Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential election

U.S. Election Disappoints Western Europe

Much has been discussed throughout the election season about the two presidential candidates’ European preferences: Barack Obama has always been more comfortable with Western Europe, while Mitt Romney made it a priority to emphasize the oft-forgotten NATO allies to the east. But perhaps no one underscores the wisdom of Romney’s approach better than A.A. Gill–though unintentionally.

Gill, writing from London, takes to the pages of the New York Times to lecture America on Europe’s lost love for Obama. They had such high hopes for the worldly leftist. But Gill unwittingly demonstrates why Obama was leading much of the pre-election polling, despite presiding over an unpopular first term and sluggish economy: Obama was smart enough not to do what Western Europeans wanted him to do. It’s not a bad road map, ironically, for how to win a U.S. presidential election. Here’s Gill on the breaking of European hearts:

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Much has been discussed throughout the election season about the two presidential candidates’ European preferences: Barack Obama has always been more comfortable with Western Europe, while Mitt Romney made it a priority to emphasize the oft-forgotten NATO allies to the east. But perhaps no one underscores the wisdom of Romney’s approach better than A.A. Gill–though unintentionally.

Gill, writing from London, takes to the pages of the New York Times to lecture America on Europe’s lost love for Obama. They had such high hopes for the worldly leftist. But Gill unwittingly demonstrates why Obama was leading much of the pre-election polling, despite presiding over an unpopular first term and sluggish economy: Obama was smart enough not to do what Western Europeans wanted him to do. It’s not a bad road map, ironically, for how to win a U.S. presidential election. Here’s Gill on the breaking of European hearts:

Then it happened. It, meaning nothing. The first thing that didn’t happen was the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Then, the cessation of drone strikes didn’t happen. Then, any serious movement on the Palestinian question or the attempt to curb the bellicosely right-wing Israeli government didn’t happen.

I think Gill is being unfair to Obama. Let’s give the president due credit: he tried to make some of the mistakes and blunders Gill was hoping for. But you can imagine how difficult it would be for the president to run for reelection if he were fighting hard for Gill’s support. Obama has had enough trouble already because of his inexperienced bungling in the Middle East and his bizarrely belligerent treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu. But Gill wanted more, somehow. Gill–speaking for Western Europe, apparently–wanted public humiliation and suffering from the Israeli prime minister.

Obama also wanted to close Guantanamo Bay, before he learned a bit about the facility and its inmates. And the drones? They’ve been effective, and hey–Obama wants a second term.

Gill despairs at how conservative and right-wing the American Democrats are, comparable to Europe’s conservatives and Christian Democrats, he says. Where is the real left wing, he asks? He explains that “the absence of any sort of electable socialist movement in America is a constant subject of incomprehension.”

Then, he really lays on the guilt trip:

But the idea that a democratic president could want to disengage with the rest of the world and to retreat to fortress America, to pull up the drawbridge on a messy world, is the most inexplicably wounding thing of all. Meanwhile, the Republicans would want to get involved with the rest of us only to lay down the law and protect American interests and biblical Israel.

Imagine that. The American right only wants to keep some semblance of law and order, defend our allies, and–most unforgivably–protect our interests. It’s almost as if American politicians practice statecraft and behave as if they’ve been entrusted by their population with the protection and service of this great nation.

Who can Europeans trust, Gill pleads, to keep capitalism at bay and outsource American decision making to the pseudointellectuals of another country? No matter the outcome, Election Day in America must be difficult for someone like Gill, absorbing the quadrennial disappointment that, despite his great hope, the American electorate proves never to be quite foolish enough for him.

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The Importance of Projecting Non-Military Power

As we await election results, it is salutary to remember that, no matter who wins, the U.S. will face the same set of challenges—and we will have to address them with our existing governmental agencies and programs unless steps are taken to modify and improve what we currently have. In no area is this necessity more pressing than in our ability to project non-military power—to engage in political warfare, state-building, and related activities designed to shape the international environment in our favor without having to resort to the dispatch of large numbers of troops.

This is an especially compelling requirement in the greater Middle East, which is being reshaped by the Arab Spring. Although we tend to focus on the danger of jihadist takeovers—understandably so—in many ways the most common threat we actually face is state breakdown. In countries ranging from Mali and Libya to Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, institutions have broken down and the U.S. and our allies are struggling to stand up some kind of bulwark against extremism. We are not doing a very good job of it, unfortunately.

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As we await election results, it is salutary to remember that, no matter who wins, the U.S. will face the same set of challenges—and we will have to address them with our existing governmental agencies and programs unless steps are taken to modify and improve what we currently have. In no area is this necessity more pressing than in our ability to project non-military power—to engage in political warfare, state-building, and related activities designed to shape the international environment in our favor without having to resort to the dispatch of large numbers of troops.

This is an especially compelling requirement in the greater Middle East, which is being reshaped by the Arab Spring. Although we tend to focus on the danger of jihadist takeovers—understandably so—in many ways the most common threat we actually face is state breakdown. In countries ranging from Mali and Libya to Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, institutions have broken down and the U.S. and our allies are struggling to stand up some kind of bulwark against extremism. We are not doing a very good job of it, unfortunately.

A first step toward a better approach might be found in reading this thought-provoking essay by the Smith Richardson Foundation’s Nadia Schadlow. She argues for a “competitive engagement” strategy, which will mobilize civilian agencies to be more energetic and less lethargic by making them recognize that providing aid isn’t simply do-goodism—we are in a race with other states such as Iran and China and with stateless organizations such as al-Qaeda. If we don’t fill the vacuum, they will.

She argues for empowering organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy by giving them the kind of intelligence capabilities and the kind of freedom to act already enjoyed by the U.S. military. “America has tremendous, innate advantages in its political, economic and cultural instruments of power,” she writes. “But just as the military consistently hones its skills and constantly seeks to improve its instruments, so too must we improve our ability to use America’s non-military power, smartly.”

She has an excellent point that whoever controls the next administration would do well to ponder—and act upon.

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What Would an Ohio Recount Look Like?

At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin previews what a recount would look like in Ohio. Forget not having a clear winner tonight — if the election comes down to a dispute over a few thousand votes in Ohio, we might not have a clear winner until after Thanksgiving:

In recent elections, Ohio voters have cast about two hundred thousand provisional ballots in major statewide contests. (Voters cast provisional ballots when there is some question about whether they are entitled to vote. The provisional ballot kicks the issue of the validity of the ballot down the road.) This year, the number may well grow. …

So what happens with the provisional ballots? According to Ohio law, the eighty-eight counties in the state are not even allowed to start counting the provisional ballots for ten days. In the meantime, those who cast provisional ballots are allowed to submit evidence that their votes should count—they can, for example, show forms of identification that they might not have brought with them to the polls on November 6th. 

This scenario isn’t necessarily a long-shot, either. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 200,000 votes in Ohio. Based on the early voting numbers and polls that show Ohio as a statistical tie, that margin is likely to shrink this time around. According to Toobin, provisional ballots have tended to number around 200,000 in recent Ohio elections, and there’s reason to think that might be higher this year.

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At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin previews what a recount would look like in Ohio. Forget not having a clear winner tonight — if the election comes down to a dispute over a few thousand votes in Ohio, we might not have a clear winner until after Thanksgiving:

In recent elections, Ohio voters have cast about two hundred thousand provisional ballots in major statewide contests. (Voters cast provisional ballots when there is some question about whether they are entitled to vote. The provisional ballot kicks the issue of the validity of the ballot down the road.) This year, the number may well grow. …

So what happens with the provisional ballots? According to Ohio law, the eighty-eight counties in the state are not even allowed to start counting the provisional ballots for ten days. In the meantime, those who cast provisional ballots are allowed to submit evidence that their votes should count—they can, for example, show forms of identification that they might not have brought with them to the polls on November 6th. 

This scenario isn’t necessarily a long-shot, either. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 200,000 votes in Ohio. Based on the early voting numbers and polls that show Ohio as a statistical tie, that margin is likely to shrink this time around. According to Toobin, provisional ballots have tended to number around 200,000 in recent Ohio elections, and there’s reason to think that might be higher this year.

Here’s Toobin’s timeline:

On November 17th, the counties would begin counting the provisional ballots and conduct a canvass of all votes cast. This is called the official canvass, and it’s supposed to take ten days or less. The counties would report their totals to Ohio’s secretary of state, Jon Husted, who is a Republican. He would then determine if the candidates were within .25 per cent of each other—that is, a quarter of one per cent. If so, state law demands that he conduct a recount.

The recount, if it’s ordered, would probably take place in about five days.

