Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential race

Which Team Has a Field Goal Lead?

There’s been probably too much attention paid to New York Times blogger Nate Silver over the last few weeks. Some of the criticism he has received (including some from this page differing with his conclusions if not necessarily always with his methodology) has been justified. But in fairness to Silver, he appears to be sticking to his guns about the accuracy of his forecast that continues to show President Obama as a heavy favorite to win re-election. While not intending to belabor the issue of his accuracy more than necessary, I think it’s worth returning to the subject one more time both in order to clarify my differences with his approach.

Silver explained his forecast again this morning as he surveyed the latest round of polls on the presidential race:

Mr. Obama is not a sure thing, by any means. It is a close race. His chances of holding onto his Electoral College lead and converting it into another term are equivalent to the chances of an N.F.L. team winning when it leads by a field goal with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, and sometimes they will.

But it turns out that an N.F.L. team that leads by a field goal with three minutes left to go winds up winning the game 79 percent of the time. Those were Mr. Obama’s chances in the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of Wednesday: 79 percent.

Not coincidentally, these are also about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio, according to the forecast.

That is a reasonable sounding point of view, especially when it is coupled with Silver’s disclaimers about the possibility that his forecast could be wrong and noting that a lot of tossup states that he believes Obama will win are still closely contested. But the problem here is that despite Silver’s confidence that what we are looking at is a three-point lead for the president, it may be nothing of the kind, either in Ohio or in the country as a whole. The probabilities he alludes to in sports–such as those that can give us precise statistical odds about what happens when an NFL team has a field goal lead with three minutes to play or a Major League baseball team has a two-run lead in the ninth inning–are entirely accurate and reliable because there’s no doubt in a game as to what the score is. In politics there is no such certainty, rendering Silver’s rational Sabrmetric approach to political polling mere guesswork.

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There’s been probably too much attention paid to New York Times blogger Nate Silver over the last few weeks. Some of the criticism he has received (including some from this page differing with his conclusions if not necessarily always with his methodology) has been justified. But in fairness to Silver, he appears to be sticking to his guns about the accuracy of his forecast that continues to show President Obama as a heavy favorite to win re-election. While not intending to belabor the issue of his accuracy more than necessary, I think it’s worth returning to the subject one more time both in order to clarify my differences with his approach.

Silver explained his forecast again this morning as he surveyed the latest round of polls on the presidential race:

Mr. Obama is not a sure thing, by any means. It is a close race. His chances of holding onto his Electoral College lead and converting it into another term are equivalent to the chances of an N.F.L. team winning when it leads by a field goal with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, and sometimes they will.

But it turns out that an N.F.L. team that leads by a field goal with three minutes left to go winds up winning the game 79 percent of the time. Those were Mr. Obama’s chances in the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of Wednesday: 79 percent.

Not coincidentally, these are also about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio, according to the forecast.

That is a reasonable sounding point of view, especially when it is coupled with Silver’s disclaimers about the possibility that his forecast could be wrong and noting that a lot of tossup states that he believes Obama will win are still closely contested. But the problem here is that despite Silver’s confidence that what we are looking at is a three-point lead for the president, it may be nothing of the kind, either in Ohio or in the country as a whole. The probabilities he alludes to in sports–such as those that can give us precise statistical odds about what happens when an NFL team has a field goal lead with three minutes to play or a Major League baseball team has a two-run lead in the ninth inning–are entirely accurate and reliable because there’s no doubt in a game as to what the score is. In politics there is no such certainty, rendering Silver’s rational Sabrmetric approach to political polling mere guesswork.

In five days, we’ll know who was right and who was wrong about all of this, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll look back and think that Silver’s field goal analogy was spot on. But since, as we’ve pointed out time and again, almost all of the polls that show the president leading are based on expectations of a Democratic turnout that will match or exceed the impressive levels he achieved in 2008 rather than a more even partisan divide (as seems more likely), it’s difficult to accept Silver’s certainty about the reliability of those surveys. That means it’s just as likely the score is currently tied or that Romney could be up by a field goal right now.

As I wrote yesterday, two competing polls in Virginia gave us two different results. Quinnipiac showed Obama ahead based on a sample of eight percent more Democrats voting than Republicans, a turnout similar to the electorate of 2008. Roanoke College’s poll had a sample that was only four percent more Democratic and that yielded a result that showed Romney ahead. Yet Silver gives Obama a 60 percent chance of winning the state.

Unlike the analysis of sports and poker — two fields in which Silver is an acknowledged master — political polling is still more of an art than a science. Until the unlikely, if not impossible, day when we can know with certainty what the voters are thinking as easily as we can read the scoreboard at a football game, his forecast will remain more conjecture than anything else.

