Earlier this year, many were saying the Obama’s re-election chances for minimal due to a languishing economy and a President who has failed to tame partisan warfare in Washington, D.C.
More recently, as Mitt Romney struggled in a series of primaries against less-than-stellar opponents – losing a number of contests along the way – there was a widespread view that the former Massachusetts governor could ever recover.
As is usually the case, these were premature judgments.
In fact, a close contest is shaping up for President. Obama has significant advantages but so too does Romney. The CBS News/New York Times poll released April 19 showed both candidates tied at 46%, with the independent vote similarly split, Romney 42%, Obama 41%.
These numbers represent a resurgence for Romney now that he has dispatched Santorum, Gingrich, Paul and the others. Part of this may be due to what used to be a post-convention bounce: a candidate, upon being formally nominated, tends to get a burst of publicity and support that then may fade over the next months.
The polls provided mixed news for Romney. While he has picked up strength, a Gallup poll released April 11 showed Romney with only 42% support among Republicans while Santorum was at 24% as he exited the race. Gallup called this the lowest support score for a major party’s presumptive nominee since 1972. George W. Bush, in 2000, had 57% party support at a similar time.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll poll had more bad news for Romney. The poll found that “Mitt Romney has emerged from the Republican primary season with the weakest favorability rating on record for a presumptive presidential nominee in ABC News/Washington Post polls since 1984, trailing a resurgent Barack Obama in personal popularity by 21 percentage points.” Thirty five percent of the public views Romney favorably while 47% have an unfavorable opinion of him.
The same poll showed a major gender gap, with just 27% of women viewing Romney favorably compared to 58% who like Obama. Some recent Republican battles on contraception and other issues have undercut GOP support among women.
But it is important to point out that even with these deficiencies, Romney and Obama were tied in the New York Times poll, and other polls show a small Obama lead. Conservatives may not be enthusiastic about their nominee, but they have begun rallying around their new leader as the non-Obama.
While foreign policy is expected to be eclipsed by economic issues in the campaign, Obama scores well among the public on national security issues, and the traditional Republican advantage on these issues has faded. The ABC News/Post poll showed Americans trust Obama over Romney on international affairs by 53%-36%.
Call it the Osama Bin Laden effect.
Both candidates will have well-funded campaigns. The Obama campaign has been a fundraising machine since 2008 and Romney will now be free to refill his coffers, aided by huge spending by the new superpacs.
The truism that must be repeated is that a lot will be riding on the shape of the economy. The more things keep improving for the country, the better it is for Obama, who will argue his economic policies are working. The more things remain unsettled or regress, the better it is for Romney.
And of course there is what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled the known unknowns: an economic crisis in Europe, a war with Iran, skyrocketing gas prices, a major terrorist attack, the pending Supreme Court decision on the health care bill, Ron Paul running as an independent candidate and other events (Hotline called the three key unknowns the three G’s: Greece, Gas and the Gulf, better than the old three G’s: God, Gays and Guns.)
The contest is likely to be close to the end. It is also likely to be a brutal campaign with charges flying in all directions.