- - Sunday, June 3, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In every presidential contest back to George Washington, there’s a time when the two candidates seem like equal combatants, with each deploying his own considerable skills and well-crafted strategy.

The race see-saws: One week, Candidate A is up. The next, Candidate B.

Then there’s a time in every battle for the world’s most powerful job when one candidate seems to outclass the other, when the campaign goes through a sea change and one man takes a clear lead, often an insurmountable one.

That happened in 2008, when Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain were running neck-and-neck in the early summer before the Arizona Republican, through missteps and a failure to fight, began to falter and fade in the fall.

But Mitt Romney isn’t John McCain, and this isn’t your grandfather’s campaign.

Historians may well look back, when they dissect Mr. Romney’s landslide victory in November 2012, to last week — a week when the Republican candidate not only showed that he’s ready to mix it up in the octagon, but the Democratic incumbent looked like an overrated palooka finally matched against someone his own size.

Hard-core conservatives were horrified at the prospect of a Romney run, looking anywhere and everywhere for an alternative, even flocking to an unknown pizza baron in search of a better candidate.

They blanched at the idea of running ANOTHER moderate like the hapless Mr. McCain, fearing that Mr. Romney lacked the steel for what will be a vicious campaign.

Cut to Mr. Romney, in shirtsleeves on Thursday, alone at a podium, with an overgrown parking lot and empty building as a backdrop. SOLYNDRA, said the sign.

“This building, this half a billion dollar taxpayer investment, represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team. It’s also a symbol of how the president thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends,” Mr. Romney said.

Body blow.

Meanwhile, up in Boston, Mr. Romney’s home turf, the Obama campaign had trotted out its top campaign adviser, David Axelrod, architect of one of the greatest upsets in political history, the defeat of the Clinton machine.

He was there to highlight what Team Obama considers its opponent’s failures during his time as governor of Massachusetts.

But there to meet him were 100 Romney supporters, shouting “Solyndra!” and “Where are the jobs?!” They virtually drowned out the sweat-pouring Mr. Axelrod, who was clearly over his head and so befuddled he actually retorted: “You can’t handle the truth, my friends. If you could handle the truth, you’d quiet down.”

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