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Pro-Obama Poll Formula: Overcount Dems

New York Times blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver did his usual thorough job yesterday explaining why he’s not taking Mitt Romney’s strong performances in the Gallup tracking poll too much to heart. His piece, “Gallup v. the World” rightly pointed out that the firm’s tracking polls, which have given Romney leads of 6, 7 and 6 points in the last three days, are the most favorable yet published for the Republican. He conceded that Gallup is the most reliable of the tracking polls in that it employs the largest samples and employs a methodology for counting cell phone owners as opposed to landlines only. But he claimed that Gallup has a history of inaccuracy in recent elections that ought to cause us to take their conclusions with a grain of salt. That’s a fair point, though it should be noted that we never heard much about Gallup’s shortcomings in recent months when its results (which showed Obama with a lead) were unquestioned while the rival Rasmussen poll (which generally gave Romney better numbers) was consistently called into question.

But as long as we’re discussing methodology, it’s worth pointing out that the only surveys keeping the president’s head above water in the national average of polls are two whose credibility are very much in doubt. I wrote earlier in the week that the Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Monday that showed President Obama with a three-point lead was called into question by the sample employed by the pollsters. That poll was based on a sample that had nine percent more Democrats than Republicans; a figure that is far more than is reasonable. The same thing can be said about a new Hartford Courant/University of Connecticut poll that also shows Obama up by three but on the basis of a sample that has eight percent more Democrats than Republicans. If you adjust both of these samples to create a more representative group of Americans, even one that showed the Democrats with an edge in affiliation, it would mean they would show Romney and not the president ahead in the race.

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New York Times blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver did his usual thorough job yesterday explaining why he’s not taking Mitt Romney’s strong performances in the Gallup tracking poll too much to heart. His piece, “Gallup v. the World” rightly pointed out that the firm’s tracking polls, which have given Romney leads of 6, 7 and 6 points in the last three days, are the most favorable yet published for the Republican. He conceded that Gallup is the most reliable of the tracking polls in that it employs the largest samples and employs a methodology for counting cell phone owners as opposed to landlines only. But he claimed that Gallup has a history of inaccuracy in recent elections that ought to cause us to take their conclusions with a grain of salt. That’s a fair point, though it should be noted that we never heard much about Gallup’s shortcomings in recent months when its results (which showed Obama with a lead) were unquestioned while the rival Rasmussen poll (which generally gave Romney better numbers) was consistently called into question.

But as long as we’re discussing methodology, it’s worth pointing out that the only surveys keeping the president’s head above water in the national average of polls are two whose credibility are very much in doubt. I wrote earlier in the week that the Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Monday that showed President Obama with a three-point lead was called into question by the sample employed by the pollsters. That poll was based on a sample that had nine percent more Democrats than Republicans; a figure that is far more than is reasonable. The same thing can be said about a new Hartford Courant/University of Connecticut poll that also shows Obama up by three but on the basis of a sample that has eight percent more Democrats than Republicans. If you adjust both of these samples to create a more representative group of Americans, even one that showed the Democrats with an edge in affiliation, it would mean they would show Romney and not the president ahead in the race.

These kind of misleading polls are not doing the Democrats any service. While these misleading numbers may help encourage the president’s supporters, they are potentially setting them up for a great fall on November 6. While, as Silver has rightly argued, party affiliation isn’t set in stone and reflects the changing fortunes of the candidates, the idea that there are more Democrats prepared to vote for Obama in 2012 than there were in 2008 when he won in a walk is ludicrous.

All polls are fallible and their results are open to interpretation. But the decision of publications to go ahead and put out polls that they already know are based on faulty samples demonstrates either bad judgment or political bias. Overcounting Democrats in polls may produce numbers that tell liberals what they want to hear. But those with more reasonable methodologies are pointing in a very different direction. With the race coming down the homestretch, it appears that some in the media are determined to portray the election in the most positive light for their side even if it means bending the truth a little.

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Post-Debate Polls Show Senate Back in Play

A week is a lifetime in politics. Just seven days ago, even some Republicans were writing off Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president. But as the latest polls taken since his victory in Wednesday’s debate show, the race is up for grabs again. Even more significant, the altered political environment that stems from the puncturing of the Obama balloon of inevitability may be having some effect on other races as well.

