This is one of those presidential election years in which the incumbent, by most objective standards, should not win reelection. The sluggish growth in the economy is disappointing to virtually everyone, unemployment is unacceptably high, the U.S. credit rating is headed in the wrong direction, and gas prices are significantly higher than four years ago. When the economy looks and feels like this, the incumbent generally loses (Carter 1980, Bush 1992). In fact, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more media focus on the President’s statement in February 2009 that if the economy didn’t recover in three years, his presidency would be a “one term proposition.”

Then there is the current foreign policy crisis in the Arab world, which has the potential over the next several weeks to pose a serious challenge to President Obama’s approval numbers. Whether or not one agrees with Mitt Romney’s comments this past week, events in the Middle East do not inspire confidence. Republicans are jumping all over the Jimmy Carter 1979 analogies.

But if the polls are accurate, President Obama leads the race with six weeks to go. The most crucial numbers of course are the state polls in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. There is an amazing lack of confidence in Mitt Romney, even among Republicans. Judging from comments in a large variety of media sources in the last 10 days, no one thinks he can win.

Their complaints are familiar: he doesn’t relate well to people, he can’t criticize Obama Care because he has to defend his Massachusetts health program, he is too vague on policy details. I believe many Republicans are disappointed that he and Paul Ryan haven’t taken the Medicare/Entitlements fight more directly to the President. The Ryan VP pick was met with initial excitement, but that has waned somewhat as Romney/Ryan seems to have shrunk from that fight. The simple act of selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate made winning the fight over Medicare crucial to his chances of unseating President Obama.

And right on cue, the president is embracing the Bill Clinton legacy, hoping some of it rubs off.

It’s not over. The upcoming presidential debates represent Mitt Romney’s last chance to change the outcome. The opportunity is there. For one thing, expectations for President Obama’s performance are sky high. Everyone expects him to win. If he doesn’t, or if it’s a draw, Romney could gain ground. On occasion, the debates are game changers. After all, the presidential debates are where Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election and where George W. Bush won the 2000 election.

But if Romney is going to achieve that he will have to give the performance(s) of his life.

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