That would bring us to December 1 — and that’s if everything goes smoothly. As we saw 12 years ago in Florida, there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong. Toobin notes two other factors that could have an impact on the recount:

Two more points about recounts. First, control of the process is crucial. Republicans controlled Florida in 2000. Remember the secretary of state Katherine Harris? (If not, refresh your memory.) A partisan Republican like Husted in charge of the process is like an extra percentage point or two in the vote count. Likewise, in Florida, Governor Rick Scott directs a team of loyal Republicans in supervising the electoral process. In short, no one in state government in either state will be cutting Obama any breaks.

Second, passion matters. In recounts, the side that wants to win the most usually does. (Jay Weiner also makes this point in his excellent book on the 2008 recount in the Minnesota Senate race, “This Is Not Florida.”)

In Florida, in 2000, James Baker III lead a coördinated political, media, and legal effort that swamped the threadbare Gore forces, who were led, timidly, by Warren Christopher.

Don’t expect either side to be caught off-guard this year. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are already lawyered up and ready for this. And the fact that Ohio has a Republican secretary of state is sure to be included in any media and political campaign Team Obama would launch in the event of a recount. If you think the race has been nasty so far, just imagine how much worse it would get under a recount scenario.

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It’s Now Public: Editors Rejigger Polls

With the poll-obsessed talk of the past six months, those who raise questions about problems with them are often subjected to scorn and derision on the grounds that they are simply objecting to surveys whose results they don’t like.

The objection is beside the point; who else but someone who is unhappy with a poll’s result would bother to raise the hood and look at the engine and see where it might be busted?

The leading objection raised this year is to polls whose findings suggest a more Democratic turnout in states than is likely to be the case. I go into that in a column today in the New York Post. 

A stunning tale today in the Salt Lake Tribune, however, reveals the dirty little secret of polls paid for by the media. The results are, in effect, owned by the media, and the media can insist that they be rejiggered.

The Tribune published a poll done by the respected Mason-Dixon firm that showed a 10-point lead for the county’s Republican candidate for mayor. The poll was released on Thursday. Later, editors for the paper objected to the results on the grounds that the poll had an insufficient number of Democrats in its sample:

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With the poll-obsessed talk of the past six months, those who raise questions about problems with them are often subjected to scorn and derision on the grounds that they are simply objecting to surveys whose results they don’t like.

The objection is beside the point; who else but someone who is unhappy with a poll’s result would bother to raise the hood and look at the engine and see where it might be busted?

The leading objection raised this year is to polls whose findings suggest a more Democratic turnout in states than is likely to be the case. I go into that in a column today in the New York Post. 

A stunning tale today in the Salt Lake Tribune, however, reveals the dirty little secret of polls paid for by the media. The results are, in effect, owned by the media, and the media can insist that they be rejiggered.

The Tribune published a poll done by the respected Mason-Dixon firm that showed a 10-point lead for the county’s Republican candidate for mayor. The poll was released on Thursday. Later, editors for the paper objected to the results on the grounds that the poll had an insufficient number of Democrats in its sample:

Tribune editor Nancy Conway acknowledged the problem.

“We are as concerned about this as anyone,” she said Monday. “As soon as we understood there was a problem we worked to correct it.

“We had no reason to doubt the poll until we saw others conducted over the same period and could see differences in the numbers. That raised questions,” Conway said. “We contacted our pollster who did additional research on Salt Lake County demographics and found there was indeed a flaw.

“We knew right then that we needed to correct our mistake and that’s what we are doing,” Conway said.

And so it was done, as the story explains.

The Salt Lake Tribune does not appear to have endorsed a candidate in the mayoral race, but it is a liberal paper in a conservative state that earned headlines nationwide for endorsing Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. So perhaps one can presume its editors favor the Democrat.

To recap: A newspaper pays for a poll. It doesn’t like the look of the results. So it asks the pollster to reexamine them and alter them by changing his “weights.” He does so; he may agree with the call (as the Mason Dixon pollster says he does in the story) or he may be simply serving the interests of his paying client.

And it will do so based on the partisan split—the very controversy that is dismissed so cavalierly by media types.

We only know about this one because of the highly unusual circumstances of its revision. The question you have to ask yourself now is: How many times does this happen before a poll is published

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What’s Behind the GOP’s Continuing Trouble Wooing Latino Voters?

When it comes to identity politics, the Obama White House’s “war on women” has dominated the conversation. But the significance of the women’s vote, in terms of demographics, is still generally overshadowed by the minority/white vote split. As Ronald Brownstein writes, President Obama needs about an 80/40 distribution to win reelection: 80 percent of minorities and 40 percent of white voters. And as Ruy Teixeira notes here, the Hispanic share of the vote has grown since the 2008 presidential election. Which is why polls showing a massive Latino preference for the Democratic ticket have Republicans nervous about more than just this one election.

But outreach to the Latino community presents its own problems. First of all, Republicans, and especially conservatives, are comfortable with identity politics when it comes to cultural divides and religious issues, but exceedingly uncomfortable when it comes to race or ethnicity. But more importantly, the GOP’s ability to attract Latino voters on the issues is often overstated, and presents something of a mirage. Take this recent poll of Latino voters, released about a week ago. It shows Obama getting 73 percent of the Latino vote, not because of immigration (an issue in which Obama has almost no interest), but because of the economy–exactly where Republicans thought they could make gains:

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When it comes to identity politics, the Obama White House’s “war on women” has dominated the conversation. But the significance of the women’s vote, in terms of demographics, is still generally overshadowed by the minority/white vote split. As Ronald Brownstein writes, President Obama needs about an 80/40 distribution to win reelection: 80 percent of minorities and 40 percent of white voters. And as Ruy Teixeira notes here, the Hispanic share of the vote has grown since the 2008 presidential election. Which is why polls showing a massive Latino preference for the Democratic ticket have Republicans nervous about more than just this one election.

But outreach to the Latino community presents its own problems. First of all, Republicans, and especially conservatives, are comfortable with identity politics when it comes to cultural divides and religious issues, but exceedingly uncomfortable when it comes to race or ethnicity. But more importantly, the GOP’s ability to attract Latino voters on the issues is often overstated, and presents something of a mirage. Take this recent poll of Latino voters, released about a week ago. It shows Obama getting 73 percent of the Latino vote, not because of immigration (an issue in which Obama has almost no interest), but because of the economy–exactly where Republicans thought they could make gains:

On many issues, a large percentage of Latino voters feel it makes no difference whether Obama or Romney wins.  For example, regarding the prospect of immigration reform, while 52% think chances are better under an Obama presidency, 37% of Latino voters say it makes no difference if Obama wins, the prospects will not change. Regarding the degree of compromise and cooperation in the Congress, 45% of Latino voters say a second Obama term would not improve cooperation in Congress, and 43% a Romney presidency would make no difference….

For the ten weeks the impreMedia-Latino Decisions poll has been taken the most important issue for Latinos consistently has been the economy and the latest release revealed that Romney and the Republican party have been unable to convince Latino voters that they will be better at improving the it.  Seventy-three percent of Latino voters trust Obama and the Democrats to make the right decisions to improve the economy compared to only 18% that trust Romney and the Republicans.

Those are easy numbers to interpret: 73 percent trust Obama on the economy, and 73 percent say they’re voting for Obama. Republicans are right that the economy is an important–sometimes the most important–issue to Latino voters, just as it is to most of the country, especially at a time of high unemployment.

This poses a challenge to Republican “outreach” to Hispanic voters. There is almost surely some ground to make up by taking a more welcoming stance on immigration, such as the one that hurt Rick Perry in the Republican primary debates. Perry’s position, and that of many Republicans, has the advantage of also being the stronger economic argument as well. And whatever a particular politician’s stance on immigration, much of the harsh rhetoric about immigration is gratuitous and counterproductive anyway–a nation of immigrants likes to think of itself that way, and immigrants and their descendants often want to keep the door open behind them for others as well.

But outside of immigration, the GOP has more of an uphill climb with Latino voters than many of those advocating better outreach seem willing to admit. The social conservatism of Latino immigrants, like the social conservatism of many in the black community, does not seem to motivate them to pull the lever for the Republican Party candidates. The economy, then, would seem to be the logical issue on which to conduct this outreach. After all, many immigrants came to this country for economic opportunity to begin with, and as immigrant communities become more settled and economically successful, they often vote more conservatively as well. (The Jewish community is, of course, the exception that proves the rule.)

