TAMPA, Fla.—National conventions can offer presidential challengers a chance to boost enthusiasm among the party base while preying on voter dissatisfaction—and this week’s confab in Tampa offers Mitt Romney a prime opportunity for both.
The clearest opening for Romney, says Republican pollster Whit Ayres, comes from the Obama campaign’s own catch phrase. New polling from Resurgent Republic, the conservative group headed by Ayres, found that just 39 percent of Americans think the country is “moving forward.”
Ayres and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour released the new data at an event in Tampa on Monday. The poll contained an oversample of voters from battleground states, and 37 percent identified as Democrats compared to 30 percent who identified as Republican.
The poll also found that 39 percent of voters labeled Obama “very liberal,” while just 26 percent of voters thought of Romney as “very conservative.”
Ayres and Barbour also highlighted the so-called enthusiasm gap noting a recent Resurgent Republic study that found 62 percent of Republicans were “extremely excited” to vote in the presidential election, in contrast to 49 percent of Democrats.
Barbour argued that the enthusiasm gap isn’t just about Obama. Voters, he said, are starting to actually like the candidate—in spite of what Romney’s detractors may say.
“And they’ve been told a bunch of terrible things about him,” Barbour said. “That he doesn’t care about people like you, that he ships jobs to China, that he’s a wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian.”
Ayres said Monday that he expects Romney’s position will only improve as undecideds enter the equation.
“It’s hard for us to believe that there’s people just tuning in now, but there are,” Ayres says. “But the historical pattern here is undecideds, at least undecideds going into Election Day, break for the challenger.”
Ayres drew a parallel to former President Richard Nixon’s campaigns. Despite not being well liked personally, Nixon was elected twice. While “you’d rather be liked than not liked,” said Ayres, in a period of economic dislocation, the economy and enthusiasm trump all.
If two-thirds of the country felt the nation was headed in the right direction, he noted, the likeability factor would be a much larger roadblock for Romney.
Despite the enthusiasm gap, Barbour worries that enthusiasm alone might not be enough to counter the Democratic GOTV advantage, which his work with American Crossroads has brought him into firsthand contact with. While Republican ground game success in Wisconsin’s recent recall election gave him some hope, Barbour said a watershed shift has yet to occur.
“We used to have the advantage on ground game—get out the vote,” said Barbour. “They now have the advantage, and we have to do what it takes to overcome the union muscle and money.”Follow @DaveNyczepir