Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential election

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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Win or Lose, Obama Sure Is Lost

Alana asks a very good question: Is an election on big ideas even possible when Barack Obama is one of the candidates? Another way of asking this would be: What would Barack Obama’s mandate be if he wins? It’s not an easy question to answer. He can certainly argue that, while he’s not proposing any serious plans or policies, he would at least protect the public from Mitt Romney, who would strive to outlaw whatever it is they like. But, like his accusation that Romney would ban abortion, the claims are made up out of whole cloth, and therefore easily debunked.

And that explains why the president looks so lost. I am not among those who think Obama’s visit to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy elevated him much above his challenger, in part because it’s been so long since he acted presidential that he just looks so out of place everywhere people are trying to do serious work. This is not to take any credit away from him for the federal services provided to victims of the storm, but his press conference and appearances with Chris Christie did not seem to be much to his benefit. Christie was lively, authoritative, empathetic, and always prepared with important information. Obama read names of mayors off a paper in front of him, expressionless and monotone, as if he were standing not in front of a disaster area but a green screen. Michael Bloomberg correctly asked the president to please stay away from New York City, where he would only be a burden, due especially to the traffic congestion caused by road closures, mass transit suspensions, and the malfunctioning crane at 57th Street.

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Alana asks a very good question: Is an election on big ideas even possible when Barack Obama is one of the candidates? Another way of asking this would be: What would Barack Obama’s mandate be if he wins? It’s not an easy question to answer. He can certainly argue that, while he’s not proposing any serious plans or policies, he would at least protect the public from Mitt Romney, who would strive to outlaw whatever it is they like. But, like his accusation that Romney would ban abortion, the claims are made up out of whole cloth, and therefore easily debunked.

And that explains why the president looks so lost. I am not among those who think Obama’s visit to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy elevated him much above his challenger, in part because it’s been so long since he acted presidential that he just looks so out of place everywhere people are trying to do serious work. This is not to take any credit away from him for the federal services provided to victims of the storm, but his press conference and appearances with Chris Christie did not seem to be much to his benefit. Christie was lively, authoritative, empathetic, and always prepared with important information. Obama read names of mayors off a paper in front of him, expressionless and monotone, as if he were standing not in front of a disaster area but a green screen. Michael Bloomberg correctly asked the president to please stay away from New York City, where he would only be a burden, due especially to the traffic congestion caused by road closures, mass transit suspensions, and the malfunctioning crane at 57th Street.

Obama has built his firewall around Ohio this election, which is why someone more popular than the president—Bill Clinton—is currently there on his behalf. Where do you campaign if you have nothing to say? How do you draw a large crowd without large ideas?

This gets to another problem with the election. If Obama wins, it might very well be because Romney ran out of time to catch him, for the polling trends are much kinder to the challenger than the incumbent. Which means that his so-called “kill Romney” strategy, in which the president’s campaign sought to bury Romney early on with the politics of personal destruction that even included whipping up attacks on Romney’s religion, will be credited with making the difference.

It’s possible, also, that the campaign will pat itself on the back for its Big Bird, binders, and birth control attacks. Which brings me back to Alana’s post and her discussion of the Lena Dunham ad. Dunham’s sharp HBO show, which deserves the praise it has received, has been lauded by social conservatives as well as liberal Millennials tired of entrusting their pop culture depictions to those outside their own generation.

Whether you think the show is intended to be literal or just sly social commentary, the characters are aimless. Which is why it’s so appropriate to see Dunham cut an ad for the aimless president she supports. But Obama isn’t a Millennial having too much fun in Brooklyn to settle down. He’s the president of the United States and he’s asking for a second term. Even if he’s not quite sure why.

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Is a ‘Big Picture’ Election Impossible?

At the Washington Times, Emily Esfahani Smith weighs in on Lena Dunham’s Obama ad, and what it says about her show Girls:

The show’s message that casual sex leads to the objectification of women stood in direct contrast to the standard pop culture trope — found in shows like “Sex and the City,” magazines like Cosmopolitan, and movies like “No Strings Attached” — that sex with no strings attached empowers girls. 

“I felt like I was cruelly duped by much of the television I saw,” Miss Dunham told the New York Times last spring on the eve of the debut of “Girls.” …

That was Miss Dunham 1.0.

To Miss Dunham 2.0, women really are just sexual objects, after all. They make important decisions, like voting for president, by consulting what goes on between their legs rather than by what goes on between their ears. As she advises in the ad, “You want to do it with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance and specifically whether you get birth control.”

Dunham isn’t the only person supporting Obama (in part) because of his birth control provisions. But it probably has less to do with them supporting the “objectification of women,” and more to do with wanting something for “free” that they otherwise would have paid for.

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At the Washington Times, Emily Esfahani Smith weighs in on Lena Dunham’s Obama ad, and what it says about her show Girls:

The show’s message that casual sex leads to the objectification of women stood in direct contrast to the standard pop culture trope — found in shows like “Sex and the City,” magazines like Cosmopolitan, and movies like “No Strings Attached” — that sex with no strings attached empowers girls. 

“I felt like I was cruelly duped by much of the television I saw,” Miss Dunham told the New York Times last spring on the eve of the debut of “Girls.” …

That was Miss Dunham 1.0.

To Miss Dunham 2.0, women really are just sexual objects, after all. They make important decisions, like voting for president, by consulting what goes on between their legs rather than by what goes on between their ears. As she advises in the ad, “You want to do it with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance and specifically whether you get birth control.”

Dunham isn’t the only person supporting Obama (in part) because of his birth control provisions. But it probably has less to do with them supporting the “objectification of women,” and more to do with wanting something for “free” that they otherwise would have paid for.

It’s one thing to think the birth control mandate is a good idea. But is it really a reasonable issue to pin your vote on? Should it be a serious factor for deciding the direction of the country?

Democrats seem to hope so. Birth control is the first issue Dunham cites in the ad, probably because it’s the one aspect of Obamacare that resonates the most with the people who watch her show Girls. Obamacare will actually be impacted by this election, unlike the other issues Dunham mentioned (Iraq withdrawal — already done, and actually an agreement set under Bush; supporting gay marriage — Obama says the choice is up to the states, not the federal government; and Lilly Ledbetter, which was signed three years ago and has had no change whatsoever in the supposed gender wage gap).