While I imagine having conservative proponents of the right’s economic opportunity agenda, like the extraordinarily charismatic Susana Martinez, would help get that message across, right now Latino voters simply prefer the left’s economic programs. Again, one could argue that this immigrant group will, like the others, move rightward over time. And of course the outreach to Latino voters makes sense anyway. But for those who argue that the GOP’s outreach this cycle has been severely lacking, the question arises: Excluding immigration, what else could have been done to sway the vote? Polling seems to suggest an answer conservatives probably don’t want to hear.

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Obama Camp to Supporters: Don’t Panic if Exit Polls Look Bad

Via Politicker, the Obama campaign is just oozing confidence heading into the home stretch:

In a conference call this afternoon, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign had one central message for their supporters when Election Day arrives tomorrow: They should “keep calm,” even if they hear snippets of information favoring Republican Mitt Romney. …

The fear, she explained, was early numbers leaking before voters have finished going to the polls, creating unnecessary panic and pessimism among Democrats.

“Keep calm and tweet on,” Ms. Cutter said. “So, no matter what you hear tomorrow about turnout in Republican counties or exit polls, particularly early in the day, please remember and remind your readers that, because of early votes, we’re where we need to be to win….I don’t think there’s going to be official exits until the end of the day, but if things leak out that aren’t validated or weighted, please stay calm.”

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Via Politicker, the Obama campaign is just oozing confidence heading into the home stretch:

In a conference call this afternoon, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign had one central message for their supporters when Election Day arrives tomorrow: They should “keep calm,” even if they hear snippets of information favoring Republican Mitt Romney. …

The fear, she explained, was early numbers leaking before voters have finished going to the polls, creating unnecessary panic and pessimism among Democrats.

“Keep calm and tweet on,” Ms. Cutter said. “So, no matter what you hear tomorrow about turnout in Republican counties or exit polls, particularly early in the day, please remember and remind your readers that, because of early votes, we’re where we need to be to win….I don’t think there’s going to be official exits until the end of the day, but if things leak out that aren’t validated or weighted, please stay calm.”

Exit polling is notoriously unreliable, so Cutter is actually giving good advice here. But as Erika Johnson points out, the early votes really don’t seem to have the Obama campaign where they “need to be” — and, based on Stephanie Cutter’s apparent concern about election day turnout, she knows it. Would a campaign that believed it was cruising on early votes really be this jittery about leaked exit polls? It sounds like they think the race is more of a toss-up than they’re letting on.

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Good Signs for Romney in Ohio Early Voting?

Breitbart flags this tweet from The Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar, which suggests good news for Mitt Romney in the Ohio early voting numbers:

Obama won Ohio in 2008 thanks to his strong early vote advantage. Whatever ground he loses to Romney in early voting, he’ll need to make up for with higher Election Day turnout. According to the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman, this could be a problem for Obama, based on the turnout trends since 2008:

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Breitbart flags this tweet from The Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar, which suggests good news for Mitt Romney in the Ohio early voting numbers:

Obama won Ohio in 2008 thanks to his strong early vote advantage. Whatever ground he loses to Romney in early voting, he’ll need to make up for with higher Election Day turnout. According to the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman, this could be a problem for Obama, based on the turnout trends since 2008:

We won’t know the actual early vote results until the polls close (the Gannett numbers from this appear to be inaccurate), but the latest indications are good for Romney. Keep in mind, if the early vote breakdown is very close or favors Romney, that’s also a sign of serious flaws in the state polls. Rasmussen’s Ohio poll yesterday had Obama leading Romney in the early vote by 23 points, and PPP’s had Obama up by 21.

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The Real Bellwether May Be Virginia

For most of the presidential campaign, the focus has been on Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without the Buckeye State, and Barack Obama’s victory there was a crucial factor in determining the 2008 election. The two campaigns have not only poured millions into the battle there this year, but the candidates have also spent more time there than in any other state. Ohio will be crucial, but the real key to understanding whether Obama or Mitt Romney will win tonight may come in Virginia.

It will be difficult, but still possible, for Romney to win without Ohio. He can make up for a defeat there by taking other swing states, such as Colorado or Wisconsin, or by pulling an upset in Michigan or Pennsylvania. Yet the GOP cannot take back the White House without Virginia. Indeed, if after the polls close there at 7 p.m. (EST) tonight the numbers show Obama pilling up a huge lead in the D.C. suburbs, that will be a sign that the long election night most of us are anticipating may be a lot shorter than we thought. On the other hand, if Romney posts competitive totals in northern Virginia, that will be an indication not only that he can take back a state Obama won in 2008, but that the turnout figures there — and perhaps around the country — will conform more with GOP expectations than those of the Democrats. More than anything else mentioned by the pundits, this is the key to the election.

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For most of the presidential campaign, the focus has been on Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without the Buckeye State, and Barack Obama’s victory there was a crucial factor in determining the 2008 election. The two campaigns have not only poured millions into the battle there this year, but the candidates have also spent more time there than in any other state. Ohio will be crucial, but the real key to understanding whether Obama or Mitt Romney will win tonight may come in Virginia.

It will be difficult, but still possible, for Romney to win without Ohio. He can make up for a defeat there by taking other swing states, such as Colorado or Wisconsin, or by pulling an upset in Michigan or Pennsylvania. Yet the GOP cannot take back the White House without Virginia. Indeed, if after the polls close there at 7 p.m. (EST) tonight the numbers show Obama pilling up a huge lead in the D.C. suburbs, that will be a sign that the long election night most of us are anticipating may be a lot shorter than we thought. On the other hand, if Romney posts competitive totals in northern Virginia, that will be an indication not only that he can take back a state Obama won in 2008, but that the turnout figures there — and perhaps around the country — will conform more with GOP expectations than those of the Democrats. More than anything else mentioned by the pundits, this is the key to the election.

For weeks, if not months, we’ve been discussing the main point of contention about the polls. Those surveys that were based on samples with far more respondents identifying themselves as Democrats than Republicans always showed the president leading the race. Those based on samples that had only a small Democratic edge or even were much better for Romney. Republicans have argued that there is no way Democrats could duplicate the massive advantage they enjoyed in 2008 when a wave of “hope and change” fervor elected Obama. But Democrats and liberal pundits claim that changes in the demographic makeup of the electorate as it gets less white will make up for any diminution of enthusiasm for the president after four generally disappointing years in office.

Virginia is ground zero for those expectations, as there is no doubt that it has become more racially and ethnically diverse. But if Romney can prevail there anyway as a result of lower Democratic turnout and much greater enthusiasm on the part of Republicans, then that will mean more than just a win in the Old Dominion. Good numbers for Romney in Virginia’s upscale suburbs, where Democrats think they have the edge, could mean that the same lesson will apply in other places and foretell disaster for the president.

As with the communities outside of the nation’s capital, a strong GOP showing in the suburbs around Philadelphia could offset the huge plurality that the Democratic machine in that city will manufacture for the president by fair means or foul. And if Romney steals blue Pennsylvania from the Democrats, there is little doubt he will be taking the oath of office in January.

In other words, the true bellwether tonight will be Virginia. Rather than waiting for Ohio, once the networks declare the outcome in Virginia (assuming, that is, that we’ll have a declared winner tonight), we’ll have a very good idea of who will be the next president.

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Romney’s Internal Polls Show Lead in OH, NH, IA

The Daily Mail‘s Toby Harnden reports on the Romney campaign’s internal poll numbers, which apparently show him with a slight edge in Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa; tied with Obama in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; and trailing in Nevada:

Mitt Romney is ahead by a single percentage point in Ohio – the swing state that could well decide the election – according to internal polling data provided to MailOnline by a Republican party source.

Internal campaign polling completed on Sunday night by campaign pollster Neil Newhouse has Romney three points up in New Hampshire, two points up in Iowa and dead level in Wisconsin. Most startlingly, the figures show Romney and Obama deadlocked in Pennsylvania.

If the Romney campaign’s internal numbers are correct – and nearly all independent pollsters have come up with a picture much more favourable for Obama – then the former Massachusetts governor will almost certainly be elected 45th U.S. President.

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The Daily Mail‘s Toby Harnden reports on the Romney campaign’s internal poll numbers, which apparently show him with a slight edge in Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa; tied with Obama in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; and trailing in Nevada:

Mitt Romney is ahead by a single percentage point in Ohio – the swing state that could well decide the election – according to internal polling data provided to MailOnline by a Republican party source.

Internal campaign polling completed on Sunday night by campaign pollster Neil Newhouse has Romney three points up in New Hampshire, two points up in Iowa and dead level in Wisconsin. Most startlingly, the figures show Romney and Obama deadlocked in Pennsylvania.

