AGREAT deal of column space has been dedicated to Mitt Romney’s Olympic-sized faux pas this past week. Democrats have called Romney’s utterances over London’s preparedness for the Olympics “embarrassing” and have launched advertisements questioning his suitability to succeed Barack Obama. Will this impact November’s elections? One Republican strategist was blunt: “The London stuff? Voters don’t give a damn.”
For all the questionable headlines, Romney accomplished what he set out to achieve overseas. After fundraisers in London and Tel Aviv, his campaign coffers were bolstered to the tune of $3m (£1.9m). His pledge to recognise Israel’s capital as Jerusalem may have drawn scorn among Washington’s diplomatic elite, but will have been applauded by Jewish voters and Christian evangelicals. In Poland, he received a tacit endorsement and a photo-op with former President and Cold War Warrior, Lech Walesa. That could play nicely among Polish-Americans. There’s no love lost between Romney and the London press, but London, Ohio is more important for the Republican challenger’s political prospects.
Romney returns to the campaign without much interruption. His overseas travails provided some needless distractions. But Obama’s now infamous “you didn’t build that” gaffe, referring to business owners and entrepreneurs, still plagues the President’s campaign, and provides fodder for Republicans in defining their opponent’s general ideological outlook. For Romney to win in November, he needs to discuss why the President’s economic policies have failed. Obama’s rhetoric certainly helps.
The polls remain tight, but the next few months will be exceedingly challenging for Obama. The economy grew at a pitiful 1.5 per cent in the second quarter. The Department of Labor looks set to release new jobs figures on Friday, with analysts predicting yet more disappointing numbers. But it’s in the fundraising stakes, usually Obama’s strength, that the President looks vulnerable. The campaign’s expectations have fallen short, while its overheads have grown exponentially. In appeals to donors, Obama has increasingly claimed he could become the first sitting President to be outspent by his competitor. The claim certainly lacks all historical credence, but it also highlights growing anxiety about maintaining momentum on the ground and, crucially, the airwaves through to 6 November.
Despite not endearing himself to the British, Romney’s static poll numbers far outweigh the concerns of the past week. It is, however, the President who continues to fumble with his own rhetoric on the campaign trail. And it matters. At a fundraiser, Obama defended his economic record, stating “we tried our plan – and it worked.” He might think so. Voters have 96 days to decide if this is the case.
Ewan Watt is a Washington, DC-based consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @ewancwatt