Dunham’s show has been praised by conservatives, in part, because it puts a mirror up to a generation that’s stuck in an extended adolescence. She plays a smart recent college graduate who still has no idea how to interact with adults or take care of herself. But the show can either be viewed as an indictment of Millennials, or it can be viewed in earnest. You could easily picture the characters voting for “free birth control,” with no real thought for larger issues, and there are plenty of people out there who probably think exactly the same way.

That’s what Obama has relied on this election — various little promises to various little slices of the electorate. It’s what’s made it so difficult for Republicans to run the “big picture” election they had hoped for. But has a big picture election become impossible? We may find out Nov. 6.

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A Vote For Obama Isn’t a Vote for Gay Rights

As we know by now, five days before the election, President Obama is unable to run on his record, and has chosen not to run on a plan for the next four years. The president has instead been dependent on scare tactics–probably because he himself is quite scared. With the polling numbers coming out of swing states that were once reliably blue, like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he should be nervous about his looming possible unemployment. 

Only six months after Obama’s “evolution” (read: flip-flop) on gay marriage, he’s now basing a large portion of his campaign messaging on the subject. Hollywood elites have finally come in line with giving him some endorsements and have thrown fundraisers for the president, albeit not nearly as enthusiastically as they did four years ago. In the swing state of Wisconsin, a 20-something friend told me that for every ten ads she hears on her Pandora radio station, eight have been purchased by Obama’s reelection campaign. Many of these ads, she’s told me, implore her to vote for the president lest they find themselves unable to look their gay friends in the eye after election day. How could they vote against their friends’ own civil rights and liberties? Today on the Huffington Post a similar message appears,

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As we know by now, five days before the election, President Obama is unable to run on his record, and has chosen not to run on a plan for the next four years. The president has instead been dependent on scare tactics–probably because he himself is quite scared. With the polling numbers coming out of swing states that were once reliably blue, like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he should be nervous about his looming possible unemployment. 

Only six months after Obama’s “evolution” (read: flip-flop) on gay marriage, he’s now basing a large portion of his campaign messaging on the subject. Hollywood elites have finally come in line with giving him some endorsements and have thrown fundraisers for the president, albeit not nearly as enthusiastically as they did four years ago. In the swing state of Wisconsin, a 20-something friend told me that for every ten ads she hears on her Pandora radio station, eight have been purchased by Obama’s reelection campaign. Many of these ads, she’s told me, implore her to vote for the president lest they find themselves unable to look their gay friends in the eye after election day. How could they vote against their friends’ own civil rights and liberties? Today on the Huffington Post a similar message appears,

If I hear one more person explain how, even though they believe in gay rights, they’re voting for Romney, I’m going to lose my mind. We need to find ways to reach these people who say they love us and call us friends.

That’s a pretty heavy gauntlet. The bottom line for that writer is that a vote for Romney is a vote against your gay friends and family. But is it?

Unlike Obama, Romney has barely uttered a word about social issues, steering clear of gay marriage and abortion and instead focusing on encouraging voters to consider his economic and foreign policy plans. A vote for Romney, for many, isn’t a vote against gays, but instead a vote for providing for their families and keeping their country safe from the very serious risks posed by countries like Iran, China, and yes, even Russia. 

Like he has been for the last four years on many other issues, President Obama is a lot of talk and very little action on gay rights, aside from reversing the draconian Bush-era policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell… Wait. Oh, that was written and enacted by the Clinton White House? Well, it’s a good thing Obama has repudiated that bigoted former president. Except that he hasn’t, and Clinton has instead been one of Obama’s most effective surrogates, both at the DNC and on the stump. The only change in the last four years that Obama has attempted, let alone executed, for gay rights is to reverse a policy enacted by his Democratic predecessor. Back in April, before his gay marriage flip-flop, President Obama had the ability to enact an executive order to protect gay and lesbian government contractors from workplace discrimination. Instead, in the Washington Posts words, “he punted.”

And what about the next four years? What strides will Obama make for gay rights? Released just last week, the President’s plan “Forward” contains zero promises or pledges to the gay community. Despite relying heavily on gay and lesbian couples for fundraising efforts, it appears they should expect nothing in return. 

As Obama’s actions both before and after his gay marriage flip-flop have shown, his commitment to gay rights appears to be merely one of convenience. Four years ago, it was politically expedient to be against gay marriage, thus President Obama made statements to that effect. In May, after Vice President Biden blurted out his previously unmentioned support of gay marriage, President Obama found it politically necessary to either repudiate his own vice president or change his stance, and chose to do the latter. He was rewarded with a flood of donations and a boost with youth voters who were unenthusiastic about going to the polls for a president who accomplished very little of what he promised four years ago. We now know what Obama believes, but we’re again left wondering, what is he going to do about it? If the last four years and his own reelection campaign promises are any indication, very little. 

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Obama Leads in Iowa, Race Close in NH, WI

Today’s WSJ/NBC/Marist poll shows President Obama with a six-point lead in Iowa, but Mitt Romney within striking distance in New Hampshire and Wisconsin:

In Iowa, Obama is ahead by six points among likely voters, 50 percent to 44 percent, which is down from his eight-point lead earlier this month. 

In Wisconsin, the president edges Romney by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error. That’s also down from Obama’s six-point lead earlier this month.

And in New Hampshire, Obama gets support from 49 percent of likely voters, while Romney gets 47 percent. In September, before the debates began, Obama held a seven-point advantage in the state, 51 percent to 44 percent.

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Today’s WSJ/NBC/Marist poll shows President Obama with a six-point lead in Iowa, but Mitt Romney within striking distance in New Hampshire and Wisconsin:

In Iowa, Obama is ahead by six points among likely voters, 50 percent to 44 percent, which is down from his eight-point lead earlier this month. 

In Wisconsin, the president edges Romney by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error. That’s also down from Obama’s six-point lead earlier this month.