If the Romney campaign’s internal numbers are correct – and nearly all independent pollsters have come up with a picture much more favourable for Obama – then the former Massachusetts governor will almost certainly be elected 45th U.S. President.

If the campaign is really seeing internal polls like this, it would explain the Romney campaign’s recent confidence. Still, they would also be the only recent polls that show Romney with an edge in Ohio and New Hampshire. For the past week, every other poll has shown a tie or Obama with a slight lead in those states, and in the RCP polling average Obama is up 2.9 percent in Ohio and 2 percent in New Hampshire. That doesn’t mean the Romney internal polls are wrong or even that far off from what we’re seeing elsewhere, just that they’re more favorable for Romney than the other polling — not a surprise, since they’re internals.

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Is Paul Ryan the Leader of the Conservative Movement?

When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

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When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

As much influence as the Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress have been able to exert over the legislative affairs of the country, the Republican Party is still clearly at a crossroads. Mitt Romney’s nomination was the result of many factors, but it was not because he leads a movement within the party. No strand of the conservative movement, therefore, was elevated above the others by Romney’s successful bid for the GOP presidential nomination. That is one reason there was so much interest, especially on the right, in Romney’s choice of vice presidential nominee.

What would a President Romney’s agenda look like? Many suggested that question would be answered as much by his running mate as anything else. But above all, Romney had the ability to elevate a conservative (or moderate Republican) and that person’s followers within the party. There were plenty of strong choices for the veep position because there are so many talented rising stars in the party: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Kelly Ayotte, and others. But the one that stood out the most to Romney was also the one with arguably the broadest coalition within the party and among the conservative movement: Paul Ryan.

When considering potential presidential nominees for 2016 if Obama wins reelection, we can probably take Jim DeMint’s name off the list, as he is unlikely to run. Jeb Bush is a wild card: many will say he missed his window, or that he won’t run against Rubio, but he would also attract immediate support from across the party spectrum. It makes sense for Rand Paul to run, I suppose, if only to build his base and his following the way his father did. But I doubt he’d be much of a threat to the others. Jindal is immensely qualified, but it’s unclear if he can thrive on the national stage.

Ideologically, however, both Ryan and Rubio are in good standing with each of the party’s wings. On budgetary issues, most of the young conservatives are on the same page. But judging from the response to the various speeches at the Republican National Convention, the party remains closer on foreign policy to both John McCain’s hawkishness and Condoleezza Rice’s muscular realism than to Rand Paul’s retrenchment. (I don’t think the term “isolationist” is accurate, especially since isolationism used to mean opposition to free trade.) And on social issues, the party remains strongly pro-life.

Would that last one exclude Christie? He is pro-life, but not especially fond of legislating his preferences on social issues. There is probably one more category of conservative worth mentioning: the intellectual wing of the movement. This wing is often more moderate, and therefore at odds with the grassroots base, but still has a high degree of influence within the party and may be best positioned to advance ideas, if not candidacies.

Many of the rising stars in the party would attract their support, and that certainly includes Paul Ryan. And now there is one more advantage for Ryan: even if Romney loses, Ryan will be the lone member of this presidential ticket still vying for prominence within the Republican Party. It does not quite make him a standard bearer, but I think it’s close enough. He has been touring the country making the case for conservatism, and he would garner support from each faction of the movement. So would others, surely. But Ryan may wake up on Wednesday the vice president-elect of the United States, and that means something.

If Romney wins tomorrow, Ryan is undoubtedly first in line, at least for the time being, to inherit the party. But even if he loses tomorrow he is poised to make that claim anyway. That means the conservative grassroots would be elevated to prominence right along with him, solidifying this tectonic shift.

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Florida’s Early Voting Meltdown

Usually Florida political parties wait until after elections to file lawsuits. This year, they’re getting an early start, reports the New York Times:

The lawsuit was filed after a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for so long to do so.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, local election supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, where lines sometimes snaked out the door and around buildings, said they would allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots on Sunday. Voters in three other Florida counties will also be able to pick up and drop off absentee ballots. State election law permits election offices to receive absentee ballots through Tuesday as long as they are cast in person.

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Usually Florida political parties wait until after elections to file lawsuits. This year, they’re getting an early start, reports the New York Times:

The lawsuit was filed after a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for so long to do so.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, local election supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, where lines sometimes snaked out the door and around buildings, said they would allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots on Sunday. Voters in three other Florida counties will also be able to pick up and drop off absentee ballots. State election law permits election offices to receive absentee ballots through Tuesday as long as they are cast in person.

Early lawsuits in Florida could be a preemptive strike from Democrats in case they decide to contest Florida after the election. In 2008, 54 percent of the Florida electorate voted early, according to the Early Voting Center, a much larger percentage than other states expected to be decided by a close margin, like Ohio.

On the other hand, Florida’s early voting really does seem like a complete and utter disaster:

Chaos ensued at Miami-Dade Elections headquarters Sunday when officials closed the doors early on nearly 200 people who had been promised an extra four-hour period to vote — then reopened an hour later with more staff.

“Let us vote! Let us vote!” chanted those who refused to leave the line when doors first closed. College student Blake Yagman told The Huffington Post he was next to vote when officials decided they couldn’t serve those who showed up.

“I was there for about three and a half hours,” said Yagman, who added that because he is severely hypoglycemic he spent several hours throwing up after standing in the sun for so long. He said he had already tried to vote three times earlier this week, at two different Miami locations.

“Each of the lines was about four to five hours,” he told HuffPost. “It took my mom eight and a half hours to vote at Aventura.”

This is where the enthusiasm gap could make a significant difference. Obama had a 9-point lead over John McCain in Florida early voting in 2008. But that was when Democratic enthusiasm was outpacing Republican enthusiasm. The tables are turned this year, and it’s hard to imagine someone standing in line for eight and a half hours to vote early for a candidate they’re not really that crazy about.

Then again, it’s hard to imagine someone waiting in line for eight and a half hours to vote early for any candidate. At some point between 30 and 45 minutes, isn’t the entire convenience benefit of early voting is nullified? Florida rarely ceases to surprise me, but you would think the state would have a handle on these things after 2000.

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How Would Conservatives React to a Romney Loss?

At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky wonders what the conservative reaction would be like if Mitt Romney loses tomorrow:

What’s the state of mind this weekend of the conservative outrage machine? With regard to liberals, I think it’s fair to say as of Saturday that most of us (excepting your allowed-for percentage of nervous nellies) expect Barack Obama to win. If he somehow doesn’t, we’ll be surprised and deeply depressed. But provided the outcome doesn’t involve some kind of Florida-style shenanigans, in a couple days’ time, we’ll come to terms with it. 

Meanwhile–conservatives? I think that they are certain that Mitt Romney will win and that all information to the contrary is a pack of lies; that they will be completely shocked and outraged if he doesn’t; that, if he loses, it will be the inevitable product of foul play; and that therefore they’ll immediately start scouring the landscape looking for parties to blame and will keep themselves in a state suspended agitation for…days, weeks, four years, forever. Which wouldn’t matter to the rest of us but for the fact that they’ll continue to have the power to screw up the country.

I somehow doubt that the left or Tomasky would accept Obama’s loss as graciously as he likes to imagine. (This is the same person who once described Romney as a “spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac who is very poorly intentioned indeed, and woe to us if this man sets foot in the White House as anything but a tourist.”) And as usual, Tomasky is completely off-base when it comes to conservatives. 

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At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky wonders what the conservative reaction would be like if Mitt Romney loses tomorrow:

What’s the state of mind this weekend of the conservative outrage machine? With regard to liberals, I think it’s fair to say as of Saturday that most of us (excepting your allowed-for percentage of nervous nellies) expect Barack Obama to win. If he somehow doesn’t, we’ll be surprised and deeply depressed. But provided the outcome doesn’t involve some kind of Florida-style shenanigans, in a couple days’ time, we’ll come to terms with it. 

Meanwhile–conservatives? I think that they are certain that Mitt Romney will win and that all information to the contrary is a pack of lies; that they will be completely shocked and outraged if he doesn’t; that, if he loses, it will be the inevitable product of foul play; and that therefore they’ll immediately start scouring the landscape looking for parties to blame and will keep themselves in a state suspended agitation for…days, weeks, four years, forever. Which wouldn’t matter to the rest of us but for the fact that they’ll continue to have the power to screw up the country.

I somehow doubt that the left or Tomasky would accept Obama’s loss as graciously as he likes to imagine. (This is the same person who once described Romney as a “spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac who is very poorly intentioned indeed, and woe to us if this man sets foot in the White House as anything but a tourist.”) And as usual, Tomasky is completely off-base when it comes to conservatives. 

