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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Filler: Mitt Romney or Barack Obama? Who's more likable?

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama. Credit: AP

It's not the economy, stupids.

Those who keep evoking Bill Clinton's 1992 theme not only missed the boat this election, they may be waiting for it at the bus stop.

For about 90 percent of the electorate, half on each side, this contest resembles a football game between hate-soaked rivals. They approach it like New York fans would a Jets-Giants Super Bowl.

True Republicans will back Mitt Romney because he's running their huddle. A lot of them don't like Romney any more than most Giants fans liked Kerry Collins when he was taking the snaps, but they'll still sing his praises when confronted by a rival. To folks who would pull the Republican lever even if Herman Cain were the nominee, everything President Barack Obama does is dumb, and he didn't really do it, and it wasn't his idea, and it won't work, so there. They know they're going to win because Republicans rule, while Democrats drool.

True Democrats favor Obama because he's their field general. Many don't enjoy his leadership much more than Jets fans liked Chad Pennington's signal calling. To those who would opt Democrat even if Dennis Kucinich were the nominee, everything Romney stands for is a lie, and it's evil, and if it's not evil, how come he didn't stand for it until Thursday?

It's not the economy to these folks. It's just fandom.

The other 10 percent, the undecideds, are like guests at your Super Bowl party who aren't partial to either team. They'll pick a favorite, but not based on the idea that the outcome will improve their lives.

Here's why, this time, it's not about the economy to them. They don't believe John McCain would have done much better (or worse) with the imploding economy. They don't believe Romney will do much better (or worse) than Obama going forward.

They understand, at a gut level, points that news networks won't trumpet.

This is likely the least important presidential election of our lifetimes. Obama isn't particularly liberal. He's lowered payroll taxes. He's done nothing to limit gun rights, despite the belief among gun nuts that he'd have Nancy Pelosi going door-to-door demanding all the weapons, including slingshots. He's championed a health care plan invented by conservatives in the 1990s and imposed by Romney in Massachusetts. Conservatives are mad at him for reasons ranging from the coherent to the twisted, but liberals don't love Obama either.

And Romney isn't "severely conservative," no matter what he said to woo primary voters who think William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater were a tad liberal. He's a pragmatist, a technocrat and a moderate. Liberals are mad at him for reasons ranging from the sensible to the rabid, but conservatives don't love Romney either.

The undecided 10 percent also gets that neither candidate will be able to move a Senate where you need 60 votes to order out for lunch, or a House with a Tea Party clique so stubborn it would vote to outlaw midday meals if it heard the Senate had agreed to order one.

Nothing's going to happen. Whichever candidate wins, neither will be willing or able to make big changes, which is OK, since neither of them actually has any idea how to fix this economy.

Here's the rule that has held up among swing voters, as it has for apathetic Super Bowl party attendees, for decades: They'll go for the more likable contestant, the one they feel has a better story, the one they can relate to.

And that's the best-case scenario. Worst case, the winner will be whoever looks best in tight pants -- and that really works better for choosing athletes to cheer than deciding between the mom-jean rocking Romney and Obama.