As always Bill Galston and John Cassidy are well worth reading. In interesting new commentaries on the election, both think Obama has the edge, while emphasizing that it might be a close thing and warning Democrats against complacency. I hesitate to put my instincts up against their careful analyses, but if the election were tomorrow and I was forced to put money on one of the candidates, I'd say Romney. I also feel that unless something new and dramatic happens--as it usually does, admittedly--Romney's advantage is more likely to grow than diminish.
Why do I say this?
It's not because the country is sick of Obama. He's still pretty well-liked personally (more so than his policies). Among those who aren't committed to support or oppose him regardless, my feeling is, the country still wants him to succeed. If voters do reject him in November, for many people it will be with regret. It's striking to me that while Obama has approval ratings in the upper 40s, not bad under the circumstances, Congress is viewed by the electorate with naked contempt.
It's not because the opposition to Obama is strong. Romney is a weak candidate. Yes, he was much the most electable of the serious Republican contenders, but that's saying so little. The Congressional GOP, meanwhile, is a national disgrace, and one of the reasons Congress gets such pitifully low approval ratings.
Is it the economy, then? Does that settle it? I don't really buy the view that the current state of the economy will be decisive in this election, one way or the other. This was a very unusual recession and the tepid recovery is correspondingly strange. This time, the mechanical connection between growth and votes needs to be questioned, at least. The country knows that Obama inherited the recession. It also knows that his efforts to arrest it--for which, to be sure, he gets less credit than he deserves--had to contend with fierce GOP resistance. The economy is a negative for the incumbent, but I suspect less so than the raw numbers would lead you to think. Equally, if the pace of recovery improves, that will help Obama but again, I'm guessing, less than the historical correlations would suggest.
So what's the answer? Obama's big problem, I think, is that he is no longer the president he said he would be. Above all, he's stopped trying to be that president.
The astonishing enthusiasm for Obama in 2008 rested heavily on his promise to change Washington and unify the country. You can argue about whose fault it is that Washington is even more paralyzed by tribal fighting than before--in my view, it's mostly (though not entirely) the GOP's fault. For whatever reason, Obama failed to bring the change he promised. That would be forgivable, so long as he was determined to keep trying. But he isn't determined to keep trying. His campaign message so far boils down to this: You just can't work with these people. I tried, they're not interested, so it's war. If they want bitter partisan politics, they can have it.