How would the right actually react to a Romney loss? Of course they would be depressed. There would probably be a bit of finger-pointing and infighting. There would be a grieving period, as conservatives came to terms with the fact that Obamacare wouldn’t be going away anytime soon.

But a victory for Obama would hardly be a mandate for his progressive agenda. He’d have eked it out by running the most expensive smear campaign against a political opponent in history. Much of his second term would be spent dealing with disasters exacerbated by his first term: high unemployment, economic stagnation, skyrocketing debt, the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring, Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons, the proliferation of al-Qaeda affiliates, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And while conservatives would rightly be depressed and concerned for the country’s future, they would pick themselves up and refocus. Unless Republicans win the Senate, most of the work for the next two years would have to be done through the House. Congress would continue to investigate Benghazi. Republicans would fight against sequestration military cuts and tax hikes — though that could also lead to an intra-party blowout between the hawkish Buck McKeon camp and the anti-tax absolutist Eric Cantor camp. 

On Iran, conservatives would do what they could to expand and strengthen sanctions through the House and Senate, and increase public pressure for a military response if sanctions fail. The next crucial battle would be for the Senate in 2014, when Democrats would be defending up to 20 seats — 12 of which are in swing states or Republican states.

Mainly, conservatives would focus on making sure Obama does as little damage as possible for the next four years, while keeping their eyes on 2016, when Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, or Chris Christie would be able to make a real run. 

And if Obama loses, has to pack up the White House, and Democrats fall from power? I’ll look forward to Tomasky’s column brushing off the loss good-naturedly and crediting Romney for a fair race.

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What Are the Stakes for Israel? Part One

If you listen to President Obama’s Jewish surrogates, you hear them tell you that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House. According to the president’s Jewish detractors, he is one of its worst foes and his re-election could lead to its destruction. Where does the truth lie?

Let’s start with one clear fact. Israel’s survival does not depend on who is elected president of the United States. As important as the U.S.-Israel alliance may be — and it is absolutely vital to the state of Israel’s well-being and security — the Jewish state will not collapse if Barack Obama is re-elected. Nor will it enter a new golden age if Mitt Romney wins. Responsibility for Israel’s defense falls primarily on the shoulders of someone who is not on the ballot on Tuesday: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If the president of the United States seeks in the next four years to pressure Israel to do something that will undermine its security, Netanyahu — or one of his opponents, should he fail to be re-elected in parliamentary elections that will take place the day after the American president is inaugurated — can say no, just as his predecessors have done. Israel’s leaders have rarely been shy about taking unilateral or pre-emptive action to forestall a threat, and that won’t change. It should also be pointed out that the infrastructure of the U.S.-Israel relationship is so deeply entrenched into America’s political culture that even should the president seek to significantly alter or undermine that alliance, the political price for such a decision would be so costly as to deter all but the most fanatical ideologue.

That said, there would be significant differences between a second Obama administration and a first one for Romney in terms of the impact on Israel.

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If you listen to President Obama’s Jewish surrogates, you hear them tell you that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House. According to the president’s Jewish detractors, he is one of its worst foes and his re-election could lead to its destruction. Where does the truth lie?

Let’s start with one clear fact. Israel’s survival does not depend on who is elected president of the United States. As important as the U.S.-Israel alliance may be — and it is absolutely vital to the state of Israel’s well-being and security — the Jewish state will not collapse if Barack Obama is re-elected. Nor will it enter a new golden age if Mitt Romney wins. Responsibility for Israel’s defense falls primarily on the shoulders of someone who is not on the ballot on Tuesday: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If the president of the United States seeks in the next four years to pressure Israel to do something that will undermine its security, Netanyahu — or one of his opponents, should he fail to be re-elected in parliamentary elections that will take place the day after the American president is inaugurated — can say no, just as his predecessors have done. Israel’s leaders have rarely been shy about taking unilateral or pre-emptive action to forestall a threat, and that won’t change. It should also be pointed out that the infrastructure of the U.S.-Israel relationship is so deeply entrenched into America’s political culture that even should the president seek to significantly alter or undermine that alliance, the political price for such a decision would be so costly as to deter all but the most fanatical ideologue.

That said, there would be significant differences between a second Obama administration and a first one for Romney in terms of the impact on Israel.

The first and most obvious difference will be in terms of the tone of the relationship. Though Democrats have spent the last year trying to make the public forget about it, President Obama has spent most of his time in office feuding with the Israeli government about a number of different issues.

Though Obama has not overturned and has, in fact, strengthened the security relationship between the two nations in some respects (something for which he deserves credit but which was nothing more than a continuation of the policies of his predecessors, as his defenders claim), Obama came into office determined to reverse what he thought was his predecessor’s mistake in being seen as too close to Israel. He succeeded in putting more daylight between the two allies, but that was about all he accomplished. His foolish decision to push hard for another round of talks with the Palestinians just at the time that the latter had signaled their inability to negotiate a peace deal on any terms was his first misjudgment. He compounded that error by pushing the Israelis to make unilateral concessions on settlements that did nothing to appease Arab demands, but ironically put the Palestinian Authority in the position of having to sound as tough on Israel as the Americans. Even when Netanyahu agreed to a settlement freeze, the Palestinians balked at talking.

Even worse, the president established a position on the status of Jerusalem in 2010 that did more to undermine Israel’s claim on its capital than that of any previous American administration. That led to unnecessary and quite bitter fights with Netanyahu that strengthened the Israeli at home and convinced the majority of his people that Obama wasn’t their friend.

Then in 2011, Obama tried to push hard on Israel to agree to the 1967 lines as the starting point for future negotiations. This was a slight, though significant, alteration of previous American positions that was made worse by Obama’s repudiation of Bush’s promises to respect the changes on the ground since 1967 (i.e. the major settlement blocs and new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem).

Even the Iranian nuclear threat, an issue on which Obama has always paid lip service to Israeli concerns, the president managed to turn agreement into dispute by refusing to agree to Netanyahu’s request for “red lines” that would put some limits on the time allowed for diplomacy before action was contemplated. While there are genuine differences between the two allies on Iran, this was one point that could have been finessed had Obama wished to do so. But even after nearly a year of an election-year charm offensive, the president refused to meet with Netanyahu and produce even a limited consensus on the issue.

The irony is that Obama’s spats with Israel were completely unnecessary, as the Palestinians took no advantage of his attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction. Nor have the Iranians used the time Obama has granted them, first by his engagement policy and then by a belated sanctions regime that has allowed them to get closer to a nuclear weapon, to come to an agreement that would remove the possibility of a conflict.

Since Netanyahu is the odds-on favorite to be re-elected in January and, barring an unforeseen development, be in office for all of the next four years, should Obama win, the one thing we can be certain of is that relations between the two countries will not be smooth. The variables involve how much Obama has learned from the failures of his policies over the past four years and how much they would differ from what Romney would do.

On the first point, there is room for debate.

It is entirely possible that Obama has learned his lesson, at least as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Anyone who believes that Mahmoud Abbas has the will or the ability to actually negotiate or sign a peace accord hasn’t been paying attention to anything he’s done during the eight years of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. There is even less reason to believe Abbas’s Hamas rivals will be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Would Obama really be so foolish as to risk another bruising battle with a re-elected Netanyahu for the sake of a peace process that even he must know is doomed?

Maybe. Given Obama’s loathing for Netanyahu and his lack of general sympathy for Israel (as Aaron David Miller memorably put it, he’s the only U.S. president in a generation “not in love with the idea of Israel”), it’s a certainty that he will be picking more fights with the Israeli if he is re-elected.

While, as we have seen, the alliance can survive even four years of near-constant tension, one shouldn’t underestimate the damage these battles do to Israel. They encourage, as they have in the past four years, Israel’s Palestinian antagonists to be even more intransigent. They also help isolate Israel at a time when a rising tide of anti-Semitism is causing Europe to be even more hostile to the Jewish state.

There is little doubt that, despite the ardent defense of his pro-Israel bona fides by Democrats, a re-elected Obama will be inclined to be even more intolerant of Netanyahu and Israel’s insistence on standing up for its rights in the peace process and on the question of the Iran threat. Though Romney’s relationship with Netanyahu is probably not as close as some Republicans imply, it is a given that there will, at least for a time, be more cooperation and a lot more trust between the two governments, even if the vital security relationship won’t be altered all that much.

In part two of this post, I’ll discuss the impact of a second Obama administration on the question of Iran. In part three, I’ll go into more detail about whether a President Romney might be any different.

