How Romney bungled so many campaign chances


You have to go back to 1996 to find a lead bigger than Obama’s so close to an election, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

THIS WAS supposed to be one of the closest US presidential races in history. Just a few weeks ago, pundits predicted an outcome so tight the result might not be known on the night of November 6th.

Instead, 6½ weeks before election day, the New York Times’s polling wonk Nate Silver gives Barack Obama a 74.8 per cent chance of winning a second term.

The latest Pew Research poll shows Obama eight points ahead of Mitt Romney, at 51 to 43 per cent. You have to go back to 1996, when Bill Clinton led Bob Dole by 50 to 38 per cent, to find a bigger lead in the third week of September. A Fox News poll published yesterday shows Obama seven points ahead of Romney in Ohio and Virginia; five points ahead in Florida. If Romney loses Ohio and Florida, he loses the election.

There are, of course, things that could go wrong for Obama: a gaffe in three presidential debates next month or turmoil in the Middle East. But for months, Romney had a 50-50 chance of becoming the nation’s next president.

He’s a quarter-billionaire who raised more cash in May, June and July than Obama. As long as unemployment stayed above 8 per cent, Republicans said, virtually rubbing their hands in glee at poor job reports, Obama didn’t stand a chance. So how did Romney bungle his?

The Republicans fabricated a fictional Obama who was a Muslim, foreigner and socialist, Joe Klein writes in Time magazine.

As made evident by Romney’s “47 per cent” video, the surreptitiously filmed speech to fundraisers that was the sensation of this week, Republicans also fabricated an imaginary America, half-populated by government- dependent free-loaders. Even the dismal economy they beat Obama with – based entirely on the 8.1 per cent unemployment rate – ignored the boom on Wall Street, which has replenished middle America’s retirement accounts, and the recovering property market.

A landmark investigative report by the Politico website this week found “seven distinct power centres” clashing at the heart of Romney’s campaign.

Politico laid most of the blame on Stuart Stevens, described as “a tortured artist” with “a big-city Hollywood aura” who is Romney’s chief strategist, ad-maker and speechwriter.

Stevens reportedly spiked two addresses he had commissioned for Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Tampa, then drafted a last-minute effort himself, with Romney’s assistance. Gallup rated the flat result the least admired speech ever. Romney forgot to mention US troops abroad, Afghanistan or al-Qaeda. He devoted all of 180 words to explaining his mystery plan to create 12 million jobs.

Then there was the bizarre Clint Eastwood harangue to an empty chair – Stevens’s doing, again. Romney damaged his own credibility by accusing the Obama administration of “sympathising” with extremists who overran US diplomatic missions and killed four US diplomats.

Things got worse this week, when Romney waited 48 hours to correct the disastrous “47 per cent” video, repeating four times in a single answer at a Hispanic forum in Florida on Wednesday night that his campaign was “about the 100 per cent”.

Romney has managed to alienate virtually every voter group except older white men. In his famous video, he told how independent voters – the thin sliver of the electorate who will decide the outcome, most of whom voted for Obama in 2008 – do not like hearing that Obama’s a failure. “They love the phrase that he’s ‘over his head’,” Romney said. “The best success I have at speaking with those people is saying the president has been a disappointment.”

A USA Today/Gallup poll published yesterday showed that 29 per cent of independents were less likely to vote for Romney because of the condescending comment.

Romney joked that he “would have a better shot of winning this” if his father, who was born in Mexico, had had Mexican parents. “We’re not laughing, Governor Romney,” says a Latina woman in an advertisement released by pro-Obama groups yesterday.

The reason, she continues, is Romney’s policies, not his race: his opposition to amnesty for young people brought to the US illegally as children; his support for Arizona’s draconian immigration law and Republican attempts to thwart voting by ethnic minorities.

Romney has pandered blatantly to the Israeli government. A conservative group calling itself Secure America Now yesterday began showing a video of Binyamin Netanyahu in three Florida cities with large Jewish communities.

“The world tells Israel, ‘Wait! There’s still time’,” Netanyahu says, referring to the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon. “And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ ”

Although Netanyahu does not explicitly ask viewers to vote for his old friend Romney, the message is clear. This highly unorthodox intervention by a foreign head of government in a US presidential election is unlikely to help Romney.

In a Gallup tracking poll from July 1st to September 10th, 70 per cent of Jewish voters said they would vote for Obama and 25 per cent for Romney.