Can Mitt Romney possibly recover? Pundits and pollsters are beginning to doubt it. A survey conducted between Sept. 12 and Sept. 16 by the Pew Research Center -- before the "47 percent of Americans are victims" video came to light -- showed President Barack Obama ahead of Mr. Romney 51 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.
That's the biggest margin in the September survey prior to a presidential election since Bill Clinton led Bob Dole, 50 percent to 38 percent, in 1996.
And, remember, this poll was done before America watched Mr. Romney belittle almost half the nation.
So I haven't been surprised by all the calls I've been getting lately from my inside-the-Beltway friends telling me "Romney's toast."
Hold it. Rumors of Mr. Romney's demise are premature for at least four reasons.
First, between now and Election Day come two jobs reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- Oct. 5 and Nov. 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, Mr. Romney's claim that the economy is off track becomes more credible. And Mr. Obama's claim that it's on the mend will be harder to defend.
Economic predictions are always hazardous, but 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.
Second, between now and Election Day come three presidential debates, the first on Oct. 3.
It's commonly thought Mr. Obama will win the debates handily. He has a deserved reputation for eloquence. But that reputation didn't come from his debate performance, and the expectation he'll win may be very wrong -- and could work against him.
Yes, Mr. Romney is an automaton. But when the dials are set properly, Mr. Romney can give a good imitation of a human engaged in sharp debate. He did remarkably well in the Republican primary debates.
Mr. 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; Mr. Romney recently emerged from almost a year of them.
Third, during the final weeks of the campaign, the anti-Obama forces will be spending a gigantic amount of money. The gusher will be coming not just from the Romney campaign and Mr. Romney's super PACs, but also from other super PACs aligned with Mr. Romney, billionaires spending their own fortunes, and nonprofit "social welfare" organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove's "Crossroads" and various Koch brothers political fronts.
Hundreds of millions of dollars will be dumped into TV and radio spots.
Some of the money will be devoted to get-out-the-vote drives -- to computerized targeting of voters likely to support Mr. Romney, phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to make sure they vote, and vans to bring them to the polling stations.
It's an easy bet these Romney and anti-Obama forces will far outspend Mr. 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 get to polling stations can be critical.
Fourth and finally, as it's 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. They're poring through lists of registered Democratic voters, seeking to have "suspicious" names purged from the rolls or targeted for questioning when these people arrive to vote.
Republicans haven't been able to document a rise in voter fraud in recent years. They've manufactured the problem in order to give a patina of legitimacy to these efforts. And what about those Diebold voting machines?
For these reasons, don't for a moment believe Mr. Romney is "toast." There are still many weeks between now and Election Day, and he might just pop back up.
Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is the author of "Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it," a Knopf release now out in paperback.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times