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Some State Polls Point to Romney Upset

As I wrote last night, liberal analysts are right when they point out that the preponderance of state polls have greatly strengthened President Obama’s hopes for re-election. But a couple of the latest ones published this morning contradict that conviction, which caused New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to claim only stupid people think the election is not a cinch for Obama. One Democratic-leaning pollster has Romney ahead by one point in supposedly deep-blue Michigan, while a new Pennsylvania poll shows the race there deadlocked.

These may be outliers, but even a Nobel laureate (and, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to say, “former Enron advisor”) like Krugman is smart enough to understand that if Romney wins Pennsylvania and Michigan, Obama has virtually no chance to get to 270 electoral votes. The point here is that while we are all rightly focused on who will win Ohio, the president’s hold on a number of states that were thought to be likely Democrat wins is far from secure. What’s happened in the last month since the Denver debate turned the race around is not just a surge of Republican strength in the South and the West but a surprising comeback for the GOP in the rust belt and the Midwest.

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As I wrote last night, liberal analysts are right when they point out that the preponderance of state polls have greatly strengthened President Obama’s hopes for re-election. But a couple of the latest ones published this morning contradict that conviction, which caused New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to claim only stupid people think the election is not a cinch for Obama. One Democratic-leaning pollster has Romney ahead by one point in supposedly deep-blue Michigan, while a new Pennsylvania poll shows the race there deadlocked.

These may be outliers, but even a Nobel laureate (and, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to say, “former Enron advisor”) like Krugman is smart enough to understand that if Romney wins Pennsylvania and Michigan, Obama has virtually no chance to get to 270 electoral votes. The point here is that while we are all rightly focused on who will win Ohio, the president’s hold on a number of states that were thought to be likely Democrat wins is far from secure. What’s happened in the last month since the Denver debate turned the race around is not just a surge of Republican strength in the South and the West but a surprising comeback for the GOP in the rust belt and the Midwest.

The Michigan poll is from the Democratic firm of Baydoun/Foster sponsored by WJBK Fox Channel 2 in Detroit, and has a sample that has a nine percent edge for the Democrats in terms of partisan identification. More tellingly, it is a fairly large number of respondents for a state poll — 1,913 likely voters — and a relatively low margin of error at 2.24 percent. Yet shockingly it shows Romney up by more than half a percentage point: 46.86 percent to 46.24 percent.

It should be specified that most other Michigan polls are still showing the president with a lead there. Another Democratic pollster, Public Policy Polling, has Obama up 52-46 percent in their latest poll. Just to confuse things, that poll has a smaller Democratic edge in partisan identification at only six percent but it is also the product of a much smaller sample — only 700 likely voters — and therefore has a margin of error that is nearly double that of the Baydoun/Foster poll.

In Pennsylvania, a Susquehanna poll sponsored by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shows the race in Pennsylvania a virtual tie. Indeed the poll’s sample of 800 likely voters showed 378 say they would vote for Romney and 372 for Obama. Again, Susquehanna is a bit of an outlier in that it has shown more strength for Romney throughout the campaign than other polls. The Real Clear Politics average of polls for Pennsylvania still shows the president up by more than four points. But it should also be pointed that a clear difference between Susquehanna and the others is the same one that has been stirring discussion about virtually all the presidential polls on both the state and the national level: partisan identification. Susquehanna (whose sample is larger than that of the other Pennsylvania polls) shows a six-percentage point advantage for the Democrats. By contrast, two other polls that show Obama ahead in the state, PPP and Franklin & Marshall, had samples with 10 and nine point edges for the Democrats.

Those numbers make the contradictions between these polls more explicable. It can’t be said often enough that turnout is the key to this election. Those polls that are assuming a large advantage for the Democrats are pointing toward an Obama win. Those that are not are favorable to Romney. It’s as simple as that. If the Obama campaign machine can manufacture a replica of the 2008 electorate, the polls and the analysts predicting and Obama win will be vindicated. If not, then Romney may be on his way to victory and Krugman will be the one sitting in the corner wearing the dunce cap.

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Republicans Close Gap With Swing-State Early Voters

Last week’s Pew poll found that President Obama is trailing Mitt Romney among early voters — a group he won by a large margin in 2008 — and the latest party identification breakdown of early voters from the United States Election Project and Politico support that:

In Colorado, Republicans have cast 38 percent of the early vote to 35 percent for Democrats and 27 percent for unaffiliated voters. Four years ago, the numbers were reversed: Democrats cast 38 percent, Republicans 36 percent and independents 26 percent.

In Iowa, 43 percent of the early vote this year has been cast by Democrats, 32 percent by Republicans and 24 percent by no party or other. In 2008, the numbers were 47 (D) 29 (R) 24 (NP).

While Nevada doesn’t provide comparative statewide early vote data between 2008 and 2012, a similar pattern emerges in the two counties where the bulk of the state vote will be cast – the Democratic percentage of early votes is down slightly and there’s an uptick in the GOP percentage.

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Last week’s Pew poll found that President Obama is trailing Mitt Romney among early voters — a group he won by a large margin in 2008 — and the latest party identification breakdown of early voters from the United States Election Project and Politico support that:

In Colorado, Republicans have cast 38 percent of the early vote to 35 percent for Democrats and 27 percent for unaffiliated voters. Four years ago, the numbers were reversed: Democrats cast 38 percent, Republicans 36 percent and independents 26 percent.

In Iowa, 43 percent of the early vote this year has been cast by Democrats, 32 percent by Republicans and 24 percent by no party or other. In 2008, the numbers were 47 (D) 29 (R) 24 (NP).

While Nevada doesn’t provide comparative statewide early vote data between 2008 and 2012, a similar pattern emerges in the two counties where the bulk of the state vote will be cast – the Democratic percentage of early votes is down slightly and there’s an uptick in the GOP percentage.

At The Atlantic, Molly Ball also gives a good analysis of North Carolina (Republicans are still trailing, but they’ve significantly closed the gap from ’08) and Florida (same thing). Unfortunately, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania don’t break down voters by party, so analysis there is based on looking at turnout numbers in counties and/or precincts that went heavily for Obama or McCain in 2008. And the early vote turnout is down in Ohio counties Obama won handily in 2008, reports Jim Geraghty.

Obama crushed McCain in the pre-election day vote four years ago, but despite a big push by his campaign and a supposedly unbeatable turnout operation, he’s lagging in key states. In places like Iowa and Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, which Obama won by double-digits in 2008, he still has a buffer zone where he can lose some support and still hold on. But he has much less room for error in Ohio. While swing state polls still seem to indicate a slight lead for Obama, many of them also rely on turnout that looks similar to 2008. From what we’re seeing with early voters, that’s not a realistic expectation.

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The Logic of Union Reform in Blue States

When the economy is stuck at around 8 percent unemployment for years heading into a presidential election, and the incumbent is desperately avoiding questions about a foreign policy fiasco, most other issues are bound to fade from priority. And so the issue of education in America has duly taken a back seat this year. But that doesn’t mean the issue has been stagnant in the minds of Americans.

In fact, over the last couple of years we have seen a striking change take place in public opinion. The support for school choice and public union reform in places like Wisconsin and New Jersey have shown that even while school choice and voucher programs have yet to prove themselves a solution to the ailing American education system, the support for school reform even in blue states and among pro-union parts of the country signify a willingness to break with tradition on the part of frustrated parents. On that note, while education hasn’t been much a part of the election this year, Mitt Romney did include it in his closing argument, delivered in Wisconsin today:

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When the economy is stuck at around 8 percent unemployment for years heading into a presidential election, and the incumbent is desperately avoiding questions about a foreign policy fiasco, most other issues are bound to fade from priority. And so the issue of education in America has duly taken a back seat this year. But that doesn’t mean the issue has been stagnant in the minds of Americans.

In fact, over the last couple of years we have seen a striking change take place in public opinion. The support for school choice and public union reform in places like Wisconsin and New Jersey have shown that even while school choice and voucher programs have yet to prove themselves a solution to the ailing American education system, the support for school reform even in blue states and among pro-union parts of the country signify a willingness to break with tradition on the part of frustrated parents. On that note, while education hasn’t been much a part of the election this year, Mitt Romney did include it in his closing argument, delivered in Wisconsin today:

You know that if the President is re-elected, he will say every good thing he can about education, but in the final analysis, he will do what his largest campaign supporters–the public-sector unions–insist upon. And your kids will have the same schools with the same results.

When I am president, I will be a voice of the children and their parents. There is no union for the PTA. I will give parents the information they need to know if their school is failing, and the choice they need to pick the school where their child can succeed.

