today's Presidential Polls

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
New Jersey 51% 37%   Sep 09 Sep 12 Global Strategy
Pennsylvania 50% 39%   Sep 09 Sep 12 Global Strategy

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 49% Josh Mandel 41%     Sep 12 Sep 12 Rasmussen

* Denotes incumbent