Back in 2004, I debated Jonah Goldberg about the presidential election. Bush will win, Jonah said, because after sniffing both of these guys for a while, Americans have simply decided they don’t like Kerry very much. Nonsense, I said. Likeability is in the eye of the beholder. Most Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Democrats have the demographic advantage. But I was too clever by half. Jonah was basically right...
The contrast with Mitt Romney could not be starker. According to the June Pew, while Romney leads on the economy, Obama enjoys a 31 point advantage on “connect[ing] to ordinary Americans.” He leads by 19 points on being “willing to take [an] unpopular stand.” By a 14 point margin, Americans consider him more “honest and truthful.” According to Gallup, Americans deem him more “likeable” by a whopping 17 points.
This 2012 election may, in fact, be the most personality-driven in recent memory. For several presidential election cycles now, Pew has been asking voters why they support their favored candidate: “Leadership,” “Experience,” “Stand on Issues,” or “Personality.” Among Romney supporters, 4 percent cite personality, the same percentage as cited it for Al Gore in 2000. For John McCain in 2008, the figure was 3 percent. For George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004, it was 8 percent each. For Obama this year, it’s 18 percent.
I'm not sure Obama to Bush is necessarily the most congruent comparison, but there's a lot to be said for Mitt Romney being the Republican version of John Kerry. Rich guy from Massachusetts, awkward on the stump, Kerry windsurfs, Romney owns a dressage horse, neither comes across as terribly empathetic, both seem to struggle connecting to regular people on a human level.
There are a lot of Democrats I know who think John Kerry could've won in 2004 had he just been easier to like. Come November, it's very possible Republicans will be saying the same thing about their guy.
(Oh, who am I kidding? If Romney loses they'll just delude themselves into thinking it's because he wasn't conservative enough.)