Mitch McConnell was a local county official when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980. Now, 32 years later, he's the Senate Republican leader. Despite a slightly different vantage point, he's starting to see similarities between the two presidential elections.
"I'm not predicting a blowout like we ended up having in '80," McConnell said in an interview. But the mood strikes him as similar. It's an atmosphere "in which people really don't think the guy's done a very good job, and the Democrats are betting on our candidate being inadequate."
Carter led Reagan through almost the entire election. Gallup surveys showed Carter ahead by 8 points in the first week of October. Reagan stormed back over the final month; the last Gallup poll conducted before Election Day showed him ahead by three. Even that underestimated Reagan's momentum: The Republican won by 10 points.
"That race was remarkably close until 10 days out, as flawed as Carter was. He wasn't nearly as skilled a politician as Obama. Rotten record and all the rest, it still didn't break until the end," McConnell said.
"Looks to me like the American people want to let the president go but need to be reassured about what the alternative is," the Kentucky senator added.
Romney, who is running neck and neck with President Obama, is using his convention to position himself in a similar fashion, McConnell said.
"This convention it strikes me is about two things: In particular, number one, people learning more about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as well. Who are they, how do they live their lives, what are they like. And, where do they want to take the country? And we've had both Paul Ryan and Ann Romney filling in a lot of the blanks about Mitt Romney personally."
But there are still gaps only Romney himself can fill, McConnell said: "Tonight, his main goal is to tell us where he wants to take the country. How would he be different from the people who are there now?"