June 19, 2012 -- 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.
You Have To Win (One of) Your Home State(s) - No candidate before or after James K. Polk in 1844 has lost both his home states and still won the White House.
That's right: Both. There's no law that says a candidate can't have more than one "home state." Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, and both Bushes all lost one of their two "home states," but triumphed in the other. Wilson and Nixon won in the places they were born, but failed to carry the states in which they lived. The opposite was true for Lincoln and Bushes 41 and 43, the latter two Massachusetts- and Connecticut-born, respectively, owners of a family compound in Maine, but for official purposes, Texans.
Romney will have to "do a Polk-a" to win the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The "severely conservative" former Massachusetts governor is looking at long odds both there and in Michigan, where he was born and lived, for a time, as the governor's son.
Advantage: Obama. Massachusetts was never in play and Romney's opposition to the auto bailout probably took Michigan off the table.
That Thing Santorum Said - To be fair, Santorum said a lot these last few months, but nothing so dripping with historical aplomb as when he declared it would require a true conservative believer in the mold of Ronald Reagan to defeat President Obama. Reagan, Santorum recalled, was the only Republican to challenge a sitting Democratic president and win since Grover Cleveland delivered Benjamin Harrison his marching orders in 1888.
The rest failed because they were not conservative enough. (You know, like Barry Goldwater in 1964.)
Advantage: Obama. If you think Santorum is right or at least makes a point, then Obama. If you think Santorum's theory is nonsense, then N/A.
Cross Tabulation For The Win- No president since LBJ has won re-election without having held a Gallup-measured job approval rating of at least 49 percent in the spring before the November election. Those who failed to crack that barrier - Gerald Ford, Carter, and Bush 41, topped out at 43 percent. Obama had a 47 percent approval rating in May.
Advantage: Tie. Obama splits the difference on job approval, but his personal likability rating is still pretty high.
Mo' Money, Mo' Votes - Ninety-four percent was the stat quoted by Occupy Wall Protesters, a figure that Politifact rated "mostly true." However you parse the numbers, having more money is a major boost. Which is why Mitt's big May haul - $76 million to Obama's mere $60 million - basically guarantees Romney will take the oath of office next February!
But about that: The Federal Election Commission says President Obama is currently sitting on $115,157,433. By the same count, Romney has banked only $9,211,335. So it's settled, Obama should start practicing the oath with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts so they don't muck it up again, because he has more money and is going to win!
Advantage: Local stations in swing states, where all this money will be splayed about to pay for TV ad spots.
Obama Girl Has Turned - The woman who sang the unofficial anthem of the Obama 2008 campaign has said she's no lock to vote for the president again in 2012.
He's got Obama Boy now, but a return to past viral glories seems unlikely.
Note: Amber Lee Ettinger, AKA "Obama Girl," didn't actually sing the song, just lip-synced it for the video, so what does the real singer think? (We have no idea.)
Advantage: Romney. Spin it however you want, losing Obama Girl burns.
It Is/Is Not In the Stars - A panel at the United Astrologers Conference has declared in unanimity that Barack Obama (Leo) will defeat Mitt Romney (Pisces) in their coming showdown.
"It's obvious," Chicago* astrologist and panelist Nina Gryphon told Reuters, "Obama stays where he is without a change in status."
*"Chicago astrologist," huh?
Advantage: Obama. Que sera, sera.
AND THE WINNER IS... Obvious!
You probably know him as the true leader with the clear-cut plan to expand the domestic economy and shrink the deficit, while neither raising YOUR taxes nor cutting the spending YOU rely on for a salary or student aid.
He has a Harvard Law degree and raises campaign cash at a rate his rival's staffers are concerned their organization could never match or maintain.
In other words, not the guy who refuses to talk about his record and has no real plan to improve the economy or stand up to our enemies abroad.
See? It's clear. Just follow the signs.