The willingness of normally pro-union states and voters to support union restrictions has taken some by surprise. But it shouldn’t. The truth is, it’s only logical that in states like New Jersey, where union power has been unchallenged for decades while property owners foot the bill for exorbitant union benefits, desire for true reform would begin to pick up grassroots momentum.

In New Jersey, where I covered education earlier in my career, it was common for schools to cut tutoring programs and sports teams, and otherwise deprive students of various educational opportunities because the teacher and administrator contracts were set in stone. Thanks to collective bargaining between pro-union liberal governors and the unions, school budgets were set in such a way that the only thing protected from budget cuts were union-brokered salaries and benefits.

It makes sense, then, that in such an atmosphere—where it’s not an exaggeration to say that the unions were slowly killing the state’s education system—parents finally said: Enough.

This creates one of the country’s most promising opportunities for bipartisanship: Republican governors not beholden to the unions team up with more liberal voters to reform a system desperately in need of it. And even without proof that school choice will fix education, parents also seem to be out of patience with their exclusion from their child’s educational choices. Without school choice, poor kids are tethered to poor school systems, creating what reform advocates call the civil rights challenge of this generation.

It is also for this reason that Romney hasn’t focused too much on education. It is big government, top-down programs that have failed students time and again. It is the governors and other local leaders who are better able to accurately assess their students’ needs and work with the public to bring about change. Beyond federal support for programs like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—which President Obama sought to end, depriving many D.C.-area minority students of an educational and socioeconomic lifeline—a conservative approach to education reform takes place far from the know-it-all reaches of the federal bureaucracy.

Forcing children to make sacrifices to support six-figure salaries of overpaid—and in some cases, unnecessary—administrators is a shameful approach to public policy. And the fact that parents, and even many teachers, recognize this is why conservative politicians feel confident enough to make this argument in blue states.

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Voter Fraud is Threat to Clear Outcome

American democracy is the finest system of government in the world. But if there is anything that we have learned in the last 12 years, it is that it has one terrible weakness: close elections. The Bush v. Gore Florida fiasco set the tone for a legal arms race in which two major parties have demonstrated that they have one thing above all in common: they bitterly distrust each other. The escalation of this process in the current election cycle has reached levels few dreamed of not that long ago, as both Republicans and Democrats now take it as an article of faith that their opponents’ goal is steal the election.

As the New York Times reports this morning, it is entirely possible that lawyers will outnumber election officials at many polling places. None of this will matter much if either President Obama or Mitt Romney wins easily on Tuesday. But with the polls tightening up even further this week — and today’s Rasmussen poll showing the race tied after Romney had led in that measure for many days has to discourage any GOP activists who were entertaining visions of a Mitt cakewalk — the odds are the vote will be close and the outcome in some of the battleground states may trigger bad memories of Florida’s hanging chads.

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American democracy is the finest system of government in the world. But if there is anything that we have learned in the last 12 years, it is that it has one terrible weakness: close elections. The Bush v. Gore Florida fiasco set the tone for a legal arms race in which two major parties have demonstrated that they have one thing above all in common: they bitterly distrust each other. The escalation of this process in the current election cycle has reached levels few dreamed of not that long ago, as both Republicans and Democrats now take it as an article of faith that their opponents’ goal is steal the election.

As the New York Times reports this morning, it is entirely possible that lawyers will outnumber election officials at many polling places. None of this will matter much if either President Obama or Mitt Romney wins easily on Tuesday. But with the polls tightening up even further this week — and today’s Rasmussen poll showing the race tied after Romney had led in that measure for many days has to discourage any GOP activists who were entertaining visions of a Mitt cakewalk — the odds are the vote will be close and the outcome in some of the battleground states may trigger bad memories of Florida’s hanging chads.

But the problem here is more than just the natural distrust between the parties and a willingness to see any close loss as the result of dirty tricks. Conservative efforts to monitor vote fraud have come in for heavy criticism from the media as thinly veiled attempts to suppress the votes of minorities inclined to vote for the Democrats. In particular, the True the Vote group has been lambasted as nothing more than organized vote suppression. Yet the problem with that assumption is the evidence that Democrats are doing more than cutting corners when it comes to preparing for the large turnout they need on Election Day to re-elect President Obama. As the Times notes:

Still, the Republicans have had legitimate complaints, election officials say. Groups associated with the Democrats have sometimes been overly aggressive in voter registration, paying people for each voter registered or offering bonuses for larger numbers of registrations. This has led to fraud. Ms. Platten, the Democratic county elections board director, said she had seen multiple registrations for the same person whose Social Security number had been shifted by one digit.

If this is a common practice in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, does anyone think these Cleveland Democrats are doing something that their counterparts in Philadelphia or any of a number of other places haven’t thought of too?

Liberals have spent most of the last year endlessly telling us that there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States and that Republicans who pushed for voter ID laws were racists. But the reality of election cheating is something to keep in mind next week when you hear about lawyers in Ohio petitioning courts to keep polls open late in Democratic districts after similarly pushing to allow those areas more early voting opportunities than other parts of the state.

It should be taken as a given that both sides will be ready to muddy the waters with legal challenges in any state where the vote is close. With 11 states rated as tossups on the Real Clear Politics Electoral College Map (less than 5 percent aggregate lead for either candidate in the polls) that leaves open the possibility that not only will we lack a clear outcome next week, but that the election could be mired in the courts next month.

No matter who ultimately wins the presidency, there are some conclusions that both sides, as well as those not immersed in partisanship, should draw from this impending mess.

One is that vote fraud is a serious issue. The impulse to vote the graveyards as well as to falsify the ballots of the living is an old American tradition. Those who ask us to believe that it is either rare or nonexistent are more or less demanding that we ignore everything we know about American political history as well as human nature. These partisan disputes could be minimized if more states adopted laws that made it harder to cheat as well as to ensure that the person showing up at the voting booth is the same one registered. Democrats who resist these laws are opening themselves up to justified suspicion that their true aim is to make it easier for their party to game the results.

Another is that states should devote greater efforts to promoting legal voter registration. So long as this remains largely the preserve of the parties, the Ohio example, in which one Social Security number is used to create a number of fictitious or illegal voters, will remain the rule rather than the exception. Worry about suppression of minority voters could also be alleviated.

Third, the ability of parties to control the election process through rules in some localities must be abolished. The city of Philadelphia’s system, which allows an open partisan to run the Elections Commission — something that makes it easier for Democrats there to act with impunity every Election Day and makes Republicans in the rest of the state suspect their opponents can come up with whatever numbers they need to win — helped motivate the passage of a voter ID law even though courts have ensured it won’t be enforced.

We will never overcome the distrust of the parties for each other, and close elections are always going to produce anger and lawsuits, as well as undermine the legitimacy of the process. But if more states adopted reasonable laws aimed at curbing fraud, it will be easier to minimize the damage the next time the system cracks up.

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Re: The Jobs Report

As John Steele Gordon noted, the unemployment rate ticked up slightly last month, but it’s still just below 8 percent — a psychological barrier that would have certainly hurt Obama days before the election. Still, it’s important to remember where we were supposed to be at this point, at least according to the Obama administration’s 2009 estimates that were used to sell the stimulus package to the public. Jim Pethokoukis writes

Back in early 2009, White House economists Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein predicted the unemployment rate would be 5.2% in October 2012 if Congress passed the $800 billion stimulus. As the above chart shows, they weren’t even close.

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As John Steele Gordon noted, the unemployment rate ticked up slightly last month, but it’s still just below 8 percent — a psychological barrier that would have certainly hurt Obama days before the election. Still, it’s important to remember where we were supposed to be at this point, at least according to the Obama administration’s 2009 estimates that were used to sell the stimulus package to the public. Jim Pethokoukis writes

Back in early 2009, White House economists Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein predicted the unemployment rate would be 5.2% in October 2012 if Congress passed the $800 billion stimulus. As the above chart shows, they weren’t even close.

Click above for the chart, which, as Pethokoukis notes, isn’t even close. In fact, their estimates of what the unemployment rate would look like without the stimulus is much lower than our current rate. 

According to Fox News, we might be waiting a long time for the numbers the White House predicted:

The October numbers allow President Obama to argue the economy is technically growing under his watch. But they also allow Mitt Romney to argue that the new jobs are not making much of a dent in the unemployment problem. Both campaigns quickly set to work putting their spin on data that, if nothing else, underscores the slow pace of the recovery. 

Former Bureau of Labor Statistics chief Keith Hall told Fox Business Network that at this rate, “we’re still talking nine or 10 years” before the economy gets back to normal.

