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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney talks to an aide on his campaign plane while en-route to Las Vegas, Sept. 21, 2012. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney talks to an aide on his campaign plane while en-route to Las Vegas, Sept. 21, 2012. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)

U.S. ELECTION

Can Romney dig himself out of this hole? Add to ...

Ineptness and inauthenticity are killing Mitt Romney’s campaign and his fast-fleeing donors are mad as hell at him for blowing what seemed a credible shot at the White House.

When two Colorado university professors predicted last month Mr. Romney would easily win the U.S. presidential race, they had history on their side. They based their prediction on the same statistical model that had correctly forecast the last eight elections.

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The model, which draws on key economic data from every state, “suggests that presidential elections are about big things and the stewardship of the national economy,” University of Colorado political science professor Kenneth Bickers said then. “It’s not about gaffes, political commercials or day-to-day campaign tactics.”

Mr. Romney seems to be doing all he can to prove him wrong. While a somewhat better economy was already starting to complicate the Republican nominee’s path to victory, his gaffe-prone performance since the convention has turned him into the clear underdog.

There are six weeks, and three debates, to go before election day. The fat lady has not even cleared her throat. To save himself from disaster, however, Mr. Romney will need more than a revamped strategy. Short of bad economic news, a foreign policy crisis or unforced errors by President Barack Obama, he may need divine intervention.

This is the week the psychology shifted. The emergence of a secretly-taped video of Mr. Romney disparaging almost half of the electorate as tax deadbeats who will “never take personal responsibility and care for their lives” left Republicans demoralized and Democrats, for the first time in a long time, excited about November.

It may be impossible now for Mr. Romney to unite his party behind him. Right-wingers and Tea Partiers never liked him to begin with. Now, he looks like a loser, to boot.

Judging by the rate at which Republican candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives are distancing themselves from Mr. Romney, they must be petrified that his so-called “reverse coattails” will take them down with him in November.

“The Romney campaign has to get turned around,” former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in her weekend Wall Street Journal column, posted Friday. “This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant ‘rolling calamity.’”

That was after Ms. Noonan, in a blog post earlier this week, slammed Mr. Romney for dismissing “the 47 per cent” of Americans who pay no income taxes and will vote for Mr. Obama “no matter what.”

“This is not how big leaders talk. It’s how shallow campaign operatives talk,” she wrote. “They’re usually young and dumb enough that nobody holds it against them, but they don’t know anything. They don’t know much about America.”

Mr. Romney’s constantly shifting message has caught up with him. He first owned up to the video by explaining that, while he had expressed himself inelegantly, he was articulating his belief in a free enterprise in comparison to Mr. Obama’s belief in a “government-centred society.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Romney’s campaign even released a “gotcha” video of its own, showing Mr. Obama telling an audience in 1998: “I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure everybody’s got a shot.”

But by Thursday, Mr. Romney seemed to agree with the President: “My campaign is about the 100 per cent in America … about helping the people who need help. And right now, the people who are poor in this country need help getting out of poverty.”

Mr. Romney’s best hope might lie with Mr. Obama. The President is not running the same awe-inspiring campaign that propelled him to the White House in 2008. Facing a couple of tough questioners from the Spanish-language network Univision on Thursday, he showed he is not immune to the gaffe virus either.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside,” he said. “That’s how I got elected, and that’s how the big accomplishments like health care got done – because we mobilized the American people to speak out.”

It is bad enough for a president to declare himself powerless. But his health-care reform was the epitome of an inside Washington job. His administration bought off the major health industry lobbies to win their support. The “American people,” meanwhile, spoke out loudly against his bill before it was passed and remain largely opposed to it.

Then there is the economy. Prof. Bickers and his Colorado co-author, Michael Berry, intend to update their prediction model next week with more recent data on unemployment and personal income in each of the 50 states. According to their analysis, history suggests Mr. Obama, not Mr. Romney, should be the underdog.

“Right now, the economic factors we look at are such that [Mr. Obama] should not do very well in the battleground states,” Prof. Berry said in an interview. “I certainly would not write off Mitt Romney.”

Yet, by the end of this week, more and more Americans already had.

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