Tied in the polls, tied in the swing states, tied in the number of gaffes they seem to be making, Obama and Romney seem neck and neck lately. They may remain so until quite late in the season -- say, Nov. 5, 2012.
On the other hand, the trends and the upcoming events seem to favor Mitt Romney, who has more money to spend, more room to maneuver, and more empty space to fill out. Obama has cash now, but he is burning it quickly and in September will be at a large disadvantage. The economy won't improve in the near future. And Romney's convention will probably help him, whereas Obama's most surely will not.
Romney's difficulty in connecting with people will probably disappear around the fourth week in August, when he becomes defined by his family. They are still
largely unknown, but are the Kennedys without scandal or tragedy. If he has trouble expounding his virtues, there are plenty of people to talk them for up him: Expect to hear a lot about his work for his church, helping people in trouble; his rescue with his sons of the people whose boat capsized on the lake near his house in New Hampshire, and especially of the time he shut down Bain for a week and moved to New York to head the search for the daughter of an employee who disappeared at a party. She was finally found in the basement of a house in New Jersey, a TV movie in waiting if ever there was one, or else an episode -- ripped from the headlines -- on Law and Order, SVU.
If Romney's convention is a Christmas present that waits to be opened, Obama's looks like a series of death traps he will have to work hard to avoid. The good things about him are known to the public, and the new things about him aren't good. Like the ghost of Christmas Past, the campaign of four years ago will hang over the present: the screaming, the fainting, the faux-Grecian columns, the crowds.... But les neiges d'antan have already melted; no one today thinks he's the Messiah, the base is depressed, the donors are stingy, and he's a commonplace pol, older and grimmer, who wants to hold on to his job.
The main problem facing our one-time messiah is finding a case he can make for his cause. What can he point to? The slow rate of growth? The number of jobless? The "recovery summers" that never quite happened? The people who have stopped even looking for work? He's done some big things, but that is the problem: he can't bring them up before a mixed audience as they make too many people too mad. Health care reform? You've got to be kidding. Gay marriage? It's lost nearly every time it faced voters, even in blue states. He may be the belle of the ball at the Transgender Caucus, but swing voters in Michigan may have other thoughts. He did bag Osama (and good for him), but charges that leaks were made to burnish his laurels may come back to haunt him.
People stopped blaming George W. Bush for the economy, and Bush didn't pour millions down the drain of Solyndra while turning thumbs down on the Keystone Pipeline, pleasing Hollywood backers and costing workers thousands and thousands of jobs.
Obama can't make a case, except that Romney is evil, which few seem to be buying. And Romney's best sales pitch has yet to be made.
Which is why Romney may see Light in August, at the same time Obama sees the light of the oncoming train.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."