Mitt Romney isn't losing the election - yet

Despite a narrative emerging of Romney's failure, Obama remains weak on the economy.

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney. Photograph: Getty Images

A new narrative is taking shape just over 40 days before Election Day: Mitt Romney is losing. That's expected as well as premature, but it's easy to see why so many on the left and right are calling this a wrap.

Romney's polling numbers stayed essentially flat after the Republican convention. Ditto after he picked US Representative and self-styled "fiscal hawk" Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney looked like an craven opportunist after the ambassador to Libya was killed. And a video showing him despising and dismissing half of America as victims, moochers and ne'er-do-wells inspired one Bloomberg columnist to write this headline: "Today, Mitt Romney Lost the Election."

President Barack Obama, for his part, has enjoyed a steady rise in his favorability ratings since the Democratic convention, a marked turnaround from the last year. Since the DNC, Obama has raised the idea that a second term would mean less intransigence from Congressional Republicans. He told supporters in Wisconsin recently that reelection would "break the fever" of partisanship and that "only you can break the stalemate," according to the LA Times. Wishful thinking perhaps, but not inconceivable if he wins by a landslide.

There is evidence to suggest as much.

Obama is widening his lead swing states like Ohio. Even if Romney wins all the other states won by George W. Bush in 2004, if he loses Ohio, he'll only have 263 Electoral College votes (you need 270 to win).

Moreover, Talking Points Memo's poll tracker shows Obama with 328 Electoral College votes while Romney has 191. He broke 200 for the first time last month, but Obama has remained over 200 for months.

Nate Silver, of the New York Times, gives Romney 228 Electoral College votes, but only a 22 per cent chance of winning. For Obama? Silver gives the president a more than 77 per cent chance. Silver also says the probability that Obama gets 330 Electoral College votes is nearly 17 per cent. That Romney gets 270? Slightly more than zero.

All of which is why conservatives, not for the first time (I have lost track of how many times), are exhibiting a crisis of confidence in Romney. The more that Romney trails Obama in the polls, the more the GOP's radical conservatives want him to take the gloves off. And the more they want him to take the gloves off, the worse it gets for Romney, because middle-of-the-road voters don't like the GOP's radicalism (eg the American Association of Retired Persons booed Paul Ryan for vowing the repeal "Obamacare"). Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, the state Ryan represents, gave voice to the crazies when he said:

I thought [picking Ryan] was a signal that [Romney] was getting serious, he’s getting bold, it’s not necessarily even a frustration over the way Paul Ryan’s been used but rather in the larger context. I just haven’t seen that kind of passion I know Paul has transferred over to our nominee, and I think it’s a little bit of push-back from the folks in the national campaign. But I think for him to win he’s gotta [do] that.

TPM's Josh Marshall summed up the effect:

[T]he drip drip drip of casual disrespect for Romney from supposed supporters and the assumption that he’s a bad candidate who’s destined for defeat is no joke. It sows bad morale, becomes an intra-party distraction and source of conflict and confirms the settling idea that Romney’s a loser.

That makes it harder for Romney to turns things around, Marshall says, but maybe he doesn't want to. "[His campaign] doesn't need a turnaround," he told 60 Minutes over the weekend. "We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States." He added: "I've got a very effective campaign."

Well, that's debatable given all of the above, but what's more certain is that Romney has a point. He is tied. Despite all the polls showing him behind the president, the two daily tracking polls - Gallup and Rasmussen - show that Romney remains in a tight race with Obama. Both are within the margin of error. Granted, the popular vote, which the tracking polls attempt to measure, is not as important ultimately as Electoral College, but that tightness suggests that all the drama over Romney's losing the race is overblown. And Mitt isn't losing. Yet.

Which shouldn't be surprising. The economy remains Obama's biggest weakness. It is improving, yes, but too slowly to matter by November. Voter suppression, in the name of preventing voter fraud, meanwhile threatens Obama's chances in Pennsylvania and Florida. And Romney has a lot more money than Obama, as do his Super PAC buddies.

This is why the Obama campaign is worried. Not so much because it can't surmount these obstacles, but because voters might become complacent if this new narrative about Romney's losing takes hold.

As Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, recalled saying:

Ignore the polls. There are always going to be polls showing us up. There are always going to be polls showing us down. None of that matters. What matters is your voter contacts in your state.