We are barely four months away from what many are calling the most consequential presidential election of the modern era, and so far it is impossible to even guess how it might go.
A new poll from the Hill has found that 56 percent of likely voters believe President Obama's policies in his first term have transformed America in a negative way, while only 35 percent believe he has changed the country for the better. That is not a surprising finding given the continued shaky state of the economy. But get this: According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama and Mitt Romney remain in a deadlocked contest, tied at 47 percent among registered voters, basically just where they stood in late May.
Can you say “mixed message”? If both polls are roughly accurate, it seems that many voters who don't like what Obama has done still have no plans to vote for Romney.
That's not a bad assumption. Voters have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of giving Obama four more years: the spiraling debt, a lame foreign policy, Obamacare. But they still have to have a strong reason to believe Romney would do a better job, and so far Romney hasn't given it to them. He says Obama's approach on the economy is misguided, for example, but he hasn't exactly spelled out what he would do.
Yes, the election will be in large part a referendum on Obama's performance, but that's not all it will be. Romney can't get away with merely being “not Obama.” Such a tactic might have worked at one time, but we are too divided these days, so each candidate is likely to get a roughly equal percentage of his base vote.
To win, a candidate will have to pick up a substantial number of the “moderate” uncommitted vote without doing it in a way that alienates his base. That should be a much easier task for Romney than for Obama – late- committing voters tend to break for the challenger and there is not likely to be startlingly good news on the economy or otherwise in the next four months.
The fact that it isn't looking that easy for Romney should give him pause then. He needs to spell out strongly and clearly what he will do about issues such as the economy and tell us what his foreign policy would be. OK, he'll end Obamacare, fine, but what's next?
This truly is the most consequential election of the modern era, and we desperately need a new direction. Romney can provide it, provided he pays attention and takes Obama seriously as a talented campaigner.