For a long while this year, the following was the more or less consensus assessment: Republicans had an excellent chance of winning because of the economy, especially the jobs picture. When Mitt Romney won the nomination, there were second thoughts -- including among Republicans -- as to whether he would prove up to the role.
As spring became summer, the race emerged as even. And so it remained until just after the parties' conventions. Democrats had the better convention (no small thanks to Bill Clinton) and President Obama seemed to eke ahead ever so slightly. Would that last or fade quickly was the question. (Convention "bumps" have a history of evaporating fast.)
Almost immediately Romney made a rapid series of mistakes. He reversed himself within less than 24 hours about whether he would, if elected, keep some parts of the president's health care reform. This re-enforced a "constant flip-flopper" image that he has long tried to erase. This was followed by jumping out too soon and insensitively to deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt, opening himself to accusations that he was exploiting the tragedies for personal political purposes.
Then, boom. A bombshell, one Romney set off himself against himself. He was recorded on videotape disparaging roughly one half of the American population, casting them as freeloaders not paying their fair share of taxes, but getting government money. He did this before a closed meeting of very wealthy contributors, believing, intending, that the remarks would never get out. This opened him to charges that he is running a "country-club and corporate board room" campaign.
Some of his hardest-core cheerleaders (Rush Limbaugh) hailed it as a breakthrough. Many of the most experienced powers in his party groaned -- such as William Kristol, when he called Romney's performance "arrogant and stupid."
Taken as a whole, reaction has been mostly negative and Romney's campaign is reeling and trying desperately to regroup, reboot and rebound. Their candidate's chances have been knocked down -- but not out. It's the first clear knock down of the fight, but does not necessarily mean it will be decisive.
Romney has a week or less to steady himself and his campaign, to change the subject, get back on message (the economy) and get off of the defensive.
If he pulls that off -- it won't be easy -- he'll then have to be error-free for the following 40 odd days and have a good first debate in early October.
Possible? Yes. But he'll have to hurry, and hope for a break or two along the way.