Tags: Romney | debate | Denver | crucial

Opportunities Squandered, It’s Now Denver-or-Die for Romney Campaign

Thursday, 27 Sep 2012 12:04 PM

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Mitt Romney’s long, hard road to the presidency now comes down to a single night on the stage in Denver — but it didn’t have to come to this.

Romney had the opportunity to surge ahead of President Barack Obama when he picked Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate on Aug. 12. Another chance to seize momentum came with the Republican National Convention. But it was all squandered and washed away amid a sea tide of bad headlines and lost rounds of news cycles buzzing about tax returns, Bain, Clint Eastwood, Cairo and Benghazi, and 47 percent.

So now, it’s a Denver-or-die scenario for the Republican presidential nominee, with polls show Obama opening up sizable leads in crucial swing states: 49 percent to 46 in Florida; 49 to 44 in Ohio; 51 to 43 in Wisconsin; and 49 to 45 in Virginia.

Urgent Poll: Romney or Obama to Handle Foreign Crisis? Vote Here!

Other polls by the New York Times, CBS News and Quinnipiac had Obama up by 10 percent in Ohio and 9 percent in Florida. Even Arizona, which was seen as a lock for Romney, has become a toss-up state, according to Real Clear Politics.

Romney can’t afford just to hold his own against the president on the stage at the University of Denver on Wednesday next week in a debate that will focus on domestic policy and will be hosted by Jim Lehrer of PBS. He has to win decisively and leave no room for critics to think otherwise.

“It went from being important to being life-sustaining,” GOP pollster Steve Lombardo, who worked for Romney in 2008, told Politico. “Both from a fundraising perspective, to keep the money coming, and just a political perspective it’s huge. Romney can’t just do well and hold his own — he has to win and win decisively. If he’s at parity with the president, I don’t think that’s enough.”

Romney’s comeback, if it’s not too late for one, has to come on Wednesday night and pressure on Romney to deliver will be ratcheted up to the highest levels yet.

“The need for a strong debate performance is increasing every single day,” Republican Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign, told Politico.

“And the pressure is really mounting on the candidate to be aggressive, to offer some solutions and to get back to that feeling we all had when Ryan was selected [for] the ticket — the boldness, the excitement and the fact that things were going to change.”

In order to grab the dwindling number of undecided voters remaining, the Romney turnaround, if there is one, has to take place in Denver rather than the second debate in New York on Oct. 16 or the final one in Florida on Oct. 22.

 “I think the first debate is exponentially more important than the rest of them,” GOP strategist Curt Anderson told Politico. “The rest of them only matter if somebody makes a mistake. The first one sets the tone.”

Anderson said Romney “does best when his back is against the wall” but acknowledged that Romney will have to rely on luck if he doesn’t score a clear win in Denver.

 “You then start to rely on unforced errors from the other team,” Anderson said.

Urgent Poll: Romney or Obama to Handle Foreign Crisis? Vote Here!

Charles Blow, a liberal columnist for the New York Times, said Obama has an advantage, to a degree, but Romney could benefit from a “comeback” narrative if he is able to show signs of life in the final sprint.

“The media will continue to look for new stories right up until Election Day,” Blow wrote. “That’s not about bias but about a thirst for thrills — for reporters and their audience. That means that as the advantage shifts to Obama, so does the burden of sustaining momentum and avoiding stumbles.”

Continued Blow, “Romney is in a horrible position but, strangely, there is a slim chance that he could benefit from it. If his campaign comes apart, the prurient spectacle of finger pointing and infighting could dominate the final weeks of the campaign. But if his campaign gains an ounce of competence, turning things around could galvanize coverage. The media loves a comeback.”

Robert Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic, aired the same sentiment.
“If there's one thing the media won't tolerate for long, it's an unchanging media narrative,” Wright wrote. “So the current story of the presidential campaign — Obama sits on a lead that is modest but increasingly comfortable, thanks to a hapless Romney and a hapless Romney campaign — should be yielding any moment to something fresher.”

‘The essential property of the new narrative is that it inject new drama into the race, which means it has to be in some sense pro-Romney,” Wright continued. “This can in turn mean finding previously unappreciated assets in Romney or his campaign, previously undetected vulnerabilities in the Obama campaign, etc. The big question is whether the new narrative then becomes self-fulfilling, altering the focus of coverage in a way that actually increases Romney's chances of a victory.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, writing in Human Events, said, “If Romney wins this debate, the next debate will have an even larger audience.

“If he loses it, the elite media will be giddy in its intense reporting of an Obama victory and the Obama team will be giddy and energized by the proclamation of victory.”

Denver is, Gingrich wrote, “the most important single event in Mitt Romney’s political career.”

Democrat Chris Lehane, who worked on Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, agreed that the first debate sets the tone.

“The first debate is like opening night of a Broadway play — either you have a strong night that both plays to the audience and generates positive reviews and go on to have a successful run or you don’t and you are sunk,” Lehane told Politico. “The first debate will either reinforce the current [trend] in the campaign — what Obama wants — or result in a realignment — what Romney needs.”

But there is a school of thought that believes that debates are basically meaningless and don’t change many minds, which would be even more bad news for the Romney campaign, meaning his campaign could already be dead.

“Why are presidential debates so often inconsequential?” wrote John Sides in Washington Monthly. “After all, many voters do pay attention. Debates routinely attract the largest audience of any televised campaign event. And voters do learn new information, according to several academic studies. But this new information is not likely to change many minds.”

Urgent Poll: Romney or Obama to Handle Foreign Crisis? Vote Here!

He continued: “The debates occur late in the campaign, long after the vast majority of voters have arrived at a decision. Moreover, the debates tend to attract viewers who have an abiding interest in politics and are mostly party loyalists. Instead of the debates affecting who they will vote for, their party loyalty affects who they believe won the debates."

As an example, Sides said, a CNN poll after one of the 2008 debates, showed 85 percent of Democrats with the belief that Obama had won, but only 16 percent of Republicans agreed.

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