After two political conventions with no big surprises, the nation has two months to decide whether to rehire President Obama or give Mitt Romney his job.
You wouldn’t know from a local perspective that this presidential campaign is, in the words of Obama’s senior adviser David Plouffe, likely to be as “tight as a tick” until Election Day on Nov. 6. He doesn’t expect the president to gain a big bounce after the Democratic Convention.
Kentucky voters refused to board the Obama bandwagon in 2008 and may be even more reluctant in 2012. But the commonwealth’s eight electoral votes are mere peanuts in a nationwide tally. Preference polls fairly consistently show the two candidates running neck and neck. The outcome could hinge on voters who still haven’t made up their minds.
With the economy the top issue and Americans increasingly uneasy about the long-term implications of a mushrooming national debt and deficit, a canny Republican businessman like Romney might seem just the tonic we require. Many do have high regard for his expertise. Others have a nagging suspicion that business doesn’t much care about anything but its own bottom line. They’re troubled by reports of the former Massachusetts governor’s role in Bain Capital, which helped distressed companies overcome their financial difficulties but left a string of job losses and decimated pensions in its wake. Republican talk of privatizing key “entitlement” programs like Social Security and Medicare makes them nervous.
Demographics and fiscal necessity will force significant changes to these social services regardless of who wins. Is Republican business acumen or Democratic humanism the better way to get there? The nation is torn.
Obama has the edge on charisma. He especially captivated young voters in 2008. Now some of them are disillusioned, disappointed that their leader failed to achieve the kind of hope and change they had in mind.
Both candidates have had to buck headwinds within their parties. Staunch conservatives fault Romney for not being conservative enough. Even though he promises to push repeal of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – they can’t shake off misgivings about Romneycare, the health care reform he brought to Massachusetts. Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, blame Obama for doing too little to advance liberal causes. He knows he needs a more centrist approach if he’s to prevail.
Party icons, with some exceptions, have done their bit in the past two weeks to allay internal doubts.
Former President Bill Clinton whipped Democrats into a frenzy with his oratorical defense of Obama as a leader who took on the economic mess created by the Republicans and just needs more time to create the jobs and prosperity America wants. Believers put a lot of stock in Clinton because his administration recorded a budgetary surplus and presided over a thriving economy – until the dot-com bubble burst and brought the boom to a halt. The faithful downplay or ignore his sex scandal and impeachment. George W. Bush, the last Republican president, enjoys less adulation. While his administration had its moments, two wars on borrowed money and the onset of the recession left bad memories.
It now comes down to two candidates of starkly contrasting personalities and philosophies. Pollsters can tell us which way the wind is blowing but it’s still our job to make the decision. As of Sunday, 66 days and counting.