11:26 am Sep. 19, 20121
The question for Mitt Romney's campaign isn't just how bad the 47 percent stuff is hurting him with voters, but whether he can go on like this for a moment longer.
Yes, it was Romney's facile and, worse, politically dopey comments that sank his campaign aides into a depression and led to a frenzy of conservative-pundit concern-trolling that culminated in Peggy Noonan's epic call for an "intervention."
But while the leaked speech is damaging, the real problem for Romney is the waste of a full week and counting, spent explaining and repackaging his own statements and insisting nothing's wrong with his campaign.
The opportunity-cost is unaffordable for a candidate who's primed to lose this election. And make no mistake: if nothing changes, and the polling in the swing states is even moderately accurate, Romney is primed to lose it.
As of last Tuesday night, Romney had just under eight more weeks—approximately fifty-four days, if you discount Election Day—to make his case to voters.
Since then, the campaign has been consumed by his ill-considered Libya comments, Campaign in Disarray process stories and his "private" remarks about 47 percent of the country (followed, naturally, by more Campaign in Disarray stories).
Whether any of these stories actually changes any voters' minds about the candidate, the fact is that they've essentially consumed all the media bandwidth on seven days out of the 54 days left, during which time Romney was not making an argument for his candidacy.
Throw in the inevitable day or two of media analysis of the fund-raiser comments and then the conservative backlash to that, and ... it starts to add up to something more than the Romney candidacy can bear.
Consider the state of the race. Earlier on, the Romney campaign said its best chance for victory would be to start by taking back three traditionally Republican states that Obama won in 2008: Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Those first two may go their way, but an average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics shows Obama with a relatively steady 3.0 point lead in Virginia. If the Republicans lose that state, the game is likely over.
Then the Romney campaign officials conceded that to make the electoral math work they would also need to win Ohio and Florida. A similar combination of polls has Obama leading the former by 4.2 points and the latter by 1.4.
After taking those five, Romney would still need to win another Democratic state, with decent possibilities at the moment including Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, Colorado and Iowa. All of these are close, but Romney has not led consistently in any of them.
Obama’s leads in most of these states are small, so it could theoretically take only a single major event to erase the margins in several of them at once. But it'll have to happen soon.
It was around this time back in 2008 that the electoral math started to become crystal-clear: the Democrats knew that, barring a shake-up or a major error, the Republican nominee couldn't possibly win enough states to become president.
Warning that Democrats had a history of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” Obama actually took the step of appearing on a campaign-wide staff call to remind his team that the outcome wasn't preordained, and to tell them to keep their heads down and essentially not blow it.
This is a closer election than the one four years ago, and Romney's allies still have lots of money to spend on potentially damaging negative ads.
The thing they and their candidate are running out of is time.
Blake Zeff is a former presidential campaign aide to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and a former aide to Chuck Schumer and Eric Schneiderman.