Mitt Romney may be trailing in the polls behind President Barack Obama, but don’t count out the former governor of Massachusetts yet. He may not be known as the Comeback Kid, but come back he did, once before, to win the 2002 election that gave him the top job in Massachusetts.
With just about four weeks left before the Nov. 6 general election, the Republican presidential nominee just might draw inspiration from that year's events to turn the tide in his favor. It is not the first time Romney has seen a rough couple of weeks, or months, while campaigning for public office.
While running against Democrat Shannon O’Brien in the 2002 gubernatorial race in Massachusetts, Romney was figured to be the loser in the heavily Democratic state. After all, the numbers indicated so: As late as mid-October, Romney was six to 12 points behind O’Brien in the polls; women had an 18-percentage point preference for O’Brien, a former state treasurer. Those numbers are closely reminiscent of the polls he's facing today against President Obama.
Romney has been labeled as out of touch with average voters in the past, and his trustworthiness challenged. His opponent back then came out swinging aggressively at him from the beginning on many issues.
But as Election Day 2002 drew closer, Romney decided to amp up his own attacks with two feisty ads featuring Duncan, a basset hound, playing the part of a passive pooch, idling on the job as men took bags of money from the treasury. It was Romney’s way of hitting O’Brien for the billions the state pension fund lost in the stock market crash on her watch.
“He’s good in a crisis,” Mike Murphy, a former Romney chief strategist told the Boston Globe. “When things are going tough, he’s calm and he’s remarkably clearheaded. … I wouldn’t write him off.”
A recent CNN poll shows Obama leading Romney by only 3 percentage points in the general election (50 to 47). A Rasmussen poll shows Obama with a one percentage point lead.
In a more recent poll of likely voters conducted by Quinnipiac University between Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, Obama still holds a less significant lead over Romney. Forty-nine percent of likely voters in that poll said they would vote for Obama if the election were held today, as opposed to 45 percent who would favor Romney.
Obama has a vast 18-point lead among female voters, 56 percent to 38 percent, and 94 percent to 2 percent among black voters. There is a sharper divide, however, among independent voters, of whom 47 percent are for Romney and 45 percent for Obama, according to Quinnipiac’s data.
“It is also very difficult to win an election when you are getting shellacked among women, the group that makes up about half the electorate,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Brown added that voters have historically preferred a divided government -- out of a belief that "one side can keep the other in line" -- which Washington has had since 2010, with a Republican-majority House but a Senate and White House controlled by Democrats.
“But these numbers may indicate that the public is fed up with gridlock in Washington,” Brown said.
Fifty-percent of the voters in the Quinnipiac poll said the economy is the most important issue in the upcoming election, while healthcare and the budget deficit follow with 17 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
The candidates are just about tied as to who can better fix the economy, while 52 percent of voters said Romney would handle the budget deficit best.
“Some critical keys to the president’s lead are that Romney has not convinced voters that he would do a better job on the economy,” Brown said. “Romney is more trusted to address the budget deficit, but Obama is the choice to handle other major problems -- and the go-to guy if you or a family member is in danger overseas.”
Romney will have an opportunity to overshadow Obama in the presidential debates, the first of which will take place Wednesday night. The Republican nominee told a Denver crowd on Monday that the upcoming debates are not about winning or losing, but giving a chance for each candidate to talk about his plan.
“There’s going to be all the scoring of winning and losing and, you know, in my view, it’s not so much winning and losing or even the people themselves, the president and myself, it's about something bigger than that,” Romney said. “These debates are an opportunity for each of us to describe the pathway forward for America that we would choose, and the American people are going to have to make their choice as to what kind of America they’d want.”
Ninety-three percent of likely voters in the Quinnipiac poll said they are planning to watch Wednesday's debate. However, 86 percent of them say they aren’t expecting the candidates to say anything that would change their minds.