Barack Obama has led Mitt Romney in 21 of the last 25 head-to-head matchups counted by the RealClearPolitics average of polls. Now there are indications the long lead has gone to the president's head.
"To say that the [Obama] campaign doesn't fear Romney is an understatement -- he's viewed as almost a joke," the Web publication BuzzFeed reported this week in an inside look at Obama's Chicago headquarters. As evidence of how hilarious the campaign finds Romney, BuzzFeed reported, Obama staffers have named their building's elevators after cars in reference to the planned car elevator in Romney's California home.
When they're not joking about car elevators, some Obama staffers are reportedly obsessing over a nearly 30-year-old story about Romney's dog.
In 1983, Romney took his family on vacation and, faced with a packed station wagon, put his Irish setter Seamus in a travel kennel strapped to the roof of the car. Romney constructed a special windshield in an effort to make the dog more comfortable, but Seamus ended up relieving himself on the roof, which reportedly caused much consternation among the Romney boys. Ever since the story got out -- it was reported by the Boston Globe in 2007, during Romney's first run for president -- Romney opponents have used it in semiserious and sometimes fully serious ways to portray him as insensitive.
In late January, for example, top Obama campaign aide David Axelrod sent out a tweet that included a photo of Obama with his Portuguese water dog Bo in the back seat of the presidential limousine. "How loving owners transport their dogs," Axelrod wrote.
It wasn't a random comment. "They're obsessed with the dog thing," liberal journalist Chris Hayes said on his MSNBC program Sunday morning, referring to the Obama campaign. "And the reason is that, I have heard, in focus groups, the dog story totally tanks Mitt Romney's approval rating."
That is what happens when a presidential campaign raises hundreds of millions of dollars: It has enough money to convene focus groups to ponder how Mitt Romney treated his dog decades ago.
Of course, with a president facing a still-suffering economy, a troubled war in Afghanistan, and a signature accomplishment -- Obamacare -- that might be declared unconstitutional, the experienced operatives at the Obama campaign have a lot of serious things to think about. For one thing, even though the president is well into his bid for re-election, he doesn't have much of an agenda for a second term.
Higher taxes? More green energy? Something on immigration? Obama has so little to talk about in terms of serious policy proposals that he and his Democratic allies are devoting a lot of energy to a new drive for the Buffett Rule, the proposal that taxpayers who make more than $1 million a year pay their "fair share" -- at least 30 percent -- in federal income taxes. It's not a terrible idea, and the world wouldn't end if it were enacted. It's just not very significant. A recent study by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the Buffett Rule would raise about $47 billion in new revenues over the next decade. That's less than $5 billion a year -- not much when the annual federal budget deficit is $1 trillion. Basing an economic proposal on the Buffett Rule just isn't serious, but at least it's not car elevators and dog stories.
The Romney campaign is fully aware of the derision directed at Romney by the Obama camp. They don't know what the president himself thinks, but they certainly believe the Obama campaign has no real respect for Romney, either as a politician or a man. But they're not particularly troubled by it, because they suspect the end result will be that the Obama campaign will habitually underestimate Romney. When you're running for office, it's almost never a bad thing to be underestimated by your opponent.
Meanwhile, politically savvy liberals outside the White House are worried that many, perhaps most, Democrats aren't taking Romney seriously, either. "I wonder the degree to which Democrats and liberals and progressives are underestimating the formidable nature of the Romney campaign," MSNBC's Hayes asked Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Alter on Sunday.
"Totally underestimating," Alter replied. "I run into people all the time who say, 'Obama's got this.' They don't know what they're talking about."
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.