What a gift for the Obama campaign a poll last week showing the president up by 7 points. Hes over 50 percent in a head-to-head matchup against putative Republican nominee Mitt Romney. And look at Romney's showing among women. Wow! President Obama is crushing Romney 57-38. As the poll story dryly put it, "Romney's personal profile needs work."
Boy, thats an understatement. On the subject of whos more friendly and likable, the poll had Obama leading 64-26. Looks like the people have smoked out Romney as a bloodless, calculated rich guy.
Not so fast.
Romney wouldnt be the ideal candidate in any Republican scenario. His ability to whack Obama on health care is hobbled by his role in erecting an Obamacare prototype in Massachusetts. He seems unable to strike the mysterious chords by which candidates connect with voters. He sometimes seems robotic. He says things that, shorn of context, sound outlandishly dumb, as when he said he likes being able to fire people, or when he said he doesnt care about the very poor. Actually, the latter sounded dumb even in context.
Yet this flawed candidate has a real chance, as a closer look at that ABC/Washington Post poll will illustrate.
Start with the surveys sample of 1,003 adults. Thirty-four percent of the respondents were Democrats, 23 percent were Republicans proportions not even close to the makeup of the electorate, in which the parties are more evenly matched.
The Weekly Standards Jay Cost made the telling point that Obamas edge in the poll was less than the Democratic edge in the survey sample. Even with a sample skewed toward Dems, Obama did poorly on two critical issues.
On the economy he was underwater by 54-44 and on gasoline prices the level of disapproval was huge 62 percent. An overwhelming majority 76 percent believe the economy is still in recession.
Obama edged Romney 49-39 on protecting the middle class, but on several key economic and fiscal issues, Romney was very close or ahead again, in a polling sample overweighted with Democrats.
After months of watching Republican candidates pound each other, we tend to forget that Obama has his own liabilities. He cant run on his record. The economy remains sluggish. His main achievement is Obamacare, which he would prefer not to mention. And he would rather not discuss the stimulus because that evokes dicey topics such as the spending explosion, the skyrocketing national debt, his failure to propose a credible budget and his failure to propose a plan for entitlement reform.
Instead, he will run a campaign of negativity, class warfare and fairness. He took this package on a test drive late last year in Osawatomie, Kan., where he condemned breathtaking greed and voiced his familiar regret that millionaires and billionaires are somehow allowed to exist.
This may seem like a winning pitch amid a lousy recovery, but it has a very bad track record as a strategy. Banging the class warfare drum didnt work for Al Gore or John Edwards. Americans have always been less interested in punishing success than in broadening the pie for all.
If Romney can keep the focus on Obamas record and offer a clearly articulated economic and fiscal program, he has a very good chance of unseating this president.