May was a good month for Mitt Romney. His campaign took in a boatload of money, the unemployment rate ticked up, Republicans held off a recall campaign in Wisconsin, and Obama Girl admitted she's not sure her 2008 crush is the best candidate for 2012.
Romney has the momentum, but even as Republicans work themselves up into a storm of anticipation and Democrats begin to drop anonymous complaint bombs in the political press, let's remember there's more than four months until the polls open -- and a whole lot of signs that this may or may not be either man's year.
It's The Economy... - No incumbent since FDR has won re-election with a nationwide unemployment rate higher that 7.2 percent. That number today: 8.2 percent. That's up a tenth of a point from April.
The jobless rate was 7.9 percent in January, 2009, when Obama had just moved east and was still looking for a quiet corner of the White House grounds to host his cigarette breaks. By October, less than a year after he'd assumed office, it was in double digits.
But then the worm started to turn. In the past three years, unemployment has steadily declined. And if we learned anything at all from Ronald Reagan's successful re-election bid in 1984, it's that trends trump numbers.
Advantage: Tie. You can fix the numbers however you like, but no one knows what's going to happen with the economy, much less how people are going to perceive who's to blame for their dislocation.
The Redskins Rule - The closest thing to a sure bet in presidential politics, the "rule" says that a win for the Washington Redskins in their last home game before the general election guarantees the same for the incumbent party. Conversely, if the 'Skins lose, the president or his party's successor candidate will lose, too. Across 72 years of NFL football and 18 elections, it's been defied just once, when John Kerry lost to George W. Bush.
This fall, the Redskins are set to host the Carolina Panthers and their high-flying young quarterback Cam Newton less than 48 hours before the polls open. The Panthers and Redskins went 5-11 and 6-10, respectively in 2011, but Carolina won four of their last six games. They're a team on the rise. The Redskins, by contrast, were flattered by their record and management knew it, so they traded up to draft Baylor University's Robert Griffin III in April. "RGIII" may already be a folk hero in DC, but he's yet to throw a pass ("Sound familiar?" asks the bitter Beltway Republican) and the team around him won't be much changed from last season.
Seventeen of 18 ain't bad, but it's not perfect. Perfect is President Obama's record when running for office in Washington after the Redskins lose in their last home game before the vote. In 2004, he was elected to the Senate two days after the 'Skins lost on Halloween to Green Bay. Four years later, another Washington loss, this time a poleaxing by Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football, vaulted Senator Obama into the White House.
Advantage: Romney. The Redskins are a mess even with RGIII ("One man can't change a broken system," says the bitter Beltway Democrat) and The Redskin Rule is a tough one to break.
The Message of Wisconsin - You thought it was about Gov. Scott Walker's push to bust up public sector unions? You were so wrong! Walker's recall election defeat of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (the same guy he beat in 2010, though this time by a larger margin) was really just one state's way of telling Obama how disappointed they were with his administration.
Which is an interesting narrative, no doubt, though one Wisconsinites promptly sabotaged by telling exit pollsters that had they been voting for president, too, 51 percent would have gone for Obama to Romney's 44. They also picked Obama to do a better job on the economy and said, by a 46-37 percent margin, that the incumbent was more about "helping the middle class."
Of course, exit polls are notorious untrustworthy.
Advantage: Romney. Not because Walker got re-elected, but because those exit polls, which also showed a dead heat between Walker and Barrett, are probably a bit flattering to the president.