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Michael Gerson's op-ed column on the candidates and the presidential race.
WASHINGTON--The presidential race has been stable for months, but not in a way favorable to Mitt Romney. On his best days, Romney is even with President Obama. Usually he is a few points behind.
This dynamic has not been changed through advertising. More money has been spent on TV ads in the general election so far this year than during the entire 2008 presidential election. But opinion seems settled and difficult to budge.
The selection of Paul Ryan did not change the race's structure. Romney's message is untouched by his running mate's revolutionary fiscal realism. Romney chose Ryan, not Ryanism.
Romney's convention speech did not change the unfavorable stability of the campaign. Romney softened his image through biography; he did not broaden his appeal with unexpected outreach. There were no innovative policy initiatives directed toward Hispanics or suburban women. The speech was ideologically uncreative.
This analysis requires an admission: Obama's political strategy has generally worked. The president could not run on his economic performance, so he has turned the race into an ideological contest that he has a better chance of winning. Romney has made his contribution to the success of Obama's strategy. The Democratic convention included an aggressive outreach to Hispanic voters--enabled by Romney's alienation of this group during the primaries. The policy of "self-deportation" has pushed a community heavy with social conservatives and entrepreneurs toward the party of Sandra Fluke and Elizabeth Warren.
While Obama's approach is succeeding, it has not yet succeeded. A base strategy requires a party's base to turn out on Election Day. For Obama, Latinos, single women, and younger voters must become likely voters. The Obama campaign should be concerned. Levels of enthusiasm in the Obama coalition are lower than four years ago.
It is also possible that bad economic news will be a sodden blanket that weighs down Obama's support among all groups. Job growth is historically weak. At the August pace of job creation, according to the Manhattan Institute, America will reach 6 percent unemployment in 32 years.
Obama has significant vulnerabilities. But Romney does not appear to have a route to victory that allows him to coast. If he plays not to lose, he seems likely to.
Michael Gerson is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.