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A sitting president has an enormous advantage over his challenger, which is part of the reason why only two elected incumbents have lost the White House in the last 50 years.
Whoever sits in the Oval Office can shape the national debate and President Obama has done just that in recent weeks. Take the last two as an example. Obama put same-sex marriage at the forefront of the national conversation when May 9 he came out in favor of allowing gays to marry their partners. And this week, his campaign put Mitt Romney's record at the helm of Bain Capital back into the national consciousness with the release of a two-minute TV ad. In both instances, the soon-to-be GOP presidential nominee was caught flat-footed.
With that in mind, C&E asked Wayne Johnson, a Sacramento-based GOP media consultant, what the Romney campaign -- or any other challenger -- can do to regain control of the narrative.
C&E: Is there a way the Romney camp can keep the conversation on the economy when the Democrats seem to be interested in talking about everything but?
Johnson: Whether they like it or not, the Democrats will have no choice but to talk about the economy because if they do not win that debate, they do not win. If the president doesn’t get that, he should talk to the Democratic members of Congress who have been to their district lately. They mostly get it and are focusing the blame on the Republican majority, realizing it is impossible to change the subject.
C&E: Can Romney make inroads if the topic shifts away from the economy?
Johnson: For Romney, it is a huge advantage that the economy will dominate the presidential debate, because that’s all Independents want to talk about, and the governor loses ground within his own base whenever the conversation shifts to another issue.
C&E: What happens if the conversation turns to social issues?
Johnson: Social issues have been a swamp for both parties this year. Republicans did not handle the religious freedom-of-conscience issue well, and Obama appeared to stumble into his position on same-sex marriage. The single piece of real estate that Romney consistently occupied throughout the primaries was that he understood business, and by implication would know how to create jobs and get the economy moving again. If he continues to own that attribution, he wins, because a vote on the economy is essentially a referendum on the incumbent.