With the Republican nomination virtually wrapped up, polls indicate voters are inclined to give Mitt Romney a serious second look.
No wonder. The economy is in a sorry state -- young graduates without hope for a decent first job, older Americans without hope for a dignified retirement, and too many folks in between hopelessly stuck in jobs with shrinking paychecks.
Yet, despite a general feeling among voters that the country is headed in the wrong direction, the President leads in the polls, especially among women. Simply, Mr. Romney has not convinced enough voters he can do better -- at least not yet.
Merely offering stock Republican remedies -- lower taxes and deregulation -- is all too remindful of George W. Bush, who, through irresponsible spending and neglect of Wall Street shenanigans, nearly wrecked the American economy for good.
Mr. Romney must beat Barack Obama at his own rhetorical grounds -- fairness and hope -- or the President gets four more years.
Mr. Obama presides over an abusively unfair tax system. More than 40 percent don't pay any income taxes -- mostly folks in the lower half and among the truly wealthy who don't have much wage income but have lots of tax sheltered investments. Yet many middle class Americans -- who work 60 hour weeks -- fork over 30, 40 or closer to 50 percent to Uncle Sam, and that kills incentives to invest and take risks among entrepreneurs.
It's only fair that everyone pay something and that upper income folks pay more. Mr. Romney has to explain how he is going to accomplish that and still incentivize entrepreneurs to create jobs, while ensuring the likes of Warren Buffet pay up and not just pontificate -- remember Mr. Buffet does not have to avail himself of all the shelters, special breaks and loopholes he holds in such pious disdain.
That's tough for Mr. Romney who has taken particular advantage of the tax code's many arcane provisions, but everyone loves a repentant sinner. As long as Mr. Romney explains how his program will tax his fortune at rates Mr. Obama reserves for mere mortals, and what he proposes will really create jobs, America -- the lefties in academia and the media notwithstanding -- will forgive his transgressions and hop on board.
A better future for our children requires an America that can compete, and America can't choose what it is capable of doing well. Nature, culture and globalization provide the mandates.
Like it or not, America is an energy rich and technologically innovative nation -- like it or not, developing resources and manufacturing are where the next president must take America -- even if Ivy League academics think we should all be poets and hedge-fund managers with guaranteed access to mental health professionals.
President Obama's policies of locking down oil and gas development in the Gulf, off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and in Alaska, as well as nixing the Keystone Pipeline and other energy infrastructure projects, is akin to Hawaii outlawing tourism.
Mr. Romney sets a high priority on developing this natural wealth, which could easily create three million jobs during his first term, but that it won't just benefit Exxon and its rich rivals.
North Carolina and California steel, Ohio and Mississippi machinery, and New York and Washington software all would participate and create great, high paying jobs for ordinary folks -- Mr. Romney needs to spell out how.
Similarly, Mr. Romney's criticism of China sounds too protectionist and too backward looking. Women, who stretch the family dollar to feed and clothe the country, rightly fear higher prices at Target and Kolh's.
Mr. Romney needs to show that truly leveling the playing field with the Middle Kingdom will not endanger imports of good-value products made from China's inexpensive labor, but a better deal on trade would create more abundant opportunities where American technology trumps -- advanced metals and synthetic materials, medical technology, auto parts, sophisticated communications equipment, and software.
All that would be good for another five million jobs -- no problem.
Mr. Romney can win big by making clear how he can deliver a fairer and more prosperous America -- a one where hope is not about an envy tax on millionaires but good jobs for all in the private sector.
Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. Follow him on Twitter.