AS BARACK Obama and Mitt Romney squared off in their third and final debate, both candidates had to wrestle for ratings with the NFL’s Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions – coincidentally the hometown teams of both candidates. Like his Bears, the President eked out a victory after a solid first half. But this has still failed to assuage the anxieties of his supporters. They know the clock is ticking and there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Given that the President only had to utter the words “as commander-in-chief,” Monday’s foreign policy face-off may not have been the most challenging debate for Obama. Being, as George W. Bush declared “the decider” certainly helps. Foreign policy is unlikely to win over many voters in November, but the American public’s exhaustion with Iraq and Afghanistan has meant that even amid the turmoil in the Middle East, suggestions for any new overseas commitments could prove costly. From the cautious performances of both candidates, this fact was all too clear.
A snap poll from CBS certainly pointed to a decisive victory for Obama, but the reduced interest in foreign affairs in this race and the lower viewership has meant that the President won’t have shifted the dynamics of the race. Gallup and Rasmussen give Romney a national lead outside the margin of error, the former poll showing Romney breaking 50 per cent. Romney has also maintained leads in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. Colorado and New Hampshire are also strong. However, victory there would be fruitless without Ohio.
It’s not just that no Republican has ever won the presidency without the Buckeye State, but if one factors in regional and national trends, it’s difficult to think of a feasible scenario for Romney to win without it. It’s the Democratic firewall. Although Obama has maintained a stubborn lead, it has diminished considerably over the past month. Republicans believe momentum is still on their side and with good reason. Most polls are based on Democrats matching, or even exceeding, their turnout numbers from four years ago. What’s more, Obama has seen his favourability ratings and support among independents plummet, while Romney is now in favourable territory in both. Voters also trust Romney more to fix the economy.
As the campaign winds down, both candidates are aggressively pursuing undecided voters – a scarce commodity. The Obama campaign is sending a new 20-page manifesto to millions of voters, outlining the President’s policies for a second term. But the contents are all too familiar, raising questions about whether Obama wants a second term or merely a second shot at his first. At this point in the race, glossy brochures are unlikely to convert many voters. Especially as the shine came off the candidate some time ago.
Ewan Watt is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant. Follow him on Twitter @ewancwatt