Mitt Romney continues his surge in the polls two weeks after the first presidential debate. Democrats keep waiting for Barack Obama's free-fall to stop, but the polling is looking less like a fleeting bounce than a strong market correction.
Bounces are temporary. What goes up comes down. They are the products of momentary enthusiasm, like the national-convention spike enjoyed by both sides. Mr. Romney's rise since the Oct. 3 debate has been more durable. It's more like what happens when artificially inflated prices dramatically change course. In this case, the Obama bubble -- which had been gathering steam the previous weeks -- suddenly and dramatically burst.
President Obama remains in a state of denial and maintains electoral prosperity is just around the corner. "What's important is the fundamentals of what this race is about haven't changed," he chirped last week. To the contrary, the fundamentals are driving his numbers down. Economic growth is shrinking. Jobs are scarce. Mr. Obama has amassed two times the federal debt in one term that President George W. Bush did in two terms. These are the inconvenient truths that have driven the correction in the polls. Mr. Romney's debate performance was the catalyst for Mr. Obama's collapse, but the ruinous economic reality has kept the Democrat's downslide going.
The Obama contraction has been most dramatic in battleground states. Three weeks ago, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said, "There are two different campaigns, one in the battlegrounds and one everywhere else. That's why the national polls aren't relevant to this campaign." At the time, the political operative might have had a point. Many poll-aggregation sites showed a steady state-by-state run-up for Mr. Obama. Those charts now show dramatic contractions, wiping out months of gains overnight. It's a classic correction curve.
Mr. Romney is slicing into Mr. Obama's core constituencies, generating a sense of panic in Democratic ranks. A Tampa Bay (Florida) Times poll last week showed Mr. Romney leading among Hispanics by 2 points when he had been 9 points back a month ago. A Pew Research Center survey taken shortly after the debate had the two candidates tied among women, erasing an 18-point Obama advantage. A CBS poll in solidly blue California has Mr. Romney leading among independents in the Golden State by 9 percent, a 23-point shift. If numbers like these hold into November, Mr. Obama cannot win.
On Friday, Mr. Obama implied that -- based on the transcript of the first presidential debate -- he actually had won the showdown against Mr. Romney. Unfortunately for the limping incumbent, voters aren't electing a transcript; otherwise Mr. Obama could send his teleprompter to the debate. Obama supporters are hoping the storyline for the second presidential debate on Tuesday will be "Obama 2 -- The Comeback." The passive candidate from the first debate will be gone; the magic man from the 2008 campaign will make a return. The danger is that Mr. Obama will be so assertive viewers will think he is channeling crazy man Joe Biden.
A good night for Mr. Obama on Tuesday won't reverse the correction. The Oct. 3 debate gave marginal Obama supporters and undecided voters a reason to question why anyone could want four more years of the same leaderless malaise. Once those seeds of doubt were planted, the contraction followed. Markets are rational in the long run. You can't unpop a bubble.
The Washington Times
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