The best that can be said about how Mitt Romney fared in July is that he survived. That has only raised the stakes for what the presumptive Republican presidential nominee needs to do in August.
July was not a good month for Romney. His foreign trip drew extensive and negative news coverage, although there were also some pluses, and it’s not clear in any case that it will have any real impact in November. Back home, due to the daily combat between his and President Barack Obama’s campaigns, Romney sustained some damage.
Overall, the head-to-head polls have moved little since the end of June. Obama holds a small but hardly comfortable lead. The newest numbers put Romney among the worst-rated presidential nominees in the past seven elections. His low numbers were in the same range as 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole and those of then-President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Both lost their races.
Romney is above 50 percent positive in the Pew findings with only two groups: Republicans and white evangelical Protestants. Romney advisers say the deterioration between June and July is mostly with people who were not going to vote for Romney anyway.
It’s worth noting that Obama’s ratings are far below their 2008 levels. In October 2008, his positive ratings were 40 points higher than his negative ratings. But Romney is in far worse shape after the pounding he’s taken over Bain, his tax returns and other issues.
Regardless, Romney’s team saw June and July as difficult months, a period when the Obama campaign would have more money to spend on advertising than they would (not counting super PAC spending) and a time devoted to expanding a relatively lean staff to get ready for the fall campaign.
His advisers long have said that if Romney can get to his convention with the race close to even, he will be well-positioned to pull ahead during the final two months of campaigning. They still believe that and say they are on track. That presumes that any erosion in his personal image can be turned around quickly before it begins to affect the polls nationally and in the swing states.
That leaves Romney with much to do starting this month. Over the next four weeks, he will need to do what the campaign long has said he would do, which is to introduce himself to the voters in a much more positive and appealing way. He’s known now more for his wealth than anything else.
The second and more important moment will be the GOP convention in Tampa, which starts in three weeks. He needs a well-choreographed event and, even more, an exceptional acceptance speech. Others have accomplished as much at their conventions, and Obama’s team expects Romney to repair some of the damage from the summer.
Until then, a number of Republican elected officials have called on Romney to offer a bolder and more understandable plan for addressing the economy and the deficit. Will he be able to effectively frame the final weeks of the campaign in a way that puts Obama more on defense and himself more on offense?
One example of being on the defensive: Romney hasn’t answered difficult questions that have been raised about who would and who would not benefit from the tax and economic plan he’s put forward. A report from the unaligned Tax Policy Center, which said the plan doesn’t add up, has punched a hole in his platform that begs to be filled.
Romney has unveiled new ads and a new focus on the middle class. But his vice-presidential pick will be the first real moment for that fresh look to take place, and this weekend, the Weekly Standard urged him not to make a safe choice of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, but instead to go bold with either Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.