Rich Galen
As the Democratic Party gathers in Charlotte, North Carolina this week to re-nominate Barack Obama, the big question Republicans are asking Americans to answer this week is: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

There is almost no metric that would allow a segment of the population to answer, "Yes."

But, before we get into the wrangling of the coming three days, let's step back a bit.

The news, yesterday, was awash with the news that Gov. Mitt Romney got little or no bounce from the Republican convention in Tampa. That was solely based upon the Gallup tracking poll that still has President Barack Obama leading by one percentage point - or did as of Monday afternoon - 47% to 46%.

But, if you look at a broader basket of polls as published by RealClearPolitics.com, we find something else entirely.

On August 11 a group of national polls showed Obama leading Romney 48.4% - 44%. That is a difference of 4.4 percentage points.

As of last night, the RCP average showed Obama with 46.4% to Romney's 46.4%.

Even my limited arithmetic skill shows that as a tie.

And, most of those polls were in and out of the field before either Ryan or Romney spoke on Wednesday and Thursday night last week.

Back to the state of the Union.

The question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? was posed by Ronald Reagan during the one and only Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter on October 28, 1980.

In its entirety the quote was:

"Ask yourself, 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?'"

Which … still works.

The story of that debate was that it was the only debate that year between the two candidates and it occurred one week prior to the election. Prior to the debate Carter was hanging on to a slim 3 percentage point lead among likely voters.

Immediately after the debate (and the "Are you better off …?" question) Reagan moved to a three point lead among LVs and, ultimately, won the election by 10 percentage points.

The Republican National Committee has published a very inventive video showing examples of what Senator Obama was saying four years ago paralleled (eerily so) with his stump speech today.

Mr. Obama's own remarks indicate we haven't made much progress.

But, let's don't get into an argument about the metrics. Let's look, instead, as the strategic advantage the GOP has gained over the past week.

We have said since the summer that the Obama campaign does not want this to be a referendum on the Administration's accomplishments. The Obama campaign wants this to be a comparison between two individuals: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

That's why the Obamas have spent over a half billion dollars - HALF BILLION DOLLARS - pounding Romney's character.

According to a NY Times chart (through July) Obama had spent about $503 million to Romney's $395 million.

Obama and his allies has outspent Romney (and his allies) by about $108 million dollars.

And yet, they are tied.

And Romney had to battle Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum into May of this year. Obama didn't have very many primary opponents.

If the Democrats are answering (or dodging) the "are you better off …?" question, then Romney is winning the messaging war.

Just as Republicans poked fun at Obama last week in Tampa ("We DID build that") Democrats will get their turn at bat stating today.

They will continue to try and prove to American voters that Obama might not have finished paying off the promises he made four years ago, but Mitt Romney is not qualified to be his replacement.

Thirty-two years ago the voting public was pretty sure Jimmy Carter was not up to the job, but they were not at all certain about an actor from California (oh-for-two for most Republicans) until that fateful debate.

In just one week the election turned on its head. That's what the Democrats need to avoid this week.

Because Americans are not better off …


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.