(The New Republic) The new Bloomberg poll showing Barack Obama up 13 points over Mitt Romney is an obvious outlier. But it is prodding me again to a question that has been nagging at me the past few weeks: how is that Obama is not in truly serious trouble? All the talk recently has been of Obama's prospects slipping, with him now only a couple points ahead of Romney, at best, in most polls. But he should be slipping! The economy, after showing signs of a solid recovery just a few months ago, is gasping for air again, and there may be worse on the way. This should be disastrous for the incumbent. Yet he's very much in this thing. Part of this surely has to do with the dynamic that Team Obama is dearly banking on: many voters still blame Obama's predecessor for the hard times. Part of it also has to do with Obama's personal likability (which defies the deathless Beltway caricature of him as distant and aloof.)
But there's no getting around it: a huge part of it must have to do with his lackluster opposition. Ask yourself: if the other side had settled on a truly generic Republican -- that is, a moderately conservative fellow, a senator or governor or former governor who came without the trappings of Bain Capital and car elevators and dressage tax deductions and Romneycare and the serial flip-flopping and "America the Beautiful," how would that candidate be faring right now? I say, purely on gut instinct, that he'd be up two, three, four points. Who do I have in mind? Gosh, just about anybody: John Thune, Mitch Daniels, heck, even poor Tim Pawlenty. Instead, we have this:
At the breakfast, Mr. Romney introduced two of his sons, Matt and Craig, in a slightly unusual fashion. "I love them," Mr. Romney said. "I love them like they're my own. And they are! Craig!"
With that, Craig Romney rescued the microphone from his father.
At a Wawa, one in a convenience store chain in the mid-Atlantic, Mr. Romney was dazzled by the touch-screen computers from which he ordered his meatball hoagie on Saturday in Quakertown, Pa. Later in the day, he tried to engage the crowd in Cornwall, Pa., by asking it about its favorite local sandwich shop.
"By the way, where do you get your hoagies here?" he asked. "Do you get them at Wawas? Is that where you get them? No? Do you get them at Sheetz? Where do you get them?"
As the crowd began to boo, shouting out names of neighborhood joints, Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania tried to help out: "Delis!" he called out. "The delis!"
But after bungling the name of the Wawa several times -- calling the store "Wawas" -- Mr. Romney forged ahead.
"Ah, you get them at the delis, is that what you're saying?" he asked. "Well, I went to a place today called Wawas. You ever been to Wawas? Anybody been there?" As the crowd continued to jeer, he added, "I'm sorry, I know there's a very big state divide."
The next day, Mr. Romney appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation," where he briefly talked about the expensive dressage horses his wife, Ann, owns and rides -- a subject that clashes with his attempt to present himself as an average guy who understands the concerns of middle-class Americans.
"I joke that I'm going to send her to Betty Ford for addiction to horses," he told Bob Schieffer, the show's host.
I'm not getting into the whole question of what Romney did or didn't say about the sandwich-ordering gizmo at the Wawa. I agree that we have better things to be writing about. I'm just making the obvious, but oddly overlooked point, that Republicans would be in a far stronger position right now -- a possibly dominant, breezing-to-victory one -- if they had managed to get a few other guys to step forward, guys who would not be, as Romney is in the Bloomberg cross-tabs, branded as far more out of touch than the half-Kenyan elitist intellectual he is running against. It will remain forever a mystery to me why Republicans did not manage to get those other guys.
Alec MacGillis is a senior editor at The New Republic. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.