And in New Hampshire, Obama gets support from 49 percent of likely voters, while Romney gets 47 percent. In September, before the debates began, Obama held a seven-point advantage in the state, 51 percent to 44 percent.

Ed Morrissey looks at how the the party identification breakdown in this poll compares to 2008 and 2010, and writes that they’re probably a little overly-favorable for Obama, but not too atrocious: 

Overall, I’d say that while the toplines look decent for Obama and the samples look arguably solid, those numbers for independents should be a big, big worry.  Obama has lost most of his double-digit edges among indies in all three states, and is in a virtual tie in Wisconsin and New Hampshire with Romney in those demos. With Republican enthusiasm waxing and Democratic enthusiasm waning, these second-tier swing states could break Obama’s hopes of winning a second term.

The bottom line is that the polls are still close, and the race will come down to whether Obama’s turnout operation is as effective as we’re told it will be on election day. If the party identification breakdown is similar to the WSJ/NBC/Marist poll, then Obama will be in a good position, as you can see from the above numbers. As long as Romney wins Ohio, he doesn’t necessarily need Wisconsin, Iowa or New Hampshire to win (assuming he takes all the swing states where he has a slight lead). But Obama is still ahead in the Ohio polls, and if that’s the case Romney will need either those smaller states, or a surprise victory in Pennsylvania — which is getting closer, but still leaning blue at this point.

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Latest Defense of Nate Silver: Even When He’s Wrong, He’s Right

At this point in the election, both the national tracking polls and, generally speaking, the battleground state polls show an extremely close race. This has inspired much criticism of stat-man Nate Silver. Liberals, as Jonathan wrote recently, may be looking for a scapegoat if Barack Obama loses, and will wonder why Silver insisted that statistically Obama was an overwhelming favorite to win re-election right up to the end. Conservatives say that statistics don’t factor in momentum, that any predictive model that ignores trends should be taken with a grain of salt, and that current trends don’t back up Silver’s predictions of Obama as the heavy favorite.

Additionally, as Josh Jordan has pointed out at National Review Online, there are problems with Silver’s statistical model, which gives more weight to pro-Obama polls—even older polls—than to those showing Mitt Romney’s recent gains. Silver’s defenders respond that Silver makes no guarantees, and that giving Obama a high chance of winning doesn’t preclude the opposite outcome. This defense—essentially that no outcome can disprove Silver’s model—treads a bit too close for comfort to Chuck Klosterman’s classic rant about statistics:

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At this point in the election, both the national tracking polls and, generally speaking, the battleground state polls show an extremely close race. This has inspired much criticism of stat-man Nate Silver. Liberals, as Jonathan wrote recently, may be looking for a scapegoat if Barack Obama loses, and will wonder why Silver insisted that statistically Obama was an overwhelming favorite to win re-election right up to the end. Conservatives say that statistics don’t factor in momentum, that any predictive model that ignores trends should be taken with a grain of salt, and that current trends don’t back up Silver’s predictions of Obama as the heavy favorite.

Additionally, as Josh Jordan has pointed out at National Review Online, there are problems with Silver’s statistical model, which gives more weight to pro-Obama polls—even older polls—than to those showing Mitt Romney’s recent gains. Silver’s defenders respond that Silver makes no guarantees, and that giving Obama a high chance of winning doesn’t preclude the opposite outcome. This defense—essentially that no outcome can disprove Silver’s model—treads a bit too close for comfort to Chuck Klosterman’s classic rant about statistics:

Life is chock-full of lies, but the biggest lie is math. That’s particularly clear in the discipline of probability, a field of study that’s completely and wholly fake. When push comes to shove–when you truly get down to the core essence of existence–there is only one mathematical possibility: Everything is 50-50. Either something will happen, or something will not.

When you flip a coin, what are the odds of it coming up heads? 50-50. Either it will be heads, or it will not. When you roll a six-sided die, what are the odds that you’ll roll a three? 50-50. You’ll either get a three, or you won’t. That’s reality. Don’t fall into the childish “it’s one-in-six” logic trap. That is precisely what all your adolescent authority figures want you to believe. That’s how they enslave you. That’s how they stole your conviction, and that’s why you will never be happy. Either you will roll a three, or you will not; there are no other alternatives. The future has no memory. Certain things can be impossible, and certain things can be guaranteed–but there is no sliding scale for maybe. Maybe something will happen, or maybe it won’t….

Quasi-intellectuals like to claim that math is spiritual. They are lying. Math is not religion. Math is the antireligion, because it splinters the gravity of life’s only imperative equation: Either something is true, or it isn’t. Do or do not; there is no try.

Klosterman was being sardonic (probably?) but much of this argument over Silver’s model feels that way too. Both sides warn against putting too much stock in Silver’s model because it’s only numbers. Here is Ezra Klein’s defense of Silver:

It’s important to be clear about this: If Silver’s model is hugely wrong — if all the models are hugely wrong, and the betting markets are hugely wrong — it’s because the polls are wrong. Silver’s model is, at this point, little more than a sophisticated form of poll aggregation.

But it’s just as important to be clear about this: If Mitt Romney wins on election day, it doesn’t mean Silver’s model was wrong. After all, the model has been fluctuating between giving Romney a 25 percent and 40 percent chance of winning the election. That’s a pretty good chance! If you told me I had a 35 percent chance of winning a million dollars tomorrow, I’d be excited. And if I won the money, I wouldn’t turn around and tell you your information was wrong. I’d still have no evidence I’d ever had anything more than a 35 percent chance.

That basically boils down to: Don’t blame Silver if he’s wrong, because he’s relying on other people’s work, and no matter what happens, Silver wasn’t wrong, because he said it could happen, and it did.

If Mitt Romney wins, does that discredit Nate Silver? Only if you defied Silver’s advice, and that of his defenders, not to rely on him in the first place.

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Blowing Smoke: Dem Turnout, Not Demography is Destiny

The Obama campaign’s top leadership was out in force today, pumping up the faithful as they reassured them that President Obama was certain to be re-elected. Senior advisor David Axelrod said he would shave his trademark mustache if the president lost. Meanwhile, Campaign manager Jim Messina vowed that Democrats would turn out in even larger numbers than they did in 2008 when Obama’s hope and change mania was at its peak. While some may dismiss this as pre-election braggadocio, that’s exactly what’s going to have to happen if the president is to save Axelrod’s facial hair.

