I saw a columnist point out that a sign of how close the presidential race is how quickly both sides have resorted to personal attacks, trying to disqualify the other. Romney is the challenger and it is always difficult to unseat a sitting president so we can expect him to be hitting hard. But what about Obama?
At first glance things don't look too bad for the President. The latest poll shows him ahead 49-46 although it is within the margin of error. The last two sitting presidents to be unseated faced primary opposition and Obama does not.
Things look worse beneath the surface. That most recent poll under sampled Republicans and over sampled Democrats. I am sure that the White House's internal polling does not make this mistake and they might well be showing Romney ahead.
Like Bush, Romney does not need to win the popular vote. He is pursuing a 3-2-1 strategy. This assumes that he can win all of the McCain states. He then has to flip three big states that usually vote Republican but went for Obama in 2008 plus the two swing states, Ohio and Florida. Finally, he has to pick up one additional state and it does not matter which one. Obama's support is centered in a few very large states so some big wins in those states coupled with tight races in Romney states could give Romney an electoral win.
Conventional wisdom is that primary challenges weakened Carter and Bush (41). I think that this gets things backwards. Those two presidents had primary challengers because they were already weak.
The Democrats have quashed any talk of a serious primary challenge to Obama but a few challengers have gotten on the ballot, anyway and they have been doing well. 41% of West Virginia Democrats voted for an out-of-state candidate currently in jail and 41% of Arkansas voters went for a Tennessee lawyer. "Undecided" got 42% of the vote in Kentucky. Even granting that these are protest votes by people who would not vote for Romney, they show a weak president.
A lot of Republicans are lukewarm on Romney as shown by the success of anyone-but-Romney candidates such as Santorum. The big question is which side is more motivated? Will significant numbers from each side "hold their nose and vote" or will they stay home?
The Obama campaign is trying to tarnish Romney. They are using the Saul Alinsky (and Karl Rove) method of attacking a candidate at his strongest point. The hope is to diminish Romney enough that his supporters will stay home rather than turnign out to vote. The fact that they have started this attack so early shows how desperate they are.
Romney has a long way to go to win the election but at this point he had the Obama people running scared.