For Mitt Romney, this year’s hot summer continues to be a hard time. Just days before the Republican Convention in Tampa, the presumptive nominee remains on the defensive on virtually all fronts.
He has been hammering for months that the economy is the most important issue for the American people, hoping that his business experience makes him a better chief of the executive than incumbent president Barack Obama. His trouble, though, is: nobody is talking about the economy.
The suicidal remarks of right-wing congressman Todd Akin on rape and abortion were just the latest blow to Romney’s campaign strategy, raising issues that the candidate had quietly hoped would not be crucial in the battle against Obama. But now they are, big time.
Not only do Akin’s comments endanger a crucial Republican victory in the Missouri Senate race, they also open up a new attack line for Democrats to depict Romney as an anti-women flip-flopper. A supporter of abortion rights early in his political career, Romney later switched his position. This year, he captured the nomination of a party whose hard-core activists remain suspicious of Romney’s late-in-life conversion to their cause.
But as he prepares to accept that nomination next week in Tampa, Romney is once again being forced to carefully navigate between the uncompromising anti-abortion positions of his party’s conservative base and the more moderate politics of the swing voters he needs to win over.
The decision by Republican convention delegates to oppose abortion without explicit exceptions for rape and incest, exactly what Akin was advocating, poses a tricky political challenge for Romney. The vote on the election platform puts the Republican Party at odds with Romney, who supports rape and incest exceptions – unlike his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan.
If Romney were to reject the party’s tough abortion plank, it would send a politically difficult message to conservatives about how he might govern once he got into the White House. There could also be a flurry of conservative outrage at the convention, which could distract from the carefully choreographed event Romney’s strategists are planning.
Despite the row over rape and abortion, Romney hopes that the convention in Tampa will give him the necessary boost to get his campaign message back, ending a months-long stumbling and fumbling over non-economic issues.
Romney got pummeled by the Obama campaign all summer long about his unwillingness to release more tax returns, something that Romney continues to refuse, thus handing Democrats a campaign issue that keeps driving the national conversation. In addition, Romney still has to defend himself against Democrats’ claim of having been a “serial outsourcer” as former CEO at investment firm Bain Capital.
Obama’s storyline: Romney did not create jobs, but destroyed them.
Then Romney’s attempt to define himself as a seasoned political leader on the international stage during a three-country trip ended up being constant fodder for late-night comedians. His unfortunate remarks in London, questioning the city’s abilities to host the Olympics and his provocative statement on the difference in economic competence between Israelis and Palestinians forced the Republican challenger, again, to be on the defensive.
With less than three months until Election Day, Romney’s is still lacking the dynamics to pull ahead of Obama in the polls. The ex-governor of Massachusetts continues to have a net-negative favorable/unfavorable score (38/44), which no other modern Republican presumptive presidential nominee has had, including Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.
Moreover, Obama bests Romney by 35 points, (58 percent to 23 percent), on the question of which candidate is more likeable, and by 22 points, (52 percent to 30 percent), on caring about ordinary people. In addition, a majority of voters, (51 percent), view the former Massachusetts governor’s approach to issues as being “out of step” with most Americans’ thinking. By comparison, 54 percent say Obama’s positions are “in the mainstream”, according to latest surveys.