Remember when Obama said he could get it done in three, otherwise it would be a “one-term proposition”? Now we’re told even if he’s reelected not to expect the economy to bounce back until well after he’s out of office. How’s that for accountability?

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Mitt’s PA Foray No Repeat of McCain Fiasco

Democrats are hoping that the Romney campaign’s decision to invest both time and money in Pennsylvania the last weekend before the election is a sign that the GOP is doomed. Memories of John McCain swooping into the Keystone State four years ago in a futile attempt to gain ground in a state that he would lose by better than 10 percentage points encourages Democrats who believe Romney is making the same mistake. But that was then, and this is now.

Though Romney must still be considered a heavy underdog in Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt that the race has tightened and that a Democratic victory there is no longer a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the Obama camp’s assumption that Romney’s move is rooted in a desperate attempt to craft an Electoral College majority without Ohio may also be dead wrong. Far from conceding the key tossup states to Obama, Romney may be sensing an opportunity to win states few thought he had a chance to take only a few weeks ago.

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Democrats are hoping that the Romney campaign’s decision to invest both time and money in Pennsylvania the last weekend before the election is a sign that the GOP is doomed. Memories of John McCain swooping into the Keystone State four years ago in a futile attempt to gain ground in a state that he would lose by better than 10 percentage points encourages Democrats who believe Romney is making the same mistake. But that was then, and this is now.

Though Romney must still be considered a heavy underdog in Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt that the race has tightened and that a Democratic victory there is no longer a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the Obama camp’s assumption that Romney’s move is rooted in a desperate attempt to craft an Electoral College majority without Ohio may also be dead wrong. Far from conceding the key tossup states to Obama, Romney may be sensing an opportunity to win states few thought he had a chance to take only a few weeks ago.

Conflicting poll numbers in the battleground states have made this one of the most confusing elections in memory. If you believe polls with samples that are disproportionately Democratic then the president seems likely to take Ohio as well as Virginia, virtually closing off any path to 270 Electoral College votes for Romney. But the Romney campaign thinks these numbers are off, since they see little likelihood that the Democrats can conjure up a turnout that will match or even exceed their 2008 hope and change wave that swept Obama into the White House. If, as the Republicans believe, the enthusiastic GOP turnout effort will match that of a Democratic campaign that can’t recapture the spirit of Obama’s first presidential run, Romney is a cinch to win Virginia and has a better-than-even chance in Ohio.

Far from the panic and desperation that characterized the last days of the McCain campaign, the Romney effort right now seems confident not only of winning their share of the tossups but of stealing some blue states on Tuesday. That shone through even in a New York Times story published this morning that reported the shift to the GOP:

But there is a tangible sense — seen in Romney yard signs on the expansive lawns of homes in the well-heeled suburbs, and heard in the excited voices of Republican mothers who make phone calls to voters in their spare time — that the race is tilting toward Mr. Romney.

If ever there were a place where a last-ditch torrent of money could move the needle, this is it. For the last couple of months, there has been a void of presidential ads in Pennsylvania. So when Republican strategists looked for places where their money could go the furthest, they set their sights here, reasoning that a dollar spent in Erie or Altoona would have a greater impact than in a place like Las Vegas or Cleveland, where political commercials have clogged the airwaves.

Despite their bravado, Democrats know Romney is making inroads among women and Jewish voters. Those are demographic groups that fueled Obama’s landslide in Pennsylvania four years ago but which now are deserting him.

Democrats may want to believe that they have Ohio in the bag and that they are in no danger of losing Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, another state where polls show Romney seems to have a real chance. But the decision to have both Romney and runningmate Paul Ryan visit Pennsylvania this weekend seems rooted more in confidence than in a forlorn “Hail Mary” pass to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Republicans may be mistaken in thinking they have any sort of chance in Pennsylvania because of the strength of the Democratic machine in Philadelphia and its still potent ability to manufacture majorities that can outweigh what happens elsewhere in the state. But there is no doubt that state, as well as several others that the Obama campaign had hoped to have wrapped up this late in the game, are still very much in play.

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Bloomberg Endorsement All About Mike

What to make of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to wait until there were five days left before the election before endorsing President Obama’s re-election? The ostensible motivation for the move, announced in an op-ed published today in Bloomberg’s own news website, is the mayor’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy, which he says he believes was the result of climate change. Since Obama buys into the same global warming agenda, which calls for major government interventions into the economy in order to stave off the perceived danger, Bloomberg says that is enough to convince him to back the president even though he disdains his economic agenda and thinks him a weak leader.

Fair enough. If Bloomberg really believes his climate agenda is the No. 1 issue facing the country, rather than the economy or even foreign policy, that is his choice. But it’s hard to see how Bloomberg’s decision will do the president much good. Had the billionaire mayor/mogul backed the president earlier in the process, his financial help via the super PAC he created might have done the president some real good. But even in an age when celebrity/political endorsements are seen as inconsequential, Bloomberg’s will carry even less weight than most. The unpopular mayor won’t impact the outcome in deep blue New York or anywhere else. Nor is it likely that independents who are flocking to Romney because of Obama’s economic failures will change their minds because the former Democrat/Republican wrote an equivocal endorsement on the website named after him. The move is strictly about Bloomberg’s desire for attention.

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What to make of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to wait until there were five days left before the election before endorsing President Obama’s re-election? The ostensible motivation for the move, announced in an op-ed published today in Bloomberg’s own news website, is the mayor’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy, which he says he believes was the result of climate change. Since Obama buys into the same global warming agenda, which calls for major government interventions into the economy in order to stave off the perceived danger, Bloomberg says that is enough to convince him to back the president even though he disdains his economic agenda and thinks him a weak leader.

Fair enough. If Bloomberg really believes his climate agenda is the No. 1 issue facing the country, rather than the economy or even foreign policy, that is his choice. But it’s hard to see how Bloomberg’s decision will do the president much good. Had the billionaire mayor/mogul backed the president earlier in the process, his financial help via the super PAC he created might have done the president some real good. But even in an age when celebrity/political endorsements are seen as inconsequential, Bloomberg’s will carry even less weight than most. The unpopular mayor won’t impact the outcome in deep blue New York or anywhere else. Nor is it likely that independents who are flocking to Romney because of Obama’s economic failures will change their minds because the former Democrat/Republican wrote an equivocal endorsement on the website named after him. The move is strictly about Bloomberg’s desire for attention.

Whether Bloomberg’s views on climate change are correct is a debate for another day. But the notion that President Obama’s “leadership” on the issue has been a major factor in his administration, or that it will accomplish much to further the “green” agenda in the next four years if he should be re-elected, doesn’t hold water. Obama’s ideas about green energy amount to feckless kowtowing to the green lobby on necessary economic projects like the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada and funneling billions to Democratic fundraisers to support boondoggles like Solyndra. None of that will do much to affect the climate one way or the other. Moreover, Bloomberg knows very well that Congress won’t support cap and trade in the foreseeable future. If he really wanted to do something to protect New York from future disasters like Sandy, he might call for the construction of a sea barrier that could, at least in theory, shield the harbor from flooding, as this NPR report details.

Bloomberg also mentions issues like gay marriage and abortion, on which he sides with Obama. But, again, it’s not as if he pulls much weight with voters who prioritize those issues who were, no doubt, already on the president’s side.

The whole point of such a last-minute message for Obama is to maximize the publicity attached to it during a week in which political news rivets the country. Though many around the nation may not be aware of it, Bloomberg’s third mayoral term has been widely seen as a disaster, as this COMMENTARY article by Fred Siegel makes clear. Bloomberg’s tactics of buying off his critics with mammoth charitable donations has worn thin over the years, and all that’s left is a plutocrat/media mogul mayor attempting to impose his idea of a nanny state on the city with soda bans and impractical traffic plans for midtown Manhattan. In that sense, President Obama is the perfect candidate for Bloomberg, as he exemplifies the same big government vision in which individual rights and the market are pushed aside for the sake of elitist rule. Bloomberg is looking for another perch from which he can push ordinary Americans around after he leaves the mayor’s office, and kissing up to Obama and garnering attention for his pet causes is just the way to maximize his hopes of being something more than the name of a cable business network and various publications.

There’s one more point to be made about Bloomberg’s endorsement. The mayor was not the least bit shy about using the hurricane as the justification for his decision. But even if you buy into the unproven theories in which any kind of weather — hot or cold, windy or calm, wet or dry — can be seen as proof of global warming caused by humanity, is there any doubt that what he did was a blatant effort to politicize a tragedy that ought to be above politics? But, as with so much else, when you’re a liberal billionaire posing as an independent, you can ignore the same rules that would sink another mortal.

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