That was made clear again today with the release of several polls that seemed certain to bolster Democratic optimism. As Alana noted, a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times poll of Ohio, Virginia and Florida showed President Obama leading in all three of the three key battleground states. The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm also released a poll in Ohio showing the president ahead. But these surveys, and just about every other poll that favored Obama, all had samples that were heavily skewed toward Democrats. Quinnipiac’s sample had seven percent more Democrats than Republicans in Florida and eight percent more in both Ohio and Virginia. PPP had whopping nine percent more Democrats. By contrast, a Roanoke College poll in Virginia had a sample of only four percent more Democrats than Republicans. Not surprisingly, that yielded a result that gave Mitt Romney a five percent lead in the state.

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The Obama campaign’s top leadership was out in force today, pumping up the faithful as they reassured them that President Obama was certain to be re-elected. Senior advisor David Axelrod said he would shave his trademark mustache if the president lost. Meanwhile, Campaign manager Jim Messina vowed that Democrats would turn out in even larger numbers than they did in 2008 when Obama’s hope and change mania was at its peak. While some may dismiss this as pre-election braggadocio, that’s exactly what’s going to have to happen if the president is to save Axelrod’s facial hair.

That was made clear again today with the release of several polls that seemed certain to bolster Democratic optimism. As Alana noted, a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times poll of Ohio, Virginia and Florida showed President Obama leading in all three of the three key battleground states. The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm also released a poll in Ohio showing the president ahead. But these surveys, and just about every other poll that favored Obama, all had samples that were heavily skewed toward Democrats. Quinnipiac’s sample had seven percent more Democrats than Republicans in Florida and eight percent more in both Ohio and Virginia. PPP had whopping nine percent more Democrats. By contrast, a Roanoke College poll in Virginia had a sample of only four percent more Democrats than Republicans. Not surprisingly, that yielded a result that gave Mitt Romney a five percent lead in the state.

It all boils down to this. Unless the president’s organization can conjure up turnout numbers on Tuesday that will match or even exceed the totals he achieved in 2008 when Democratic enthusiasm was highest and Republicans were decidedly unenthusiastic, he cannot win.

Those who defend the Democratic-leaning polls point out with justice that partisan identification is not set in stone and can change from one election cycle to another. But the gains Democrats are assuming go beyond the normal fluctuations that occur. They also contradict evidence about such affiliation over the past four years, which indicates that support for the Democrats has declined, rather than holding steady or increasing.

A better argument for the Democrats would be the slight increases in the percentage of the overall population that are minorities, a development that would tend to favor the president’s re-election. But for that to be a factor in the election, turnout of African-Americans and Hispanics (or at least those portions of the diverse Hispanic vote that favor the Democrats) would have to exceed the record numbers that took to the polls in 2008.

Once we dismiss these factors, we are faced with the plain fact that in order for the president to have the kind of advantage that Quinnipiac, PPP and other Obama-leaning polls give him, his party is going to have manufacture more Democrats than they did four years ago.

Is that possible? Yes it is. But it is also highly unlikely given the fact that 2008 was a cakewalk for Obama against a weaker Republican opponent at a time when the GOP was decidedly unenthusiastic about giving their party another four years in office.

It is far more reasonable to assume that turnout numbers will give the Democrats only a slight partisan advantage, if they get one at all. While anything can happen in an election so close, the only polls showing the president winning at either the state or national levels require a disproportionate percentage of affiliated Democrats among the likely voters surveyed. That means anything other than a repeat of Obama’s turnout wave in 2008 will ensure Mitt Romney’s election. Unless Messina and Axelrod have a ground game that can work that kind of miracle, all they are doing today is blowing smoke.

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Poll Shows Small Obama Lead in OH, FL, VA

The latest CBS News/Quinnipiac/NYT poll shows Obama leading by five points in Ohio and “effectively tied” with Romney in Virginia and Florida:

President Obama has maintained a five-point lead in the crucial swing state of Ohio, according to a new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll of likely voters. The survey found that Mitt Romney has gained ground in Florida and Virgini

a, where the race is now effectively tied.

Mr. Obama now leads Romney 50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in Ohio – exactly where the race stood on Oct. 22. His lead in Florida, however, has shrunk from nine points in September to just one point in the new survey, which shows Mr. Obama with 48 percent support and Romney with 47 percent. The president’s lead in Virginia has shrunk from five points in early October to two points in the new survey, which shows him with a 49 percent to 47 percent advantage.

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The latest CBS News/Quinnipiac/NYT poll shows Obama leading by five points in Ohio and “effectively tied” with Romney in Virginia and Florida:

President Obama has maintained a five-point lead in the crucial swing state of Ohio, according to a new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll of likely voters. The survey found that Mitt Romney has gained ground in Florida and Virgini

a, where the race is now effectively tied.

Mr. Obama now leads Romney 50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in Ohio – exactly where the race stood on Oct. 22. His lead in Florida, however, has shrunk from nine points in September to just one point in the new survey, which shows Mr. Obama with 48 percent support and Romney with 47 percent. The president’s lead in Virginia has shrunk from five points in early October to two points in the new survey, which shows him with a 49 percent to 47 percent advantage.

The poll shows the race tightening in Virginia and Florida. But keep in mind, the party identification breakdown in this poll is tilted heavily in Obama’s favor. Ed Morrissey compares the sample to the 2008 and 2010 exit polling (Democrat/Republican/Independent):

What do the samples look like? Here’s the breakdown for each state, with 2008 and 2010 exit polling in parentheses (2009 in VA’s case):

1. FL: 37/30/29 (37/34/29, 36/36/29)

1. OH: 37/29/30 (39/31/30, 36/37/28)

1. VA: 35/27/35 (39/33/27, 33/37/30)

In each of these three states, the CBS/NYT/Q-poll shows Republicans at a lower percentage level of turnout than in the 2008 election. If one makes that assumption, it’s not too difficult to be (sic) guess that Obama might be ahead. However, that’s exactly the opposite of what all other polls rating enthusiasm are telling us what the electorate will look like on Tuesday. In fact, it’s not even what this poll shows, with Republican enthusiasm +16 over Democrats in Florida, +14 in Ohio, and +7 in Virginia.

