The Republican race to be the nominee is officially over and Mitt Romney is the great hope of the Grand Old Party. While on paper he looks like the perfect candidate for Republicans (white, wealthy and handsome), he lacks the charisma and conviction to fire up the base. On the other side of the spectrum is Barack Obama who, like Romney, lacks the enthusiasm from his base he once enjoyed.
Both have made strides to reach out to their respective bases hoping to fire them up for the battle in November, but in their attempts to court their group of voters have they forgotten the key constituency to victory? The key is the body of Independents who identify themselves as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. They make up 40 percent of registered voters and will decide the fate of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
Candidate Obama was once the shining star of the Democratic Party and wet dream of the liberal base. Four years later liberals are suffering from buyer’s remorse; he promised change but could not deliver on that promise. Then this May Obama sought to rekindle the love affair by coming out in support of gay marriage. It was a smart campaign move to not only fire up the liberal base but endear himself to Independents. Romney on the other hand decided to play to his base by denouncing the president’s newfound clarity at a Liberty University, an uber-Christian establishment, commencement address. Obama successfully moved to the middle while Romney strayed further to the right. Clearly Obama is winning the middle ground on social issues like gay marriage while Romney is stuck with his base in the past.
Romney’s need to please his following instead of appealing to Independents is killing his chances to win November. Appearing with Donald Trump, the bloviating ignoramus as George Will likes to refer to him, hurts his image with Independents—many of whom despise Trump’s renewed birther claims. If Romney wants to win over Independents he needs to distance himself from Trump and move to middle on the next hot button issue: immigration. A Princeton University Poll found 49 percent of Americans support granting citizenship to undocumented youth who graduate from U.S. colleges, but Romney sticks to his base, who sees any kind of immigration reform that doesn’t involve shipment back to their original country as amnesty. Obama has endorsed the Dream Act and will use it to his advantage during the debates, leaving Romney stuck on the right and Obama clearly in the middle.
While social issues are important in campaigns, this election will hinge on one thing: the economy. The direction of the economy come November will determine the next president and recent jobs numbers don’t bode well for Obama. His election year slogan is “Forward,” but looking at the state of the US economy and the global economy, “Backwards” seems a more appropriate slogan. In a recent Gallup poll a majority of Americans said they believe Romney would be the best person to fix the current state of the economy and I would agree. Obama’s Jobs Bill is an amalgam of tax cuts and stimulus that will only boost the economy in the short run while Romney’s plan focuses on creating an environment where businesses can grow through lower tax rates and reducing regulation. On this issue Obama is losing the middle ground and if the economy does not get better come November, Independents will vote for Romney even if he is in opposition to their social views.
There is another issue that Independents and Americans care about when voting for president and that is likability. In the likability battle Obama is winning by a landslide; he is cool, charismatic and comfortable in his skin. Romney contains none of these attributes. In fact, Romney is as comfortable in his skin as a lobster is in a pot of boiling water. He lacks the charm and ease of Obama when dealing with ordinary Americans; he is stiff, robotic and awkward—similar to a teenage boy trying to talk to a girl. While I don’t think likability will be a major factor in voting, it’s just another plus in Obama’s favor.
Social issues, the health of the economy and likability will all play large roles in the voting habits of Independents come November, and from the looks of it Obama is winning the social issues and likability race. That being said, it doesn’t guarantee him the White House if the economy crashes and burns anytime between now and November. No matter how much Independents like Obama or agree with him on social issue, putting food on the table comes first. If Obama wants to win in November he needs to stop portraying himself as the man who feels your pain and portray himself as the man who can fix it.