The Magazine

The State of the Race

Obama is ahead, barely.

Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By JAY COST
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The good news for conservatives is that Romney seems to understand this. His op-ed in Friday’s Wall Street Journal focuses on his tenure at Bain, but with a twist. Romney explains in detail what his tenure at Bain taught him about turning around troubled institutions. This is a perfect setup for a fall campaign that connects his biography to the challenges now facing our troubled country.

His vice presidential selection also shows that he understands the need to make a positive case. The “play it safe” strategy called for a vice presidential nominee who delivered votes in a big swing state, like Ohio or Florida. By going with Paul Ryan, Romney has signaled that he sees developing a message for change as his most important job. Ryan has become, without doubt, the intellectual leader of his party. Nobody in America has thought more about what the GOP should do when it returns to power, and by selecting Ryan, the former Massachusetts governor conveys that he will emphasize solutions in the fall campaign. 

Many conservatives have been frustrated that Team Romney has not yet launched an aggressive counter-attack to the Obama message. After all, the president has spent tens of millions of dollars on negative advertising: Shouldn’t the GOP campaign have engaged?

The answer to that question lies in the old military maxim: Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes. Obama’s ad blitz over the summer seems largely to have been wasted. Voters were paying little attention, and the polls have actually tightened. Sure, Romney’s favorable ratings remain less than stellar; the most recent RealClearPolitics average of polls finds 45.5 percent of respondents viewing him favorably, 45 percent unfavorably. Nevertheless, swing voters likely make up most of the 10 percent who have not yet formed an opinion. The time to get them thinking positively about the GOP ticket begins at the convention. Team Romney may have been right to hold its fire through the summer.

While it is difficult to predict the outcome of a presidential election so far from the big day, the following nevertheless seems like a fair take:

Obama’s numbers remain 3 to 4 points short of a nationwide majority, and so far there is precious little evidence that the president can turn that around. This gives the Republicans an opening, but they will have to seize the initiative. Rather than waiting for victory to fall into his lap, Mitt Romney will have to pursue it aggressively. Fortunately, the choice of Ryan suggests that the GOP nominee understands this. 

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard and the author of Spoiled Rotten

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