‘End of the Referendum’

I write about the state of the race in Politico today. I think it’s clear now — at least to me; some people realized it at the time — who won the conventions and why:

If you had to pinpoint the exact moment when Romney’s strategy to make the election largely a referendum on President Barack Obama collapsed, about 10:56 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Sept. 5 would be as good a guess as any.

That’s when, roughly 20 minutes into his sprawling oration at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., former President Bill Clinton said that no president — not even the 42nd — could have done a better job fixing the economy than Obama, given the problems the incumbent inherited.

The riff was typically self-regarding. Yet it memorably — and for some voters, persuasively — stated the case for cutting the president slack for his economic stewardship in trying circumstances.

The Big Dog was pushing on something of an open door. Obama has failed, but for a majority of voters he hasn’t failed enough to make it self-evident that he should go. The Romney campaign spent its convention answering the question: Is it OK to fire Obama if he’s such a fine fellow? When the real question is: Can Romney do any better?

The bright side to the shift in the race brought about by the conventions — with perhaps an assist from Romney’s 47 percent remarks — is that it shows that the elecorate is fluid and open to argument. But Romney has to go out and win the argument over his program. Here are some more thoughts from the editors today on this theme.

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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