Don't Underestimate Romney

Nationwide, Democrats are confident that President Obama will win reelection. But in Massachusetts, as TPM’s Benjy Sarlin found, Mitt Romney’s former Democratic opponents are far from sanguine:

Romney may have reinvented himself as a movement conservative in his two presidential runs, but those on the Democratic side in his two statewide campaigns tell TPM they see plenty familiar in his style. And they’re warning Democrats who are less than dazzled by his primary performance not to underestimate him.

“Mitt Romney has been running for high public office since 1994 and in every campaign he’s been in he’s gotten better and more disciplined,” Shannon O’Brien, the Democratic nominee for governor Romney defeated in 2002, told TPM. “He has become a very good politician, perhaps one of the most crafty and ruthless politicians in the country today, and it could well propel him to the presidency.”

One rule of thumb, when it comes to presidential elections, is that a major party nominee always has a chance to win, even if the incumbent is strong. Both parties have a high floor for support, and with the shift of a few variables, a winning campaign can easily become a losing one, and vice versa. That is especially apparent in this election, where lackluster economic growth has left Obama in a middling position with the electorate, and given Romney a significant chance at winning the presidency. As Jonathan Chait notes, the Romney campaign is acutely aware of the role the economy plays in this election, and will hammer on economic growth regardless of the circumstances.

That’s not to say that Obama is helpless; the fundamentals suggest a close election, with a slight edge for Obama if the economy improves at its current rate. And because the election is close, campaigns will have a great effect than usual on the outcome. Indeed, a good deal of this will be fought on the margins, with both sides working to protect their coalitions and improve their support among core constituencies.

Yes, Romney is a generic, uninspiring, and mendacious candidate. But that doesn’t mean he can’t win; with a sluggish economy and an able campaign, he can pull out a victory against the president. With that in mind, Democrats should shake themselves of their complacency. It’s never wise to assume an easy victory (see: Martha Coakley), and that’s especially true this year, in this election.