This week, Mitt Romney swept five eastern and mid-Atlantic states, including the North Country, putting a final exclamation point on his claim to be the Republican standard bearer against Barack Obama.
But even as he solidified his place at the top of the ticket, he faced more tough news about the fight ahead.
The first was the incredibly anemic turnout, which echoed lackluster participation in GOP primaries even when the race was still contested.
To topple a sitting president, you need zeal and passion, and not just on the part of major Super Pac donors. Romney needs a 2010-style tea party explosion to shoot him out of the starting gates. So far, we haven’t seen that.
But the bigger problem for Romney is that the state-by-state battleground map continues to look more and more like a minefield.
Yes, Romney has ridden his primary campaign to near-parity with Obama in national polls. But in state-by-state match-ups he continues to trail bleakly.
The widely respected Real Clear Politics map shows the Democrat heading into the summer with 227 electoral college votes already firmly in his pocket or leaning his way. (270 are needed to win.)
Romney, meanwhile, has far fewer: just 170 electoral college votes tipping reliably his direction. That’s a world of difference.
Even worse is the fact that many of the eleven remaining “toss-up states” are tottering toward Obama, some of them by substantial margins.
New polls this week show the President up by double-digit margin in New Hampshire, leading by 6 points in Ohio, and maintaining a narrow lead in Florida. If he captures those states alone, it’s all over.
Even more troubling for Republicans is persistent polling that shows Arizona may actually be in play, with Colorado and Nevada also slipping away.
Romney has infuriated many Hispanics with his opposition to immigration reform, including the Dream Act, which appears to be hurting him badly in the Sunbelt West that was once bedrock Republican territory.
The point of all this? A lot of the coverage of Romney in recent weeks has suggested that he’s moved into a kind of steady asendancy, that a “slow and steady” challenge to Obama will carry the day in November.
I don’t think that speculation is born out by these numbers, or these trends.
To win, Republicans will need to do what they’ve done so successfully in past elections, redefining the larger narrative, shifting the overall mood of the electorate.
I think these numbers also argue for the need for Romney to take some risks as a candidate, showing more passion, and throwing out far more concrete policy ideas.
The GOP is clearly banking on this being a referendum on Obama, and clearly some of that dynamic will be at play. Indeed, consistent polls show that widespread dissatisfaction with Obama is all that’s keeping Romney afloat this point.
But so far, and consistently, Obama is still winning that referendum. Where the all-important electoral college is concerned, he’s winning by a wide margin.