The first polls after the debate showed a dramatic movement toward Romney in swing states. The national tracking polls also showed either a reduced margin for Obama, as in the case of Gallup, or an Obama lead being turned into one for Romney, as Rasmussen reported. But the key swing state of Ohio showed not only movement in the top ballot race but in the one below it. Rasmussen’s latest survey of the Ohio Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel indicates that this crucial battle has changed from one in which Brown had a strong lead into a flat-footed tie. That not only alters the odds about that seat, but with Ohio moving from leans-Democratic to tossup on the national Senate map, it means control of the upper house may once again be back in play this year. While the youthful Mandel has been running a surprisingly strong underdog effort, it can only be supposed that a surge for him is not unconnected to the boost Romney got in Ohio in the days after the debate.

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A week is a lifetime in politics. Just seven days ago, even some Republicans were writing off Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president. But as the latest polls taken since his victory in Wednesday’s debate show, the race is up for grabs again. Even more significant, the altered political environment that stems from the puncturing of the Obama balloon of inevitability may be having some effect on other races as well.

The first polls after the debate showed a dramatic movement toward Romney in swing states. The national tracking polls also showed either a reduced margin for Obama, as in the case of Gallup, or an Obama lead being turned into one for Romney, as Rasmussen reported. But the key swing state of Ohio showed not only movement in the top ballot race but in the one below it. Rasmussen’s latest survey of the Ohio Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel indicates that this crucial battle has changed from one in which Brown had a strong lead into a flat-footed tie. That not only alters the odds about that seat, but with Ohio moving from leans-Democratic to tossup on the national Senate map, it means control of the upper house may once again be back in play this year. While the youthful Mandel has been running a surprisingly strong underdog effort, it can only be supposed that a surge for him is not unconnected to the boost Romney got in Ohio in the days after the debate.

It’s possible Romney’s post-debate bounce may not last. Liberal efforts to spin the contradictory results of Friday’s federal jobs report may spin the needle back in the president’s direction in the next few days. But it is also possible that all the debate has done is correct the post-convention Obama surge that turned what had been a tight race all year into one in which he had a small edge.

Romney’s September swoon hadn’t just hurt him but also lowered the chances of the Republicans taking back the Senate this fall, as many had assumed they would earlier in the year. The problem wasn’t just Missouri, where Todd Akin’s idiotic comments about pregnancy and rape turned a sure GOP victory into a likely loss to Claire McCaskill. In the past few weeks, some races that had been thought to be easy GOP victories, like the ones in Indiana, Arizona, Montana and North Dakota, became toss-ups. Scott Brown also lost ground to liberal icon Elizabeth Warren.

But the past few days have shown that just as Romney has gotten himself back in the game, he may be helping Senate candidates too. While Democrats will scream that Rasmussen is a Republican outlier, if Mandel is tied with Brown now that has to be seen as an indication that Republicans are on the upswing in Ohio. While Brown, like Obama, must still be considered the favorite, the idea that Ohio has drifted from a toss-up to a Democratic leaner must now be thrown out. With Democratic seats like the one in Connecticut and Ohio now looking better for the GOP, Romney can now look forward to a stretch run in which he not only has given himself a chance to win, but also allowed his party to dream of a sweep of both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

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Bounce Means Uphill Battle for Romney

The Romney campaign made public a memo from their pollster intended to buck up the spirits of activists discouraged by the release of polls over the weekend that show President Obama emerging from his convention with a bounce in his ratings. Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster tells them to “not get too worked up” about the latest numbers and dismisses the reaction to the conventions as a “sugar high” that changed nothing. He may be right about the bounce, as it is more than likely that the few points gained by the Democrats in the past few days will soon evaporate and that we will be looking at a statistical tossup within the week, if not sooner. But any Republican lulled by Newhouse’s “State of the Race” into thinking that everything’s still coming up roses for Romney may be in for a rude awakening in two months. The Obama bounce is an unexpected blow to the Romney campaign that makes it clear the challenger has an uphill slog until November.

Romney entered the conventions trailing the president, and even if the Obama bounce dissipates quickly, he will likely remain behind. Failing to gain ground over the last two weeks is troubling. But even more troubling is the fact that the president managed to pad his small lead even after the release of another terrible jobs report on Friday. Those numbers added considerable weight to Romney’s arguments that the president had run the economy into the ditch from which he cannot extract it. But if more Americans are swayed by a week of liberal rhetoric and the oratory of Bill Clinton to stick with the Democrats than are influenced by the collapse of the jobs market, then exactly how is Romney going to get to 50 percent plus one in 58 days?

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The Romney campaign made public a memo from their pollster intended to buck up the spirits of activists discouraged by the release of polls over the weekend that show President Obama emerging from his convention with a bounce in his ratings. Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster tells them to “not get too worked up” about the latest numbers and dismisses the reaction to the conventions as a “sugar high” that changed nothing. He may be right about the bounce, as it is more than likely that the few points gained by the Democrats in the past few days will soon evaporate and that we will be looking at a statistical tossup within the week, if not sooner. But any Republican lulled by Newhouse’s “State of the Race” into thinking that everything’s still coming up roses for Romney may be in for a rude awakening in two months. The Obama bounce is an unexpected blow to the Romney campaign that makes it clear the challenger has an uphill slog until November.

