Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hasn't capitalized on the stagnant economy because after sewing up the GOP nomination, he failed to move quickly on issues critical to key demographic groups and act on the challenger's imperative to offer a better alternative to the president's policies.
To win conservative primary voters, Romney rejected the Dream Act, which enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship in Congress and would permit young adults brought to America illegally as children to earn citizenship by completing two years of college or military service.
After securing the nomination, Romney failed to define a compromise position more acceptable to Hispanic voters and permitted Obama to pre-empt the issue by suspending deportation of those young adults. Obama enjoys an overwhelming lead among Hispanic voters.
Romney vows to repeal "Obamacare" but is vague about what would replace it. The president's healthcare reforms may be too expensive and encourage private firms to offshore jobs to escape costly coverage for employees; however, the law contains provisions popular among the elderly and with women -- for example, much improved Medicare prescription drug coverage and coverage for children with chronic conditions.
No surprise! Obama leads Romney in Florida -- a must-win state for any Republican candidate, along with Texas, given the Democrats' lock on California and New York. And the president enjoys a significant lead among women in battleground states.
On the economy, Romney sounds like a broken record, repeating an annoying theme and undermining his appeal. Constantly harping Obama's economic policies have failed, he asserts his business experience qualifies him to create millions of new American jobs.
Voters recognize Obama inherited a bigger mess than any president since FDR, managed to stabilize the economy and created more than 3.6 million jobs since the recovery began in October 2009.
At Bain Capital, Romney earned his fortune reorganizing troubled companies -- often shutting facilities, outsourcing jobs and firing employees. Little in that history indicates he knows much about shaping public policies to encourage new industries, attract private investment, instigate innovation and generally help U.S. companies compete in global markets and bring jobs to America.
During the early days of his campaign, he talked a lot about the right things -- dealing with unfair competition from China and developing domestic oil -- but since, he has loaded up on Bush administration economic advisers and emphasized broader themes like deregulation and tax and spending cuts.
He hasn't explained how his proposals on trade, energy, healthcare, banking, taxation and regulation would create jobs -- now, not down the road by unshackling Adam Smith's "invisible hand."
Obama, in the spirit of Harry Truman, is out on the hustings in Pennsylvania and the Midwest extolling his rescue of GM and Chrysler, his vision for clean energy jobs, and an America that puts the middle class first.
The president's claims may be thin on facts, especially given the massive debt he is piling up to pay for it all. However, in that part of the country, considerable progress has been accomplished.
The president leads Romney in the polls in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
To win, Romney must go to those places -- spend lots of time, not just advertizing dollars -- and explain exactly how he intends to bring back jobs from Asia and create new ones, get banks lending to businesses again and lower healthcare costs without throwing too many Americans into the breach of an unaffordable free market.
The governor hasn't done that, and instead, Obama has been able to define the campaign in terms of the Obama way or the old way -- aka George W. Bush redux in the person of Mitt Romney.
That's everyone's poltergeist.
(Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)