Can Romney possibly recover? A survey conducted between Sept. 12 and Sept. 16 by the Pew Research Center -- before the "47 percent victim" video came to light -- showed Obama ahead of Romney 51% to 43% among likely voters.
That's the biggest margin in the September survey prior to a presidential election since Bill Clinton led Bob Dole, 50% to 38% in 1996.
And, remember, this recent poll was done before America watched Romney belittle almost half the nation.
For the last several days I've been deluged with calls from my inside-the-beltway friends telling me "Romney's dead."
Hold it. Rumors of Romney's demise are premature for at least four reasons:
1. Between now and Election Day come two jobs reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- October 5 and November 2. If they're as bad as the last report, showing only 96,000 jobs added in August (125,000 are needed just to keep up with population growth) and the lowest percentage of employed adults since 1981, Romney's claim the economy is off track becomes more credible, and Obama's that it's on the mend harder to defend.
With gas prices rising, corporate profits shrinking, most of Europe in recession, Japan still a basket case, and the Chinese economy slowing, the upcoming job reports are unlikely to be stellar.
2. Also between now and Election Day are three presidential debates, starting October 3. It's commonly thought Obama will win them handily but that expectation may be very wrong -- and could work against him. Yes, Romney is an automaton -- but when the dials are set properly he can give a good imitation of a human engaged in sharp debate. He did well in the Republican primary debates.
Obama, by contrast, can come off slow and ponderous. Recall how he stuttered and stumbled during the 2008 Democratic primary debates. And he hasn't been in a real-live debate for four years; Romney recently emerged from almost a year of them.
3. During the next seven final weeks of the campaign, the anti-Obama forces will be spending a gigantic amount of money. Not just the Romney campaign and Romney's super PACs, but other super PACS aligned with Romney, billionaires spending their own fortunes, and non-profit "social welfare" organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove's "Crossroads," and various Koch-brothers political fronts -- all will dump hundreds of millions on TV and radio spots, much of it spreading lies and distortions. Some of this money will be devoted to get-out-the-vote drives -- to phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to identify favorable voters, and vans to bring them to the polling stations.
It's an easy bet they'll far outspend Obama and his allies. I've heard two-to-one. The race is still close enough that a comparative handful of voters in swing states can make the difference -- which means gobs of money used to motivate voters to polling stations can be critical.
4. As they've displayed before, the Republican Party will do whatever it can to win -- even if it means disenfranchising certain voters. To date, 11 states have enacted voter identification laws, all designed by Republican legislatures and governors to dampen Democratic turnout.
The GOP is also encouraging what can only be termed "voter vigilante" groups to "monitor polling stations to prevent fraud" -- which means intimidating minorities who have every right to vote. We can't know at this point how successful these efforts may be but it's a dangerous wildcard. And what about those Diebold voting machines?
So don't for a moment believe "Romney's dead," and don't be complacent. The hard work lies ahead, in the next seven weeks.
And even if Obama is re-elected, more hard work begins after Inauguration Day -- when we must push him to be tougher on the Republicans than he was in his first term, and do what the nation needs.