Romney entered the conventions trailing the president, and even if the Obama bounce dissipates quickly, he will likely remain behind. Failing to gain ground over the last two weeks is troubling. But even more troubling is the fact that the president managed to pad his small lead even after the release of another terrible jobs report on Friday. Those numbers added considerable weight to Romney’s arguments that the president had run the economy into the ditch from which he cannot extract it. But if more Americans are swayed by a week of liberal rhetoric and the oratory of Bill Clinton to stick with the Democrats than are influenced by the collapse of the jobs market, then exactly how is Romney going to get to 50 percent plus one in 58 days?

Newhouse believes Romney’s advantage on the economy is decisive and that history and a powerful campaign machine are on his side. His argument is that simply by remaining within the margin of error along with a cash advantage and “a winning message on the economy” means Romney will be the next president. His prediction may turn out to be right; a lot can happen in eight weeks and a clear win in the debates would change the dynamic of the race. But the thing that should be scaring Republicans is their seeming inability to convert the bad economy into a clear advantage in the polls.

The Friday jobs numbers should have negated any advantage the Democrats derived from their weeklong infomercial in Charlotte. But if even the latest Rasmussen tracking poll out today (which averages three days of result) is showing Obama up by five points after being tied only a week ago, that illustrates that the Democrats’ arguments that the problems we are experiencing are not the president’s fault are being accepted by voters. Rasmussen’s analysis, like Newhouse’s memo, argues that the economy is still the key issue. Yet the results seem to be telling us that opinion about the economy is influenced more ideology and partisan preferences than it is by the objective proof of Obama’s failure. If, despite the passage of four years, they are prepared to accept the claims of Democrats that blame for the state of the country should be placed on George W. Bush instead of the incumbent, then Obama is in a stronger position that Newhouse is willing to admit.

Optimistic Democrats quoted in an analysis published yesterday by Politico claim there are simply not enough undecided voters out there, and that this means Romney will have to win the support of an unrealistically large proportion of this group in order to prevail. That may not be entirely true, but the data from the surveys of the key swing states seem to show that Romney is trailing in most of them. Something is going to have to happen in the coming weeks for Romney turn a string of close loses into wins.

If all the Democrats have done in the past few weeks is to hold their slim advantage, that is no small achievement. The longer Obama stays in front, the harder it will be for Romney to overtake him even if his edge is within the margin of error. The GOP candidate still needs to alter the dynamic of the race in order to make up that small, crucial gap with the Democrat. That is still quite possible. No one, not even the president is immune to unforeseen developments overseas or concerning the economy. But if the sort of bad economic news we got last week isn’t enough to shake wavering voters into backing Romney, then it’s difficult to imagine what will.

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Ryan’s Bounce May Come in October

Over at his New York Times blog, Nate Silver probes the question of whether the polls that have come out in the last few days indicate any bounce for the Republican ticket in the days since Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan will be his vice presidential nominee. Though, as Alana noted earlier, a series of swing state polls brought some good news for the Republicans, he’s right to say there’s nothing in the data to indicate any real surge in their direction. Pollsters and analysts have in recent election cycles become obsessed with the idea that vice presidential picks and conventions must produce some sort of bounce in the polls to be justified. But, as Silver concedes, Republicans were not claiming that picking Ryan would have an immediate impact on the polls.

While Ryan is a well known, and at least as far as the liberal media is concerned, a controversial figure, he doesn’t have the sort of celebrity that would create a quick change in public opinion about the race. What he does have — and what Republicans who cheered the choice are counting on — is the ability to have a long-term impact on the election. The GOP is counting on Ryan’s intellect, charm and powers of persuasion to impress voters as the race wears on this fall, not to mention, the possibility of a mismatch against Vice President Biden in their debate. Indeed, Romney’s choice of a serious and thoughtful man to run with him is looking even smarter if only because the more Biden roams the country committing gaffes and throwing out wild and irresponsible slurs against the Republicans, the better Ryan looks.

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Over at his New York Times blog, Nate Silver probes the question of whether the polls that have come out in the last few days indicate any bounce for the Republican ticket in the days since Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan will be his vice presidential nominee. Though, as Alana noted earlier, a series of swing state polls brought some good news for the Republicans, he’s right to say there’s nothing in the data to indicate any real surge in their direction. Pollsters and analysts have in recent election cycles become obsessed with the idea that vice presidential picks and conventions must produce some sort of bounce in the polls to be justified. But, as Silver concedes, Republicans were not claiming that picking Ryan would have an immediate impact on the polls.

