He steamrolled the president in the first debate, managed to punch his way through a jobs report that probably would have been a coffin nail a couple of weeks ago, and is trying to regain the high ground on foreign policy.
This is also the moment when the conservative media barrage is peaking. There are currently three right-of-center political films in major release, Super PACs are shoveling money into ad campaigns in the battleground states, and Fox News and Drudge are pulling out all the stops.
There are also signs that Republican excitement is also revved up again, after suffering through the Democratic convention, and through the heretofore lackluster Romney campaign.
So now the question: Is Barack Obama’s “big blue wall” in jeopardy of crumbling?
Looking at the latest polls, I’d say the answer is a guarded Yes. I think it’s clear that Obama’s astonishingly weak — and I think weak is the right word — performance in that debate placed him in serious peril.
The reason why is all about narratives. For months, Republicans worked assiduously to characterize Obama as the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Obama batted away those charges, in part by appearing fairly ruthless and energized on the campaign trail.
But during that debate, Obama’s demeanor fit neatly into all the worst stereotypes of Carter. Dull, soft, muddled and again that painful word: weak.
There are two unknowns now: First, is Obama’s firewall high enough to hold off the Romney surge? Second, can Obama recover?
The answer to the first question is, to borrow from the Magic 8 Ball, “try back later.”
We’ve seen the Republican flirt with substantial leads in Florida and Virginia, but Obama appears to be hanging on to his advantage in Ohio. He also appears to be above water in Iowa and Wisconsin.
The big danger for Obama is that he may have deflated his margin sufficiently that superior conservative enthusiasm could give Romney surprise wins in places where the Democrat holds a narrow polling lead.
But as things stand now, even with the latest, Romney-friendly surveys, Obama ekes out a win. We’ll see in the days ahead how this evolves.
Which leads us to the second question: Can the president recover? I think it’s safe to say that Obama is no Jimmy Carter. I expect some serious slugging in the days ahead, beginning with the Biden-Ryan debate. Obama also has plenty of campaign cash.
That might slow Romney’s momentum.
But the truth is that once a narrative is established, it’s tough to turn it around. (That Romney pulled it off with that debate is a testament to just how great a performance he turned in.)
Right now, for the first time in the 2012 campaign, I’d say the overall dynamic of the race is even-steven, and maybe even favors Mitt Romney by a whisker.
So bottom line: If in the next week the Republicans can “tip” Ohio and Wisconsin, the Democrats may be faced with an election that’s running away from them.
On the other hand, if those states settle back toward Obama, the debate bump may be remembered as Romney’s high water mark.