This is a follow-up to my diary from yesterday, which showed that, according to the poll averages from Real Clear Politics, the Obama/Romney race is nearly identical to the Obama/McCain race at this stage in the campaign.
Today I decided to go back eight years to see how the race between the incumbent George W. Bush and the challenger John Kerry stacked up to today's. And, frankly, I was a little surprised to find that Kerry actually led Bush through the months of July and August 2004 by anywhere from one to three points (on today's date Kerry led Bush by 2.5%, 47.5 to 45).
At first this might appear rather disconcerting because it shows that races really can turn around even when they appear to be locked-in this early out from the election.
But, as elections are basically a referendum on the incumbent, I think it demonstrates the strong position Obama is in vis-a-vis Bush and the weak position Romney is in vis-a-vis Kerry. After all, the thing that would eventually flip the race for Bush was the swift boat ad war that was to come. It's much harder to redefine an incumbent than it is to define a challenger, and it is obvious that Kerry was much better liked at this point in the race, pre-swift boat, than Romney is now. But there was obviously room for the Republicans to chip away at that likability, which is exactly what they did...and what Obama is doing to Romney now, only ten times more effectively.
Which brings us to the other difference. Obama is no John Kerry who allows charges to go unanswered. And his critics are, at least on the face of it, more absurd than Kerry's who, thanks in large part to a compliant media and no push-back from Kerry, at least had the veneer of respectability and credibility which helped to sway public opinion. Obama's critics, on the other hand, have been so crazy and over-the-top for so long, the general public has already learned to tune them out. Donald Trump, Orly Taitz? Could any politician be luckier in his enemies? Apparently, charisma and likability work as a pretty effective shield against baseless character attacks.
But. mainly, it's incumbency that protects him at this point. The one politician the general public is tuned into and feels like it knows personally is the President of the United States. It's pretty hard to convince people that the man they've been observing on a daily basis for well over three years as Commander-in-Chief is not the man they think he is.
So, again, take it for what it's worth, but Obama looks to be doing better at this point in the race than Bush was doing eight years ago.