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In Politics, Expect the Unexpected

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While the Republican National Convention played out as many expected, the Democratic get-together gave President Barack Obama a boost and seems to have convinced some voters that he deserves more time to work on the economy, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

The convention produced an uptick in the "right direction/wrong track" numbers in a handful of surveys, but even more importantly, it apparently convinced some voters that the president has started the economy on the road to recovery after he found it much worse off than anyone expected.

President Bill Clinton's comment that "even he" couldn't have turned things around in just four years may not deserve credit for the convention's success, but it may sum up the conclusion a few more people had after the convention than before it.

Obama's bump coming out of Charlotte was not large. His standing improved by 2 or 3 points and Romney's slid a couple of points. But in a tight race, with few undecided or "movable" voters, that is a significant move in opinion, and in the shape of the race.

It's also significant that it occurred right after August numbers were released, showing another poor month of job creation. While the unemployment rate fell, only 96,000 new jobs were created in August and hundreds of thousands of Americans stopped looking for work.

But these depressing numbers didn't turn more Americans against the president's re-election. That suggests that the poor economy is already baked into the election outlook and that a crucial sliver of the electorate has concluded that although the outlook is bad, the president deserves another four years to try to turn the economy around.

If this description of the landscape is accurate, it means Romney has just less than seven weeks to change current sentiment. The debates constitute an obvious opportunity, and while the August jobs numbers had little effect, really bad jobs numbers announced in early October or early November could still be important.

And then, of course, there are those unexpected events that can turn a seemingly predictable election into a head-scratcher. Romney mischaracterizes 47 percent of the electorate and the president of the United States suddenly doesn't know whether Egypt is an ally.

Since the conventions, things have deteriorated further for Romney. He seems to spend more time putting himself on the defensive than Obama, and the media death watch is well under way, as evidenced by the process stories about dissension in the Romney campaign and the feeding frenzy about a Romney statement at a fundraiser. The Obama campaign continues to outshine the Republican's in almost every aspect.

The burden is now on the GOP to change the trajectory of the race to deny Obama a second term. That will be very difficult, but this has been a very strange political year and a half, so anything is possible.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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