Two diametric narratives apply to the way in which the presidential campaign has unfolded this summer. The first is the conventional wisdom: A grinding summer has produced a bland and vitriolic stalemate in which President Obama is consistently ahead by a nose.
I look at the race a second way: The summer represented political torpor, but it planted the seeds for some dramatic changes in the race’s dynamics during these final months, which will ultimately push Mitt Romney over the top.
The conventional wisdom is not without its merits. This summer has featured American politics at its worst. Our discourse has been tainted with irrelevant tiffs over everything from tax returns to crony capitalism to “legitimate” rape. For shame.
The Obama campaign is the chief architect of this negativity, as it knows that such a cheapening of our politics is its only path to victory. With a miserable record of economic and fiscal leadership, the Democrats have jettisoned any offers of substantive policies. Seriously, can anyone cite a single concrete proposal the president would execute in a second term?
Consequently, President Obama has maintained a steady but tenuous lead in many national polls. But in reality, swing state polls are all that matter, and both campaigns know it. The president’s decent numbers in the West — buoyed by crushing margins with Hispanics — and Eastern battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Hampshire, where independent voters still provide him a slight edge, give him some reason for optimism.
Yet to accomplish this, the Democrats have paid a steep price. Already handily outraised by their Boston foes, Chicago has hemorrhaged millions of dollars over the course of this summer. It seems the same fiscal naivete Democrats bring to Capitol Hill is compromising their ambitions for November. Donations to the president’s campaign are down steeply from four years ago, and many big Democratic donors are sitting on the sidelines this time around — or even defecting to the Romney camp. With that in mind, serious questions arise about the financial viability of the Obama campaign when the race gets down to the critical final weeks of October.
So I offer this alternative assessment of the state of the race: Romney has demonstrated that, at the very least, his business acumen is a boon to his campaign. Republicans are flush with cash, and their fundraising numbers have grown quarter by quarter. More importantly, they are being smart with their money.
By booking coveted late-fall advertising slots early, Republicans have enjoyed cheaper media buy rates, giving them more bang for their buck. Expect poll numbers to shift substantially as the inevitable belt-buckling of the Obama campaign is paired with an emerging explosion of GOP dollars toward advertising and voter turnout operations.
When the polls have closed on Nov. 6, I expect a Romney win not only because of his fundraising advantage, but also thanks to some basic structural advantages in the race. Unemployment numbers remain frightening, and overall confidence in the health and prospects of our country are at an all-time low under this president.
Furthermore, the courageous pick of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as the Republican vice presidential candidate is beginning to pay dividends. Florida, crucible of the aged, is not nearly as hostile to the Ryan addition as Democrats had expected. In fact, seniors in Florida and beyond appear to genuinely like Ryan. Look for Florida to shift bit by bit toward the GOP.
At the famous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle,” in Zaire, Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman, with Foreman charging into the ring and ceaselessly battering Ali. Ali covered himself, stayed light on his toes and let Foreman slug away until he tired himself out. Once Foreman was spent, Ali unleashed his attack and knocked Foreman out, winning the bout with his “rope-a-dope” strategy.
Frankly, I think the analogy applies to this race. Obama may be the current frontrunner, but he’s wearing out, giving Romney the opportunity to land a knockout punch.
I never thought I’d say it, but if he can keep floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, Romney is on track to be the Muhammad Ali of the 2012 presidential election.
Sam Dulik is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.