If the election were held tomorrow, Mitt Romney would be the next president of the United States. Why? Because many voters are afraid, that's why. And fearful people usually try to change their circumstances.
If you listen to talk radio or watch cable news, you'd think everyone was an ideologue, obsessed with party politics. But many, perhaps most, American voters are not wedged into a voting pattern. The same country that elected the conservative George W. Bush voted for the very liberal Barack Obama the next time around. It is perception that wins national elections.
President Bush was perceived to be a terror warrior, and that's why he won two terms. Voters wanted payback for 9/11, and Mr. Bush, along with the fierce Dick Cheney, simply had more tough guy cred than Al Gore or John Kerry. At least that was the perception.
Barack Obama isn't nearly as tough as John McCain, but by 2008, the faltering economy had overridden the terror threat, and the slick senator from Illinois promised hope and change-a return to prosperity and fairness. Senator McCain promised "Country First." Nobody quite knew what that meant, and voters did want a change from the vicious recessionary economy, so Obama won.
Now, voters are scared that their jobs may disappear. They already see their retirement and educational funds evaporating, and most of us know folks who are desperate for money. So the economic fear is real, not perceived, and President Obama has done little to soothe the angst. He's still hoping his big government policies will stimulate the economy, even as the TV flashes pictures of Greeks rioting in the streets.
Mitt Romney is not exactly John Kennedy, so Mr. Obama still has a chance to squeak out a victory in November. Governor Romney must perform well in the debates and convince Americans that the president simply does not understand economics, while he has the magic capitalistic touch that will rebuild the empire. If the governor can stay out of foolish controversies and dodge the landmines the pro-Obama media will lay for him, he will be living larger than he lives now. The White House dwarfs even Romney's lavish beachside shack in La Jolla.
I believe President Obama knows he's in trouble, and that's why he is courting his left-wing base so hard. He's got to get all of them out on election day, and if that means "evolving" on gay marriage, so be it. Mr. Obama is a hardball player who will do everything he can to keep his job. There are not that many openings for messiahs these days in the private sector.
The election is about five months from now, and many things can happen in that time. But fear is a powerful emotion and not easily diminished. So the president should be afraid. Very afraid.