Maggie Gallagher

Right after the second debate, Mitt Romney has finally decided to run an abortion ad:

"Those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraception seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it," a female former Obama voter says. "Turns out, Romney doesn't oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life."

Mitt Romney. He's our guy. He's much better than Obama, and I think he will win this race. But could he try any harder to prove he's no Ronald Reagan?

Abortion and gay marriage should be helping put Romney in the White House. Instead, in his consultant-tested messaging, Romney is conveying discomfort with his own position, and in that process, he risks communicating to values voters that he cannot be counted on.

But the missed opportunity to capitalize on voters' discomfort with Obama's extreme positions is the bigger problem. Voters have a hard time believing Obama is extreme because his demeanor is so low-key -- but all the more reason to communicate the truth to them, as the SBA List is trying to do with its amazingly effective new ads featuring an abortion survivor.

Think about it this way: The election comes down to four swing states -- Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and Nevada. To win, Romney needs to win three of these four states (because Ohio is down to 18 electoral college votes).

An alternative strategy is to expand the swing state list into unconventional territory: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Look at that map and figure out if this is the way to use social issues to win an election.

At the second debate, Romney fought Obama to a draw, with an avalanche of numbers and a surprisingly ineffectual performance.

It's harder to debate when your opponent shows up, of course, but under the stress of Attack Obama, Gov. Romney reverted to his core comfort zone: the numbers, not the stories. But the president's aggressiveness is not the whole story.

Romney flubbed Libya, I suspect in part because too much of his brain was occupied by his presumed need to dodge and hide on Planned Parenthood, contraception and immigration. Remembering your massaged story takes up more brain space. Reagan, by contrast, could revert with confidence to his core values.

What did voters hate the most about the performance of both men in the second debate? The lows on the focus group dials came when either candidate failed to answer the question and instead did a practiced, consultant-urged "pivot" to display yet another campaign talking point.


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.