Not only is Republican enthusiasm significantly up over Democrats, an inverse of 2008, there are also early signs of turnout problems for Obama. Gallup’s poll of early voters yesterday showed Romney leading Obama 52 to 46 percent among those who have already voted (they were tied among those planning to vote before Election Day). At this point in 2008, Obama had a 10-point lead with early voters in the same poll, and a six-point lead with planned early voters.

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Romney Campaign Buys Ad Time in Pennsylvania

The race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten, with ABC News switching the state from solid Obama to lean-Obama in its electoral map. Both campaigns are pivoting back to the state, and Politico reports that the Romney campaign is reserving ad space, on the heels of a $2 million ad buy by pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future and a $600,000 American Crossroads purchase.

Romney’s ad, a $150,000 buy from Nov. 5-6, hits Obama hard on coal

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The race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten, with ABC News switching the state from solid Obama to lean-Obama in its electoral map. Both campaigns are pivoting back to the state, and Politico reports that the Romney campaign is reserving ad space, on the heels of a $2 million ad buy by pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future and a $600,000 American Crossroads purchase.

Romney’s ad, a $150,000 buy from Nov. 5-6, hits Obama hard on coal

ABC notes the campaigns have hit the saturation point on ad buys in Ohio and Virginia, and Pennsylvania is one of the few states where more ad spending can matter. Still, the fact that the Obama campaign is funneling resources there in the final days is telling, considering the state was supposed to be a safe one for them.

The Romney campaign released a memo today emphasizing its efforts in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania presents a unique opportunity for the Romney campaign.  Over the past few years we have seen Pennsylvania voting for a Republican senator and a Republican governor, and Republicans win control of the State House in addition to the State Senate. The western part of the Keystone State has become more conservative (and President Obama’s war on coal is very unpopular there), and Mitt Romney is more competitive in the voter-rich Philadelphia suburbs than any Republican nominee since 1988. This makes Pennsylvania a natural next step as we expand the playing field.

The Romney campaign is expanding the field while the Obama campaign is just trying to hamper its losses. Obama still has a clear lead in the Pennsylvania polls, 4.7 percent in the RCP average, but that’s down from an 8-to-9-point lead in September. And that was without a major ad blitz. Romney may not be able to close that gap in a week, but he can make the Obama campaign divert money to the state that it otherwise would have been spending elsewhere.

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A Fitting Message for the Obama Campaign to End On

Obama supporters are back to making Bain Capital an issue, Politico reports:

But with a little over a week left in the race, several of the Democrats’ top independent spenders are leaning hard into the Bain message, eschewing a pure policy message for a gut-punch reminder that the former Massachusetts governor made his fortune through controversial deals in the private-equity industry.

The late emphasis on Bain, Democratic strategists say, reflects both the potency of Bain as an attack against Romney in general, and the pivotal significance of Midwestern states such as Ohio where the Bain message is especially resonant. Though Romney remains no better than tied with Obama in most national and swing-state polls, he has gained enough ground since the first debate on Oct. 3 that reinforcing Obama’s standing in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin is of paramount importance. …

“If the Democrats could finish on a positive message, they would,” Romney adviser Matt McDonald said. “But the president has no positive message, no agenda for a second term and nothing left to offer voters. They’ve thrown everything including the kitchen sink and it hasn’t worked, so now their only choice is to throw the same kitchen sink again. It’s the campaign equivalent of the president’s policies: keep doing the same thing over again and hope for a different outcome.”

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Obama supporters are back to making Bain Capital an issue, Politico reports:

But with a little over a week left in the race, several of the Democrats’ top independent spenders are leaning hard into the Bain message, eschewing a pure policy message for a gut-punch reminder that the former Massachusetts governor made his fortune through controversial deals in the private-equity industry.

The late emphasis on Bain, Democratic strategists say, reflects both the potency of Bain as an attack against Romney in general, and the pivotal significance of Midwestern states such as Ohio where the Bain message is especially resonant. Though Romney remains no better than tied with Obama in most national and swing-state polls, he has gained enough ground since the first debate on Oct. 3 that reinforcing Obama’s standing in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin is of paramount importance. …

“If the Democrats could finish on a positive message, they would,” Romney adviser Matt McDonald said. “But the president has no positive message, no agenda for a second term and nothing left to offer voters. They’ve thrown everything including the kitchen sink and it hasn’t worked, so now their only choice is to throw the same kitchen sink again. It’s the campaign equivalent of the president’s policies: keep doing the same thing over again and hope for a different outcome.”

There’s no time for Obama to shift to a positive message, if one even existed to shift to. His campaign has tapped out its creativity. Their latest attempts at an alternative message? A booklet outlining the same vague policy ideas you can find on Obama’s website. And Obama’s grand proposal to create a “Secretary of Business” cabinet position in a second term (apparently nobody had the heart to tell him about the Secretary of Commerce). 

Obama’s brain trust seems to think it’s easier to frighten voters out of voting for Romney than to persuade voters to reelect the president. Since the Bain attacks didn’t work over the summer, it’s doubtful they’ll have much impact in the final stretch.

It would also be a fitting for Obama’s campaign, and perhaps his presidency, to end in an embrace of the same divisive politics he spoke out against four years ago. For all the talk about Romney’s lack of principles (not an unfair criticism), Obama has let politics trump almost everything he claimed to stand for in 2008. Richard Cohen writes at the Washington Post:

Instead, I see [Obama’s] failure to embrace all sorts of people, even members of Congress and the business community. I see diffidence, a reluctance to close. I see a president for whom Afghanistan is not just a war but a metaphor for his approach to politics: He approved a surge but also an exit date. Heads I win, tails you lose. …

[S]omewhere between the campaign and the White House itself, Obama got lost. It turned out he had no cause at all. Expanding health insurance was Hillary Clinton’s longtime goal, and even after Obama adopted it, he never argued for it with any fervor. In an unfairly mocked campaign speech, he promised to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet. But when he took office, climate change was abandoned — too much trouble, too much opposition. His eloquence, it turned out, was reserved for campaigning.

