It’s the bottom of the ninth inning, and Mitt Romney steps to home plate. He’s trailing his opponent by three, with no runners on. He has to start a last-gasp rally now if he has any hope of victory.
The Republican presidential nominee will be wearing dress shoes instead of cleats, but a last-inning scenario is what he will face when he takes the stage on Wednesday in Denver for the first general-election debate.
Romney has hemorrhaged support since the party conventions, and the candidate once seen as an even-money bet for the White House is now an underdog.
The debate offers Romney his best—and possibly last—chance to get back in the game. He’ll need to take a disciplined approach and, above all else, resist the urge to try to cure all of his ills at once. He should instead focus on a few problems he can realistically fix. In other words: Don’t swing for the fences. Just make solid contact and hope to start a rally.
The private-equity mogul needs to show voters he feels their pain, while also looking presidential—traditionally an obstacle for challengers seeking to unseat an incumbent. And at the same time, with President Obama’s approval ratings on the rise, Romney must throw a little chin music to knock him down.
Romney performed well in the long string of GOP debates, sparring ably when necessary and rarely straying off message. But Obama isn’t Rick Perry, and unlike some of those primary debates, Romney doesn’t enter as the front-runner.
It’s Romney’s turn at bat. The pressure couldn’t be greater.
-- Alex Roarty
NATIONAL JOURNAL’S PRESIDENTIAL RACE REPORT
Poll: Battle for Presidency Remains Close
[CNN, 10/1/12] President Obama is leading Mitt Romney within the margin of error among likely voters in the latest CNN/ORC poll, released on Monday. The poll also found nearly identical levels of enthusiasm about the race among Republican and Democrats.
Romney Goes Half-In Against Obama Foreign Policy
[National Journal, 10/1/12] Romney, encouraged by the Obama administration’s flawed approach to security in Libya and its muffed response in the aftermath of tragedy, is engaging at least part-time in a classic Karl Rove tactic: going straight at an opponent’s strength to try to make it a vulnerability.
GOP’s October Surprise?
[Salon, 10/1/12] A unnamed GOP insider tells Salon that a meeting among high-ranking Romney supporters in Washington last week resulted in a new two-pronged strategy, the first part of which calls for attacking Obama on Libya. The source did not reveal the second part of the plan.
Obama’s Battleground Boost
[National Journal, 10/1/12] NJ’s Ryan Morris and Ron Brownstein offer up a useful chart that shows Obama running ahead among white women without a college education, a group that usually tilts toward the GOP, in several battleground states.
Meet the Ohio Voters Who Are Killing Romney’s Campaign
[The Atlantic, 10/1/12] The coal-mining country of Southeastern Ohio is the home of the downtrodden Appalachian whites who’ve never much trusted the president. But these voters now view Romney with nearly as much suspicion as Obama — and, if nothing major changes in the next few weeks, these voters will doom the challenger’s campaign.
Romney Plans Big Foreign-Policy Speech
[National Journal, 10/1/12] Romney plans to deliver a major speech next week that aims to offer a “stark contrast” between his foreign-policy vision and that of Obama, which has recently come under criticism for its handling of turmoil in the Middle East.
Election Raises Stakes for Possible Supreme Court Vacancies
[CNN, 10/1/12] The Supreme Court is back for a new term on Monday, where several major rulings are expected over the next few months that could find their way into the presidential race. This next election could make way for new SCOTUS nominees from either President Obama or a President Romney.
Obama Uses Down Syndrome to Hit Romney
[Washington Examiner, 10/1/12] In its latest effort to hit Romney on his "47 percent" comment, the Obama campaign on Monday posted a letter on the campaign website from a young woman with Down syndrome.
Poll: Race Remains Tight, But Debates Loom Large
[National Journal, 10/1/12] The two candidates remain in a virtual tie in a new poll released on Monday, but Obama has ticked up on many measures, including earning his highest approval rating on the economy in more than two years. Voters say by nearly a 2-to-1 margin that Obama will win the debates.
Ryan: We Were Winning Medicare Debate Before Obama ‘Falsehoods’
[Talking Points Memo, 10/1/12] Paul Ryan told a Wisconsin radio host on Monday that when he joined the GOP ticket as Romney's running mate, he and Romney were "winning" the Medicare debate. But he said Obama has put up ads "literally telling falsehoods" about his Medicare plan.
Obama vs. Obama at Debates
[Politico, 10/1/12] Obama is an experienced debater, but an inconsistent performer who is years out of practice. The biggest danger for the president is appearing condescending, testy, or bored — the unforgettable “You’re likeable enough, Hillary” crack four years ago comes to mind.
Ohio Voters Turned Off by TV Ads
[Columbus Dispatch, 10/1/12] Ohio voters despise the avalanche of political ads burying their TV sets, but disagree over which candidate’s commercials are the worst: A new Dispatch poll shows that 41 percent say Romney’s ads are more distorted, while 33 percent say Obama’s. Republican Jody L. Levitt puts it bluntly: “I put no faith in anything that is said by any candidate.”
In Iowa, Romney Isn’t Breaking Through on Jobs
[Des Moines Register, 10/1/12] Romney has yet to cash in on the fact that half of Iowa adults disapprove of the job Obama is doing on the economy.
Romney Shakes Etch A Sketch: Broadening Message for Closing Weeks
[Bloomberg, 10/1/12] The GOP nominee who spent much of the year stressing his support of tax cuts for all, self-deportation of illegal immigrants, and the repeal of Obamacare is now broadening his message and moderating his tone in order to win middle-income, Hispanic, women, and independent voters.
Obama’s Campaign Deploying Massachusetts Democrats to Stump in Swing States
[Boston Globe, 10/1/12] Eleven Massachusetts Democrats who overlapped with Romney’s time as governor of the state between 2003 and 2007 will visit nine swing states this week to make Obama’s criticisms of Romney concrete. The president’s campaign believes the Bay State Democrats are in a unique position to tell voters about Romney’s record of failure in Massachusetts.
Canvassers Always Knock Twice
[Washington Post, 9/30/12] Canvassers for Romney and Obama have the same goal in Ohio: To persuade voters leaning their way to start casting early-voting ballots. The Post’s Stephanie McCrummen and Ed O’Keefe spend a day with the campaigners on the ground.
Movie Mogul’s Starring Role in Raising Funds for Obama
[Wall Street Journal, 9/30/12] Movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chief executive of DreamWorks Animation SKG, has made himself indispensable to Obama — as a fundraiser, a donor, and a liaison between the White House and Hollywood.
No Agreement Within GOP About Best Path for Romney Camp
[The Hill, 10/1/12] GOP insiders are not confident that Romney can make his economic case against Obama in the coming weeks, and worse, don’t agree among themselves about what Romney’s tactics should be to defeat the president in debates, ads, and other aspects of his campaign.
National Journal’s Daybook | National Journal Newsletters