A recent poll showed President Obama up by 8 points over putative Republican nominee Mitt Romney. And look at Romney's showing among women. Wow! Obama was crushing him, 57-38. As the poll story dryly put it, "Romney's personal profile needs work."
Boy, that's an understatement. On the subject of who's more friendly and likable, the poll had Obama leading 64-26. Looks like the people have smoked out Romney as a bloodless, calculated rich guy.
Not so fast.
Romney wouldn't be the ideal Republican candidate in any scenario. His ability to whack Obama on health care is hobbled by his role in erecting an Obamacare prototype in Massachusetts. He seems unable to strike the mysterious chords by which candidates connect with voters. He sometimes seems robotic. He says things that, shorn of context, sound outlandishly dumb, as when he said he likes being able to fire people, or when he said he doesn't care about the very poor. Actually, the latter sounded dumb even in context.
Yet this flawed candidate has a real chance, as a closer look at that ABC/Washington Post poll will illustrate.
Start with the survey's sample of 1,003 adults. Thirty-four percent of the respondents were Democrats, and 23 percent were Republicans — proportions not even close to the makeup of the electorate, in which the parties are more evenly matched. The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost made the telling point that Obama's edge in the poll was less than the Democratic edge in the survey sample. And even with a sample skewed toward Democrats, Obama did poorly on two critical issues.
On the economy, he was underwater 54-44, and on gasoline prices, the level of disapproval was huge — 62 percent. An overwhelming majority — 76 percent — believe the economy is still in recession.
Obama edged Romney 49-39 on "protecting the middle class," but on several key economic and fiscal issues, Romney was very close or ahead — again, in a polling sample weighted toward Democrats.
After months of watching Republican candidates pound each other, we tend to forget that Obama has his own liabilities. He can't run on his record. The economy remains sluggish. His main "achievement" is Obamacare, which he would prefer not to mention. And he would rather not discuss the stimulus, because that evokes dicey topics such as the spending explosion, the skyrocketing national debt, his failure to propose a credible budget, and his failure to propose a plan for entitlement reform.
Instead, he will run a campaign of negativity and class warfare. He took this package on a test drive late last year in Osawatomie, Kan., where he condemned "breathtaking greed" and voiced his familiar regret that millionaires and billionaires are somehow allowed to exist.
This may seem like a winning pitch amid a lousy recovery, but it has a very bad track record as a strategy. Banging the class warfare drum didn't work for Al Gore or John Edwards. Americans have always been less interested in punishing success than in making the pie bigger for all.
If Romney can keep the focus on Obama's record and offer a clearly articulated economic and fiscal program, he has a very good chance of unseating this president.
E. Thomas McClanahan is a member of the Kansas City Star's editorial board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.