AS BARACK Obama pinned his electoral hopes on Bill Clinton’s rhetorical prowess at the Democratic convention last night, Mitt Romney is channelling Ronald Reagan by asking voters: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” It’s certainly throwback week on the campaign trail. But, with two landslide victories, Reagan may provide Romney with that elusive edge in the polls.
At least at first sight, the Republican convention failed to garner much momentum for Romney. According to Gallup, the Republican nominee has joined the ill-fated George McGovern and John Kerry in becoming only the third presidential candidate – and the first Republican – to fail to receive a “bounce” in the polls after their convention speech. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that, compared to John McCain and Sarah Palin’s speeches in 2008, television viewership plummeted 23 and 41 per cent for Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan respectively. If the convention in Tampa was about introducing voters to Romney’s private, more charitable side, some sections of the electorate clearly remain oblivious.
And yet, as Obama heads down to Charlotte, North Carolina, he does so, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, as the first incumbent seeking re-election with a net unfavourable rating. Most importantly, his favourable ratings among women have fallen to their worst levels since he took office. This made it all the more important for first lady Michelle Obama to wow viewers with a moving speech about her husband’s values, his humble upbringing and the need for a second term to complete the “change” he initiated in 2009. Her delivery was powerful – near perfect. Like Ann Romney last week, the first lady demonstrated her credentials as a major asset to the campaign.
But asking voters for another term to achieve an abstract, four year old campaign slogan is not an easy sell. A full 54 per cent of Americans believe that Obama doesn’t deserve re-election. The President gave himself an “incomplete” when asked to grade his first term, drawing ridicule from Republicans. They noted that, when the clock runs out, you fail.
However, it’s in posing the Reagan question – whether the country is “better off” under Obama – that Republicans have put Democrats on the defensive. A response in the affirmative might appear insensitive; the negative a de facto endorsement to oust him. Republicans certainly know the answer. Gauging the mixed responses from Democrats, they have yet to make up their minds.
As Obama takes the stage tonight, he’ll be well aware that new jobs numbers will be released hours later on Friday morning. If they are again disappointing, Romney will not just be channelling Reagan, but continuing to cite a 1979 campaign advertisement from Margaret Thatcher. One term is enough. Because “Obama isn’t working.”
Ewan Watt is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant. Follow him on Twitter @ewancwatt