President Obama’s unhappy June came to a happy close — and he had more than the Supreme Court to thank for that.
The presidential race has been essentially tied for an uncommon length of time. No dynamic — not glum economic news, not a special election loss, not a series of off-message surrogates — has been able to shake that.
But over the last two months, even as national polls have shown little movement in the race, something different has been happening in the battleground states. It’s as if there’s a parallel campaign in the states that are likely to determine the presidency, one with its own rhythms and realities.
In those states, President Obama has been pulling ahead. The gaps aren’t huge, but taken together, the numbers strongly suggest that Democrats’ relentless attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record at Bain Capital have been taking a toll.
Quinnipiac University polling last week in the three big classic swing states show the president with narrow but identifiable leads. He’s up four points in Florida, seven in Ohio, and six in Pennsylvania.
Among the things that those states have in common is that voters there have seen an avalanche of early advertising focused on questioning Romney’s business record.
The Super PAC supporting Obama’s reelection effort has already dumped $10 million into Bain-related ads, in a series of ads that have run in five major battleground states since the middle of May.
“If Romney wins, the middle class loses,” one ad from Priorities USA Action declares.
The Obama campaign has picked up the same theme in paid advertising. Campaign officials say they’ve spent only about $200,000 on Bain ads so far, but that number will grow fast, and the campaign’s attempts to push reports of Bain companies sending work overseas show that aides recognize the potency of these lines of attack.
Last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found a third of those polled in battleground states said they think more negatively about Romney as a result of hearing about his business experience. Those saying the opposite were outnumbered nearly 2-1, despite the fact that his time at Bain is perhaps his most salient selling point to voters.
The Romney campaign is waking up to that reality. The campaign has grown more aggressive in refuting Bain-related news stories and advertising.
More importantly, Romney’s counter-assault on Obama has barely begun. To the surprise of many political observers, his fundraising team is already on pace to match or even exceed Obama’s, despite the president’s huge 2008 advantage and the powers of incumbency.
When outside groups are factored in, Obama aides say they could be outspent by 25 percent or more this year. That’s one reason for the urgency in the president’s plea to major donors, in a fundraising call to donors made aboard Air Force One on Friday.
“I just hope you guys haven’t become disillusioned,” the president said, according to The Daily Beast, which reviewed an audiotape of the call. “If things continue as they have so far, I’ll be the first sitting president in modern history to be outspent in his reelection campaign.”
Obama’s Supreme Court victories may color the national landscape, but the money chase is creating its own reality in the parallel, battleground-state campaign.
Early in June, Democrats saw a rough month coming and took heart in the fact that they had five months left to turn things around. Now, with four months left, the mood has shifted, along with the concern: Their success in defining Romney has to last a whole lot longer, with a whole lot more money set to flow from the other side.