A month ago, there was a fair amount of bravado in Republican circles, with many in the GOP cautiously optimistic the presidential race. The swagger is now gone -- Politico quoted "top advisers to Mitt Romney" who conceded that President Obama is the favorite. The same piece said internal Republican polls show Ohio "clearly" leaning in the president's favor.
Now that the dust has settled on both major-party conventions, we can also take a look at two full weeks' worth of Gallup tracking data.
That straight, boring line on the left half of the chart? That's the period around the Republican convention -- which showed no bounce for Romney at all. As things currently stand, Gallup shows Obama up by five, which is hardly an insurmountable lead, but is the larger advantage either candidate has enjoyed in the last 11 weeks. Other polls are pointing in a similar direction.
With a growing sense of dread in Republican circles, the Romney campaign's pollster published a memo this morning, urging everyone to just calm down. Neil Newhouse -- yes, that Neil Newhouse -- acknowledged Obama's lead, but dismissed the president's advantage as "a sugar high" that won't last.
He may well be right. We don't yet know whether Obama's current lead is the result of a post-convention bounce that will soon fade, or whether it's a new normal that will last until the debates in a few weeks. Time will tell.
That said, it's worth noting that the Team Romney memo was extremely thin -- it wasn't based on data or any kind of evidence; it was instead based on hopes of what Republicans think could happen in the near future. For GOP voters worried about Romney's chances, the polling memo effectively boiled down to, "This'll work out; trust us."
For Republicans inching closer to panic, this may fall short of reassuring. Romney was supposed to get a bump when Paul Ryan was introduced, but that didn't amount to much. He was supposed to get a bump from his convention, but that proved underwhelming, too.
Mark Halperin, who's generally a fairly reliable barometer of what the inside-the-beltway establishment is thinking, said this morning that Romney "faces the immediate threat of both quiet and loud we-told-you-so's from Republicans who last year had the very worries they fear are being manifested now. Romney is an awkward, unlikable candidate.... Until Romney breaks this cycle, he is in danger of living out the Haley Barbour dictum: in politics, bad gets worse."
Halperin added that GOP donors may even start investing less in the presidential race and more in congressional contests if they perceive Romney as a likely loser.
For what it's worth, I tend to think all this handwringing in Republican circles is premature. But eight weeks out, it's also fair to say Obama, not his challenger, is exactly where he wants to be.