In the weeks leading up to Mitt Romney???s surprising pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate, dissatisfaction and pessimism within Republican and conservative circles was reaching epidemic levels.
As Romney was being pounded daily by the Obama campaign and liberal groups with a series of brutal ads scrutinizing (and often misrepresenting) his private sector record at Bain Capital, Republicans began to grumble about the GOP campaign. A less than spectacular trip to Europe and Israel confirmed their worst fears. Romney wasn???t on point. Romney wasn???t connecting. Romney was terrible.
And Romney, most definitely, wasn???t tough enough. Popular conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham accused him of bringing a ???down pillow to a gun fight.??? Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz played on the Romney-is-soft theme, telling the presumptive GOP???s campaign to ???put their big boy and big girl pants on.???
Since that time a sea change of opinion has taken hold on the right, as a once-skeptical base has found a reason to embrace Romney (his gutsy call on picking a reform-minded conservative) and the party realists are beginning to think that the former Massachusetts governor???s tactical plan might even work.
It???s still early, of course, and the political establishment is always willing to jump ship, but there seems to be genuine and growing belief that momentum is on the GOP???s side. What is making everyone so confident? Why do they think they can win? Romney surrogates believe aggressiveness, the president???s record and a bold fiscal conservative argument have turned Romney???s fortunes.
In the money
Money can???t buy votes???as liberals often imply???but it has given Romney the flexibility to compete anywhere he wants and as quickly as he needs. It has allowed the nominee to respond to attacks instantaneously and at the same time to stay on the offense.
And Romney, needless to say, has a lot of money, and that advantage is growing. Obama, who dominated the money game in 2008, outspending McCain 3-1 overall and as much as 10-1 in some swing states, continues to fall behind Romney???who has approximately 50 percent more in the bank than the president.
According to recently released FEC filings, Romney has $185.9 million cash on hand at the end of July, while Obama has $123.7 million. Obama has raised $49.2 million in July but spent $59 million, which, spokespeople for Romney gleefully point out, makes complete sense.
With Ryan on board, fundraising has gone into overdrive. And as one campaign official points out to Human Events, the excitement hasn???t only helped with cash flow and crowds, but also in areas that can???t be easily measured, like finding sufficient manpower for phone banks.
The Romney campaign also points out that early in the race, the Obama team???flush with cash because they didn???t have a primary fight???was outspending Romney 2-1 on television in critical states with negative ads. Yet, the polls hadn???t moved much. In the stretch run, the GOP believes it???s Obama who???s going to have to make some tough decisions about where to spend his dollars.
In the end, this election will be largely a referendum on Obama. And no one has done more for the Romney campaign than the president.
One campaign staffer tells Human Events that the president had vastly overestimated the effectiveness of relentless attacks on Romney???s Bain Capital record???and that in some sense, probably hurt the president as much as his opponent. (Though it should be noted that Romney has a team charged with deflecting these Bain attacks.) Overkill, they argue, made Obama seem petty and reinforced the idea that he was reflexively anti-capitalist.
But the staffer also points to Sen. Harry Reid???s (D-Nev.) baseless accusation that the GOP nominee hadn???t paid taxes in 10 years, coupled with the release of a super-PAC ad holding Romney culpable for the death of a steel worker???s wife, as a turning point in the race. It was this moment that establishment media outlets were forced to acknowledge the hysterical tactics being deployed by Democrats. The GOP has pounced, painting Obama???s as a politician who can sling mud with the best of them.
Is it working? Well, in a rare press conference last week, President Obama had to defend himself from questions about his campaign???s negativity. This marks a complete turnaround from 2008, when Obama had free range to invent himself as an optimistic outsider, a man who could rise above the pettiness and ugliness of Washington politics.
Clearly, these expectations of an Obama presidency have not been met. Republicans plan to play on this sentiment repeatedly down the stretch and already have begun producing ads aimed at fence sitters and independents, in which former Obama supporters share their tales of disappointment and assure likeminded undecideds that it???s all going to be OK. Well, if they do the right thing.
While some of the damage has been self-inflicted, the Romney campaign also feels that they have been successful in quickly capitalizing on Obama ???gaffes.??? The ???you didn???t build that!??? comment perfectly distills the perception Romney wants to create about the president???s position on entrepreneurship. Nothing is more devastating than using Obama???s own words to do it.
Ryan and the economy
A recent Gallup poll shows that while Americans approve of Obama???s handling of terrorism, education and foreign affairs, they give him terrible marks on three major economic issues: the deficit, creating jobs and the economy in general.
So it???s not surprising that an Associated Press-GfK poll finds that Romney holds 48 percent favorable to handle the recovery (among independents, 46 percent to 27 favor the GOP candidate.) Overall, 47 percent say Romney would do better boosting job growth compared to 43 for the president. What is surprising is that Romney is doing it with the kind of overt conservative plank that conventional wisdom says should hurt him.
Many Republicans have remarked that the Paul Ryan pick has not only focused the race on issues, it has sharpened the focus of their own candidate and may help him harness the energy and idealism that propelled the GOP congressional sweep in 2010.
Though rhetoric and deed rarely match up in governance, Romney, as CNBC???s Larry Kudlow has pointed out, ???is the most fiscally conservative Republican standard-bearer since Ronald Reagan.???
Before you scoff at this contention, Romney???s surrogates will tell you to read through his speeches and positions. When was the last time a major Republican candidate picked a fight on Medicare? Romney, sources tell Human Events, also plans to make Social Security a campaign issue. His education plan embraces choice. His economic plan would lower the government-spending share of GDP to 20 percent from 24 percent by 2016, which, Kudlow argues, is probably the largest proposed spending cut ever.
While most candidates temper their conservatism as they enter the general election, Romney has gone in the other direction. And insiders believe it???s what voters want to hear. Nothing exhibits this approach more than the pick of Paul Ryan.
Is the tide turning?
Polls seem to be bearing out some of the optimism the Romney camp is feeling.
Last week, University of Colorado Professors Ken Bickers and Michael Berry released their mathematical model of the Electoral College that has correctly predicted every presidential race since Ronald Reagan, showing Romney winning 320 Electoral Votes to President Obama???s 218. While that seems mighty generous, last week did bring a slew of polls showing Romney making up ground.
Though Democrats, and helpful pundits, have encouraged the perception of Obama???s inevitability all year, nearly every major national polling firm has had the race within the margin of error from the start. Polls now show Romney not only competitive in Virginia, Florida and Ohio, but also making gains in states that conventional wisdom says were out of his reach: Wisconsin, Michigan Nevada and others.
Conventional wisdom also told us that Ryan was going to be a drag on the senior vote. Yet, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that Ryan has a 50 percent favorability rating with seniors??? a 35 percent unfavorable. One-third of seniors have a strongly favorable view of Ryan. Last week, polls showed the race tightening in Florida.
Then again, many Republicans that spoke to Human Events argue that the voters shouldn???t be obsessed with polls, but rather they should be looking at how Obama acts???defensive, flailing, trying to find his footing???to understand what???s really going on. They ask: Is Obama acting like a guy who is winning?
We???ll soon find out.