WASHINGTON - Barack Obama's re-election team has been chuffed this week over its attacks on Mitt Romney's venture-capitalist past and his refusal to release more tax returns — but the full-frontal assault is apparently having no impact on the polls.
Romney has even squeaked past the president in one new national poll. A New York Times/CBS survey released Thursday had Romney at 47 per cent support, compared with Obama at 46 — the first time the presumptive Republican nominee has been on top in the survey since primary season.
Voter pessimism about the country's economic prospects are hurting Obama, the poll suggests, with only 39 per cent of respondents saying they approved of his handling of the economy and 55 per cent registering their disapproval.
Obama fared slightly better in a new NPR poll in which he was at 47 per cent compared with Romney's 45. But in key battleground states, the survey found the men tied at 46 per cent each.
Indeed, in crucial swing states, Romney's performing admirably even as he fends off demands to release years of tax returns and questions about the true length of his tenure at Bain Capital. A new Quinnipiac University survey suggests he'd successfully closed an eight-point gap in Virginia, where the two men were dead even at 44 per cent each.
Those aren't the only troubling realities for Obama with less than five months until the presidential election.
Just four years ago, Obama broke a multitude of fundraising records for a presidential hopeful, becoming the first would-be commander-in-chief to raise more than US$100 million in a single month, to name just one milestone. Now he's poised to join a tiny list of incumbent presidents who have been outspent by a challenger.
He can take some comfort in Bill Clinton, who was outspent by Bob Dole in 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but won the election anyway. But the man to whom Republicans love to compare Obama — Jimmy Carter — wasn't so lucky: Ronald Reagan vastly outspent him in 1980, and went on to coast to victory.
Obama and various Democratic National Committee groups raised US$71 million last month, more than $30 million short of Romney's haul.
Indeed, Romney's June fundraising numbers match Obama's 2008 triumph by surpassing the $100 million mark. Indeed, Romney could break Obama's 2008 record of $745 million raised.
Obama hasn't been shy about voicing his alarm.
"I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign," Obama wrote — apparently forgetting about Clinton — in an email to supporters recently.
Earlier this week, he raised his money concerns again.
"In the next four months ... there is going to be more money spent than we've ever seen before," he told a Texas fundraiser. "Folks are writing $10 million checks to try to beat me, running ads with scary voices."
But it's more than that: the wealthy liberals who lined up to donate massive amounts of cash to Obama in 2008 are not materializing this year.
Billionaire George Soros, for example, has coughed up just $2 million so far.
Some are quietly blaming Obama's demonizing of Wall Street when he first took power, his insistence that the wealthy pay more taxes and his snubbing of Priorities USA, a Democratic super-PAC.
Others complain Obama hasn't done enough to woo them. Still others say monied liberals are making a statement against the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision, a ruling that essentially opened the floodgates for corporations to fund political campaigns.
"I don't want to see democracy go in that direction," Warren Buffet said in May as he explained why he's failed to donate to Priorities USA. "You have to take a stand some place."
But one observer suggests that for most one-time Obama donors, it's much simpler than that. As James Carville once famously said while managing Clinton's 1992 campaign: "It's the economy, stupid."
"His fundraising is down because first and foremost, businesses want to back a winner, and they're far less likely to think he's going to win this time," says Andrew Smith, a polling specialist and political scientist at the University of New Hampshire.
"When the economy is this bad, you're just not going to have a whole lot of friends. You're the president, you're getting the blame."