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Commentary: Romney must be more than a Mr. Fix-It

I’d guess that about now it’s panic time at President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters. Last week, a poll showed Republican Mitt Romney edging ahead of Obama 46-43 percent, but what really stood out was Romney’s support among women. The former Massachusetts governor had surged ahead, 46-44.

What’s more, this was a CBS News/New York Times poll, which typically taps a survey sample overweighted with Democrats.

A month ago I wrote about a poll that had Romney hopelessly consigned to the nation’s female doghouse, trailing Obama by a miserable 57-38. Fast forward a few weeks and the picture has completely changed; so much for the Dem notion of a Republican “war on women.” The women aren’t buying it.

What’s up with these polls?

The big news recently was Obama’s flip, er, evolution, on gay marriage. To say voters were unimpressed would be an understatement.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents to the CBS/Times poll dismissed Obama’s move as political opportunism rather than a principled stand, a reaction that no doubt reflects the clumsy way it unfolded. Vice President Joe Biden blurted out his support, forcing Obama to declare himself as well — which he did a few days before North Carolina voters trounced a same-sex marriage ballot issue by 61 percent.

Speaking of North Carolina, Obama has seen a significant erosion of support in that state as well. He won it by a small margin in 2008, but a recent Rasmussen poll had Romney up by 8 at around 51 percent. And here, too, Romney had a solid lead among women — 53-41.

These are significant shifts in a very short time and may reflect not only Obama’s inept handling of the gay marriage issue, but the fact that the Republican primaries are finally over and many voters are taking a serious look at Romney for the first time. Many may have simply written Obama off and concluded, at least for the time being, that Romney is an acceptable alternative.

Is the CBS/Times poll an outlier? Perhaps. In the Real Clear Politics average of major polls last week, Obama was still slightly ahead and nearly 5 points up in the key swing state of Ohio.

In other words, Romney is in no position to assume it will be clear sailing to November. The ground can shift quickly. A few weeks ago, gasoline prices seemed headed for $5. Now prices are moving in Obama’s direction — down. If the economy starts to accelerate significantly, he may well win a second term. But if last week’s CBS/Times poll is echoed by other surveys, it will be clear the president is in serious trouble.

Romney must continue to hone his message. During the primaries, he made good progress in that department. He endorsed Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, with its spending cuts and critical reform of Medicare. He’s offered a tax-reform plan with a 20 percent across-the-board cuts in rates.

But Romney seemed to take these steps reluctantly. His initial economic plan — a 59-point mishmash — revealed his core inclinations to fuzz-up an issue with eye-glazing detail. Let’s face it. The man is a technocrat.

Many voters may well conclude that’s what the country needs at the moment and that Romney is the best available choice given the terrible record of the incumbent.

But Romney can’t count on that carrying him across the finish line. He must offer a vision larger than himself, and that means putting forward an upbeat program on jobs, the economy and entitlement and budget reform. He must seek a clear mandate to grapple with the nation’s ills.