Obama never espoused a cause bigger than his own political survival.

One point of disagreement. If Obama was purely interested in his political survival, he would have governed more like a Bill Clinton and pivoted to the center earlier in his campaign. But Cohen does hit some truth when he mentions Obama’s approach to politics. The president seems to view governing as a zero-sum game, where one side can only win if the other side loses (and the best approach is to make sure the other side never has a chance).

Obama’s presidency has been full of failures to compromise. In 2009, after Republicans expressed concerns about his stimulus, Obama famously told Eric Cantor: “I won. So I think on that one, I trump you.” He tanked the grand bargain. He derailed a potential DREAM Act compromise by taking executive action that he previously denied he could take. He’s declined to reach out to Republicans at almost every chance.

Congressional Republicans aren’t blameless. But most of them didn’t run on a promise of post-partisanship and bipartisan compromise, while Obama did. He had a responsibility to at least make a serious effort.

Instead, Obama and his team always seem too focused on winning the fight of the week, the day or the hour. He seems to have trouble looking beyond the immediate future, including goals as long-term as his “political survival.” It’s not just his campaign that’s seized on one distraction after another — it’s his entire presidency. One week he’s talking about immigration, the next he’s talking about green jobs. Then it’s the war in Afghanistan, and the Do-Nothing Congress. Now it’s back to Bain Capital. In the end, few things actually get done.

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Obama’s Early Voting Strategy Flops?

President Obama is so invested in his campaign’s early voting strategy that he became the first sitting president to cast a ballot before election day. In case you missed the subtlety of the First Lady telling you to “vote early” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the president has started doing his stump speech in front of a giant, fluorescent “Vote Early” sign. It’s basically his campaign motto. 

And it’s not working. According to Gallup’s latest, Romney leads Obama among voters who have already cast their ballots: 

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President Obama is so invested in his campaign’s early voting strategy that he became the first sitting president to cast a ballot before election day. In case you missed the subtlety of the First Lady telling you to “vote early” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the president has started doing his stump speech in front of a giant, fluorescent “Vote Early” sign. It’s basically his campaign motto. 

And it’s not working. According to Gallup’s latest, Romney leads Obama among voters who have already cast their ballots: 

Romney currently leads Obama 52% to 45% among voters who say they have already cast their ballots. However, that is comparable to Romney’s 51% to 46% lead among all likely voters in Gallup’s Oct. 22-28 tracking polling. At the same time, the race is tied at 49% among those who have not yet voted but still intend to vote early, suggesting these voters could cause the race to tighten. However, Romney leads 51% to 45% among the much larger group of voters who plan to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6. 

The early voting race might tighten, but Romney still has a solid lead. Assuming Gallup’s 49%-49% split among early voters who haven’t cast a ballot yet, there would be no way for Obama to overtake Romney at this point.

Note that in 2008, Obama crushed John McCain in early voting, 58 percent to 40 percent:

The Obama campaign has some practice in this arena. With significantly more resources at its disposal than rival John McCain in 2008, it made banking early votes a top priority and deployed some smart campaign tactics to that end. Of those who cast early ballots in 2008, 58 percent favored Obama, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken just before Election Day, versus McCain’s 40 percent. 

The Gallup poll is national, and the Obama campaign will probably argue it’s the early voters in swing states that matter. But signs aren’t good for Obama in Ohio early voting, either, at least compared to his 2008 record. At Politico, Adrian Gray writes:

I have always been a believer in data telling me the full story. Truth is, nobody knows what will happen on Election Day. But here is what we do know: 220,000 fewer Democrats have voted early in Ohio compared with 2008. And 30,000 more Republicans have cast their ballots compared with four years ago. That is a 250,000-vote net increase for a state Obama won by 260,000 votes in 2008. 

Could it be that Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts aren’t as unbeatable as we’re told?

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Obama’s Response to Hurricane a Contrast to Benghazi

As Jonathan mentioned yesterday, Hurricane Sandy is giving President Obama a break from his shrinking campaign of “Romnesia” jokes and conservative trolling. The president held a press conference to address the hurricane earlier today, and it was hard to recognize him without the anti-Romney zingers:

President Obama said in a news conference at the White House this afternoon that he is “confident that we’re ready” for Hurricane Sandy, the massive storm expected to make landfall later today and churn up much of the East Coast. …

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As Jonathan mentioned yesterday, Hurricane Sandy is giving President Obama a break from his shrinking campaign of “Romnesia” jokes and conservative trolling. The president held a press conference to address the hurricane earlier today, and it was hard to recognize him without the anti-Romney zingers:

President Obama said in a news conference at the White House this afternoon that he is “confident that we’re ready” for Hurricane Sandy, the massive storm expected to make landfall later today and churn up much of the East Coast. …

Obama spoke for about five minutes after being briefed by FEMA and other agencies. He answered only one question, about next week’s election, and said his focus is not on campaigning right now.

“I am not worried, at this point, about the impact on the election,” Obama said. “I’m worried about the impact on families, and I’m worried about the impact on our first responders. I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week.”

Obama rushed back to Washington to coordinate with FEMA and hold a press conference, as he should have. But it’s also a stark contrast to his response to the 9/11 attack. It’s been a month and a half since the Benghazi assault, and the president still hasn’t held a press conference or given a speech to the American public about the terrorist attack. He also rushed out of Washington the day after the attack, flying to Las Vegas for a campaign fundraiser.

Why such different reactions? Maybe because a natural disaster isn’t a result of any presidential failures. It’s something the Obama administration has no control over, just like (as administration officials repeatedly told us) it had no control over an anti-Islam movie that was initially blamed for the Benghazi attack.

But it’s also true that the president will get most of the political blame if something happens to go wrong with the federal hurricane response, and little credit if things go smoothly. The optics of Obama campaigning in a swing state during a FEMA failure would be disastrous.

Which is why he’s back in Washington and finally taking a pause from the pettiness of his campaign to focus on national concerns. But will he return to the trivialities when the hurricane ends? Or will he use this as a chance to elevate his campaign rhetoric between now and next Tuesday?

