Recent columns have dealt with “bounce,” the political commodity presidential nominees hope to generate from national political conventions. The highly scripted events allow candidates and their surrogates to reach out over the airwaves to voters in living rooms across the country, without, at least for a few minutes, interference from the analysts and pundits sometimes referred to as “the chattering class.”
After the Democratic convention, polling by Gallup showed President Obama with a modest bounce, leading Mitt Romney by 6 percentage points, 50 percent to 44 percent, 3 percentage points better than his lead before both parties held their conventions.
That was lower than the average bounce of 5 percentage points, but it was better than Romney’s showing after the Republican convention. Gallup found Romney moved the needle by 2 percentage points to his advantage, the lowest level since the polling organization started tracking the bounce effect in 1984.
The race right after the GOP convention was a dead heat, with each candidate at 48 percent among likely voters.
Instead of bouncing back from his post-convention showing, Romney has been on the defensive in recent weeks.
First, he battled criticism over his comments about attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Then there was the leak of a video, taken at a private fundraiser in May, in which he expressed contempt for the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes.
Even so, the race appears to have tightened up, with an average of recent national polls compiled by the site RealClearPolitics this week showing Obama with a slim lead over Romney, 48 percent to 45 percent. But every poll showed Obama ahead, some by as much as 5 percentage points, some by as little as 1 percentage point.
An Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Tuesday showed Obama ahead in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia. In Ohio, Obama was ahead, 50 percent to 43 percent, a troubling sign for the GOP challenger. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
A Wall Street Journal analysis pointed out a very difficult road ahead for Romney, who must compete with Obama across a wide range of groups in the electorate, as well as across a number of swing states. Even though Romney has plenty of money, this situation is challenging, even for the most organized and cash-rich of campaigns.
The difficulty is to find the right combination of messages to move each group in your direction. Focus too much on one bloc of voters or one state, and support can drop among others.
Romney is making the job more difficult by being on the defensive, and it’s starting to show up in polling results.
Among college-educated white voters, Romney had a 13-percentage point lead in May. Now, the Wall Street Journal pointed out, he trails Obama by 2 percentage points.
What about wealthier voters? Romney was ahead among people in households with incomes above $100,000, but Obama is now ahead.
The most recent poll results show Obama up by 16 percentage points in this group, 56 percent to 40 percent. Care must be taken when slicing and dicing the electorate, but if that number holds, it could be a sign Romney is losing a key part of his coalition.
Meanwhile, Obama is ahead among women and minority voters, and essentially tied with Romney among male voters, the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed.
The Romney campaign has the resources to soldier on, but is running out of time to develop the right messages to gain traction against Obama.
Meanwhile, the state and national Republican Party organizations, conservative PACs, interest groups and organizations may begin to recalibrate their strategies.
If Romney isn’t generating coattails, they may decide to shift their focus to congressional races, hoping to keep the House in Republican hands and take control of the Senate, blocking Obama.
Next month’s presidential debates will be the best chance for Romney to generate a last-minute surge of momentum. But by the time the first debate takes place, on Oct. 3, early voting in Ohio will have started.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.