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Mitt Romney's Big Problem — and Hence Ours

Mitt Romney has a big problem, and it is one that he shares with many conservatives and Republicans who seem to believe that given the horrendous nature of Obama’s policies, he has to do very little to win. Unfortunately, a Romney victory in November is anything but a sure thing.

The polls right now show a very close race. And as most observers have noted, the outcome will be decided by a few voters in the swing states that Romney must conquer if he is to overtake the president. The latest Real Clear Politics compendium of all the polls shows Obama with a 3.5% lead in the general election,  47.6% for Obama compared to 44.1% for Romney.

When you break the polls down to look at the data in the critical swing states and see which candidate has more of the crucial Electoral College votes -- the only thing that really count -- the RCP data give Obama at present 221 and Romney only 181, with 131 a toss-up. So if the election were held today, there is more chance that Obama would get the necessary 270 electoral college votes. The swing states that are presently in neither man’s column include Michigan, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. And Pennsylvania, that many thought would possibly now be a sure bet for Romney, is ranked as leaning to Obama.

Yes, Romney could, as undoubtedly his strategists are hoping, win some of those states with large enough Electoral College votes to come through at the end. Certainly Karl Rove, when he comments on Fox News and interprets Romney’s 3-2-1 strategy, is optimistic -- and provides his spin on the polling data to show why he thinks Romney will win. So if you want to be an optimist and take Rove’s point of view, be my guest. But even if Rove is right -- and I certainly hope that he is -- I don’t think the outcome he foresees is certain unless there is a groundswell of enthusiasm for Romney.

On this score, my fear is that Romney is being too cautious. When it is time for him to show some independence, be specific on policy, and not just blast Obama, he is essentially weak. First, let’s take up foreign policy. In a major report, Eli Lake writes what is a very disparaging piece of journalism for those of us who hope Romney will show he can be a leader. We all know that Barack Obama has had an abysmal record in foreign policy, from the “Reset” with Russia, to the Middle East, and now, in particular, with the crisis in Syria. What does Romney propose to do if he were in the White House instead of Obama?

What Lake shows is that Romney prefers to ignore the issues and hammer relentlessly on one thing alone -- the economy. He has no senior policy staffer who coordinates positions and talks regularly with the candidate, and only engages in rather meaningless conference calls. We all remember that Marco Rubio gave a brilliant foreign policy speech a few weeks ago at AEI, but Romney evidently cancelled a major foreign policy speech he was originally going to give in May or June. Most disconcerting is the report that Alex Wong, described by Lake as his main foreign and legal policy advisor, is  “a 32-year-old Harvard Law School graduate, [who] has no practical foreign-policy experience beyond a 2005 summer internship at the U.S. Mission to the U.N.”

In contrast, during the 2008 campaign, John McCain -- although he is on top of the issues on foreign policy all on his own -- “had Randy Scheunemann, a former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, performing this job during the 2008 race.”

On domestic policy, the situation is not much better. Thomas B. Edsall, one of the shrewdest political commentators,  accuses Romney of “playing it dangerously safe.” In previous campaigns, he writes, both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton took positions that challenged their own sides, thereby showing independents that they were capable of taking a stand opposite to their own base when they believed it was wrong. He quotes Bush as denouncing House Republicans in 1999 for wanting to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit and accusing them of trying “to balance their budget on the backs of the poor.” And Clinton worked with Republicans to dismantle the welfare system, and at a major campaign stop standing next to Jesse Jackson, attacked the rapper and activist Sister Souljah for her out-and-out racism.