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Infallible Election Prognosticators Tend to Have Brief Careers

Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.

Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.

The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.

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Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.

Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.

The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.

As Dylan Byers notes today in Politico, Silver is fast on his way to being a one-term celebrity. Having become the top liberal swami by predicting the 2008 election, it’s fair to ask whether as many people will pay attention to him if it turns out the forecast model he has been using all year to reassure worried Democrats that President Obama had to win was fatally flawed. But the possibility that Silver could be wrong or had let his own bias affect his judgment is sending his liberal fan base over the edge, as this post by fellow Timesman Paul Krugman indicates.

Let me stipulate that some of the attacks on Silver’s attempts to establish what the percentages of an Obama win are a little unfair. His model, like similar attempts to weigh the percentages in baseball games, is a matter of probability not certainty. A game-tying home run in the ninth inning can make previous projections that the team with the lead had a 95 percent chance of winning look silly, even if they were reasonable at the time. But the problem with his forecast model is not just that it’s not infallible, but that it is probably a little harder to being purely objective about political analysis than baseball. There are just too many moving parts and political judgments about which polls to believe to make his system work as well as his PECOTA model for projecting what a player will do in the upcoming baseball season–and even that is often wrong.

Even when I think Silver’s conclusions are incorrect, I learn something from his analyses. But those who point out that his Times on-line column that has consistently showed the president with a 75 percent chance of winning the election appears absurd in a race that is a tossup or heading in Mitt Romney’s direction are not off base.

Silver survived his whopper of a mistake in underestimating Derek Jeter. He’s not likely to fare as well if he has been calling the presidential election wrong all year.

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Will Sandy Haunt Current Governors Long After the Storm?

David Rothkopf grapples with the question Jonathan asked yesterday: Will Hurricane Sandy have a discernible impact on politics in the home stretch of the presidential campaign? Rothkopf’s answer is an emphatic Yes. He outlines three main areas the political conversation is susceptible to Sandy’s disruption, avoiding the topic of turnout on Election Day in favor of looking a bit farther into the future.

The most interesting of these, and where I think Rothkopf may hit the nail on the head, is in the way attitudes may change toward making preparations for such storms, especially if Sandy does the damage many fear. But I would make a slight adjustment to the winners and losers, politically speaking, of a population seeking to cast blame on political leadership deemed to have its priorities terribly askew. Rothkopf writes:

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David Rothkopf grapples with the question Jonathan asked yesterday: Will Hurricane Sandy have a discernible impact on politics in the home stretch of the presidential campaign? Rothkopf’s answer is an emphatic Yes. He outlines three main areas the political conversation is susceptible to Sandy’s disruption, avoiding the topic of turnout on Election Day in favor of looking a bit farther into the future.

The most interesting of these, and where I think Rothkopf may hit the nail on the head, is in the way attitudes may change toward making preparations for such storms, especially if Sandy does the damage many fear. But I would make a slight adjustment to the winners and losers, politically speaking, of a population seeking to cast blame on political leadership deemed to have its priorities terribly askew. Rothkopf writes:

Next, Sandy will also remind Americans and the world of the foolishness of some recent U.S. fetishes. I live in Washington, D.C., ostensibly the nerve center of the U.S. national security apparatus and target No. 1 for anyone interested in attacking America. The city is surrounded by military facilities and is home to a Department of Homeland Security that spends billions of dollars seeking to protect America against disruption. Yet this storm, like virtually all others of any size, will almost certainly knock out power to many of our nation’s leaders and the infrastructure on which our government depends for days. The city has already been brought to a standstill. Could burying power lines and strengthening critical infrastructure prevent all that? Of course. But is it as sexy as buying more drones, water boards, and stealth helicopters? Nope.

But what if the federal government were responsible for national security and state and local governments responsible for some of those infrastructure improvements, especially ones that would make a noticeable dent in the public’s frustration? In fact, that is the case already. Contra Rothkopf, improvements in storm-related public infrastructure are not being sacrificed on the altar of “sexy” drones and water boards (an odd choice of words, to be sure).

For example, the notoriously unresponsive power company Pepco, scourge of Montgomery County, Maryland, could plausibly be reined in. Recently, after a storm knocked out power for days there, Gregg Easterbrook, a MoCo resident, took to the pages of the Atlantic to warn Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a comically inept governor who is marching straight at a run for the White House, that his inability to get Pepco under control could, and should, follow him on his quest for more power. Easterbrook wrote:

You’ve already guessed that your correspondent lives in a Pepco-served neighborhood of Montgomery County. I will recount just the recent outrages in my neighborhood: In 2010, three extended power failures of at least three days’ duration, plus four hour-long failures. In 2011, a three-day outage, plus five failures of at least two hours. In 2012, two multiple-hour failures before the current outage. At noon Monday, on the fourth day of the latest failure, I checked the Pepco website for my neighborhood. It said, “No crew assigned.”

How does Pepco get away with this? Maryland’s Public Service Commission is a notorious lapdog, in part because although Maryland local government traditionally is clean, the Maryland statehouse traditionally is corrupt….

Pepco faces a simple reliability equation: The more it spends on improving service, the less is available for dividends and executive bonuses. CEO Rigby is a major shareholder, so in effect awards himself a commission when he keeps infrastructure spending low and dividends high. After the mega-thunderstorm, Dominion Power took 14 hours to restore all its transformers and main feeder lines — this is the first step in any utility’s storm recovery — while Pepco took 36 hours. That’s because Pepco transformers were in poor repair when the storm hit, despite an advertising campaign promising improvements. Within 48 hours of the storm, Dominion had 2,000 out-of-state workers present to assist in restoration; Pepco had just 300. If Pepco drags its feet on recovery, the utility avoids paying doubletime or tripletime, plus expenses, to out-of-state crews. And Pepco knows it can drag its feet without any risk of action by Maryland regulators.

Given how bad Pepco is, O’Malley would seem to have a tremendous opportunity to make his mark as a reformer, bringing a tainted regulatory hierarchy to heel. This is especially true because Maryland law assigns all authority over power utilities to the state level — there’s nothing the Montgomery County Council can do. If O’Malley runs for the presidency, his performance in Annapolis would be expected to be his strongest credential.

