With less than seven weeks to Election Day, the American people are turning their attention to the presidential race. Polls say President Barack Obama has an advantage - in fact, some separation - over GOP nominee Mitt Romney nationally and in some critical battleground states - notably Florida, Virginia and Ohio.
How do we account for this? First is the contrast in the two parties' conventions. According to many nonpartisan pundits, the Republican convention was a "flop," whereas the Democratic Party convention succeeded in energizing its base and presenting an appealing message to undecided voters.
Then there is the contrast in campaigns. Even Republican strategists are shaking their heads at the reoccurring missteps of the Romney campaign. Meanwhile the Obama team seems to be making all the right moves, beginning with their success in defining Romney over the summer and then at the convention as being out of touch with the "middle class."
Moreover, one can only think that this image will only grow with the surfacing this week of the Mother Jones video that has Romney (ala Rush Limbaugh) telling a group of wealthy Republicans that 47 percent of the people are on some form of government dole, pay no taxes and take no responsibility for their lives.
Another factor in Romney's growing unpopularity is that he is tacking in an extremist direction. The conventional wisdom was that upon securing the nomination he would move to the center, but there are few signs of that so far. In not doing so, his campaign is alienating broad constituencies - union members, people of color, women, youth, seniors, gays, disabled, veterans, etc.
Romney's lack of a persuasive economic recovery plan also has hurt him in the polls. The expectation was that he would unveil a recovery plan in his acceptance speech at the Republican Party convention. What better place! But he came up empty, except for a few right-wing bromides like cutting taxes on businesses and the 1 percent.
As a result, Romney's advantage in public opinion polls over Obama over the handling of the economy has virtually disappeared. This is a major shift in popular thinking.
Still another factor that accounts for Romney's slippage is that he hasn't given people the sense that he is a steady leader in difficult times. Nowhere was this more evident than last week when the U.S. consulate in Libya was attacked and four Americans were killed. Before the dust had settled and the facts were in, he chided the president for his handling of this heinous attack. His rhetorical, and as it turned out groundless, shot from the hip at the president surprised nearly all, but his most zealous supporters and the Fox News team.
Indeed, people and pundits felt that his criticism was very unpresidential and amateurish; even some of Romney's supporters were turned off by remarks that were transparently self-serving.
Despite this criticism, Romney along with the right-wing media doubled down on their tirade against the president. Not only did the president supposedly botch the response to the attack on the consulate, they said, but the protests in the Muslim countries reveal that the president in foreign policy matters "leads from behind," that he unnecessarily apologizes for the U.S. role in world affairs, that he throws reliable allies like Israel under the bus and that he makes good speeches, but practices bad policy.
And joining Romney and gang (perhaps with a little more subtlety, but every bit as irresponsible and adventurist) was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is itching to go to war with Iran. (Perhaps to boost his sagging poll numbers in Israel.)
I seriously doubt that this desperate gambit by Romney will resonate well with the electorate however. The American people aren't looking for a more muscular foreign policy in the Middle East from their next president. Their memories aren't so short that they have forgot about the cost in blood and treasure of our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. They correctly suspect that a war against Iran would not only enflame the entire region, but lock us into an untenable and costly situation in the Middle East for a long time to come. If anything they look with suspicion on any candidate who cynically plays with American lives for political advantage in an election campaign.
None of this bodes well for Romney and the Republicans. Their path to victory in November is more difficult now. For Obama and his supporters, on the other hand, the recent turn in public opinion is cause for cautious optimism, although no one will express that in words, probably for good reason.
For they realize that much can happen over the next seven weeks that could have an impact on the outcome of the race - nothing more so than the systematic attempt by the Republican Party and its supporters to suppress the vote.
It is this palpable reality that is driving the supporters of the president to turn out record numbers and guarantee every vote is counted on Election Day.
Photo: AP Photo