If Rothkopf is right, and the strengthening of infrastructure in anticipation of more wind storms suddenly becomes a major national political issue, O’Malley will just as suddenly have among the country’s worst resumes for higher political office. If the public gets tired of blaming Mother Nature and decides it is being ill-served by its politicians, O’Malley—considered by everyone to be among the high-profile candidates for president in 2016 and whose campaign, at the expense of Marylanders, has effectively already started—will be the poster-boy for malfeasance and ineffective leadership. Even worse, that reputation will be on an issue that—again, if Rothkopf is right—may soon be elevated to the level of national security, always considered the first duty of the commander-in-chief.

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Independents Shift to Romney

Today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Romney leading Obama by one-point with just one week to go. Notice that WaPo can barely bring itself to say Romney has a lead (however slight) in its write-up:

For the third consecutive day of the Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll, a single — statistically insignificant — percentage point separates the two presidential contenders: 49 percent of likely voters back Republican Mitt Romney, and 48 percent support President Obama.

The parity in the contest shows up elsewhere as well: the two candidates are just two points apart when it comes to dealing with taxes, and they are three points apart on health care policy. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the sample of 1,278 likely voters.

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Today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Romney leading Obama by one-point with just one week to go. Notice that WaPo can barely bring itself to say Romney has a lead (however slight) in its write-up:

For the third consecutive day of the Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll, a single — statistically insignificant — percentage point separates the two presidential contenders: 49 percent of likely voters back Republican Mitt Romney, and 48 percent support President Obama.

The parity in the contest shows up elsewhere as well: the two candidates are just two points apart when it comes to dealing with taxes, and they are three points apart on health care policy. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the sample of 1,278 likely voters.

WaPo’s tracking poll also shows Romney maintaining a double-digit lead with independents. Chris Cillizza writes that this is a serious problem for Obama, but may not be definitive:

First, while the election is national in scope, it will be decided in a handful of swing states, including Virginia, where Post polling released Sunday showed Obama with a four-point edge.

Second, enthusiasm among independents can be a fleeting thing — as shown by the movement in the numbers among GOP-leaning independents over the past few weeks.

Third, even Republicans acknowledge that Obama’s turnout operation is the best that has ever been built, meaning (a) the incumbent’s campaign will find every Democratic partisan there is in a swing state and (b) it will work hard to contact and energize those Democratic-leaning independents in the final eight days of the campaign.

True, but whatever happened over the last few weeks that suddenly made independent voters across the country shift toward Romney is having an impact in the swing states as well. There’s been a disconnect between national and state polls, but there are signs the latter are catching up. Enthusiasm can always change, but with just a week to go Romney has a strong lead in that area. If Romney maintains his advantage with independents on election day, Obama would need to get his base to turn out in the same numbers as in 2008. No matter how great his turnout operation, he’s still working with a far less enthusiastic pool than he was last time around.

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All Four Major Iowa Papers Endorse Romney

If Mitt Romney doesn’t win Ohio, then his path to the White House rests on a handful of other states, including Iowa. He got a boost there this weekend after winning the endorsements of all four major newspapers: 

As far as newspaper endorsements are concerned, Mitt Romney made a clean sweep in Iowa: all four major newspapers, including the state’s largest paper, The Des Moines Register, backed Mitt Romney. …

The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s editorial board said President Obama “made his mark during his historic first term” with passage of the health care law, reforms to the financial sector and investments in green energy, but they say the president has “come up short” on the economy and debt.

Simply put, the Quad City Times’ editorial board wrote, “We invested heavily in hope back in 2008. Our 2012 endorsement of Mitt Romney comes with an imperative for change.” The Sioux City Journal editorial board offered a similar assessment: “We are neither satisfied nor confident. In our view, change is needed.”

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If Mitt Romney doesn’t win Ohio, then his path to the White House rests on a handful of other states, including Iowa. He got a boost there this weekend after winning the endorsements of all four major newspapers: 

As far as newspaper endorsements are concerned, Mitt Romney made a clean sweep in Iowa: all four major newspapers, including the state’s largest paper, The Des Moines Register, backed Mitt Romney. …

The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s editorial board said President Obama “made his mark during his historic first term” with passage of the health care law, reforms to the financial sector and investments in green energy, but they say the president has “come up short” on the economy and debt.

Simply put, the Quad City Times’ editorial board wrote, “We invested heavily in hope back in 2008. Our 2012 endorsement of Mitt Romney comes with an imperative for change.” The Sioux City Journal editorial board offered a similar assessment: “We are neither satisfied nor confident. In our view, change is needed.”

The Des Moines Register’s endorsement wasn’t a total surprise, since the paper had taken a transparent swipe at Obama on its front page last week. But it’s still out of character for the Register, which hasn’t endorsed a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972.

Newspaper endorsements obviously don’t have as much influence as they once did, but these do indicate openness to supporting Romney, even among typically liberal-leaning editorial pages. At the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone writes:

But occasionally there comes an editorial page stance that matters. The Des Moines Register has endorsed Mitt Romney. The Register is not quite the statewide paper that it once was, but it is still clearly the most prominent paper in a state that is closely divided and has 6 critical electoral votes. The endorsement editorial is very much worth reading, because it tends to appeal to the high-minded affluent voters that can be found in large numbers on the west side of Des Moines and in its west side suburbs in Polk County and fast-growing Dallas County to the west. …

The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows Iowa as 49%-47% Obama, and this endorsement could make a significant difference in this closely divided state. If we assume that Mitt Romney is leading Barack Obama in the following Obama 2008 states, as he is in RCP polling averages—Indiana, the Nebraska 2nd congressional district, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Colorado, Romney can win the presidency without Ohio if he wins Iowa and Wisconsin. The Register endorsement could go some ways to making the difference.

I’m not sure this will change many votes, and there aren’t many undecideds left to influence. But if it’s a reflection of the general sentiment among unaffiliated and Democratic-leaning independent voters in the state, it’s promising for Romney.

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