While Ryan is a well known, and at least as far as the liberal media is concerned, a controversial figure, he doesn’t have the sort of celebrity that would create a quick change in public opinion about the race. What he does have — and what Republicans who cheered the choice are counting on — is the ability to have a long-term impact on the election. The GOP is counting on Ryan’s intellect, charm and powers of persuasion to impress voters as the race wears on this fall, not to mention, the possibility of a mismatch against Vice President Biden in their debate. Indeed, Romney’s choice of a serious and thoughtful man to run with him is looking even smarter if only because the more Biden roams the country committing gaffes and throwing out wild and irresponsible slurs against the Republicans, the better Ryan looks.

As much as conservatives love Ryan for his ideas and talent for taking on the opposition in a reasonable manner, no veep candidate is going to make that much of a difference in November. But Ryan’s presence on the ticket has altered the race somewhat in that the future of entitlements and government spending is now in the spotlight rather than being pushed to the side by concern over the economy. That is something that scares some Republicans and delights Democrats.

But the notion that Obama can be re-elected by running as the candidate of the status quo, who will, as Vice President Biden stated, oppose any changes in Social Security or Medicare may underestimate the intelligence of the American people. As I wrote after the pick was announced, Ryan’s presence on the ballot will provide a test of whether voters will prefer demagoguery to ideas. We won’t know the answer to that question until October at the earliest.

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A Changed Romney

Watch this clip of Mitt Romney sparring with a heckler at the Paul Ryan homecoming rally in Wisconsin last night and tell me where this candidate has been the whole campaign. This is not the same stiff, cautious Romney we’ve been watching for the past year and a half:

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Watch this clip of Mitt Romney sparring with a heckler at the Paul Ryan homecoming rally in Wisconsin last night and tell me where this candidate has been the whole campaign. This is not the same stiff, cautious Romney we’ve been watching for the past year and a half:

If you haven’t had a chance to watch the full video of Romney and Ryan in Wisconsin last night, do yourself a favor and click over to C-SPAN when you get a chance. With Ryan at his side, Romney is alive, he’s confident and he actually connects with the audience. A.B. Stoddard is correct that he’s turned into a different candidate overnight:

In choosing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney not only surprised the political world late Friday night, but he has become a different candidate for president over night.

He is suddenly someone willing to take a risk, someone offering specifics instead of generalities, and someone willing to sell his own agenda to the voters instead of trying to bash his way into the Oval Office. And by embracing Ryan, and the controversial policy heft he brings to the ticket, Romney is now a serious candidate who has displayed true leadership — the willingness to do something politically dangerous because he believes it is the right thing to do.

Now, the question is, can Romney keep this up? Ryan has infused the campaign with new enthusiasm, but the trade-off is that the fight will get more difficult from here.

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The Referendum Has Already Been Held

Democrats are supposedly happy about Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan because it helps them transform the election from a referendum on the last four years (which Obama cannot win) into a choice about the next four (which Obama hopes to win by labeling Romney-Ryan “extreme” — the word used three times by David Axelrod in his mass email yesterday).

But the referendum on Obama has already been held. The 2010 election was a personal rebuke (Obama referred to it the next day as the “shellacking … I [took]”); two years later, the verdict on his performance is, if anything, worse: his approval rating among likely voters is at 45 percent, and 43 percent of them “strongly” disapprove – the same “strongly disapprove” percentage George W. Bush had in January 2009; likely voters want ObamaCare repealed by a lopsided majority (55-39); and Obama has been reduced to claiming he always said things would take much longer to get better, when he never said anything of the sort.

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Democrats are supposedly happy about Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan because it helps them transform the election from a referendum on the last four years (which Obama cannot win) into a choice about the next four (which Obama hopes to win by labeling Romney-Ryan “extreme” — the word used three times by David Axelrod in his mass email yesterday).

But the referendum on Obama has already been held. The 2010 election was a personal rebuke (Obama referred to it the next day as the “shellacking … I [took]”); two years later, the verdict on his performance is, if anything, worse: his approval rating among likely voters is at 45 percent, and 43 percent of them “strongly” disapprove – the same “strongly disapprove” percentage George W. Bush had in January 2009; likely voters want ObamaCare repealed by a lopsided majority (55-39); and Obama has been reduced to claiming he always said things would take much longer to get better, when he never said anything of the sort.

Paul Ryan has long argued that the 2012 election needs to be about a “choice” — not to win it, but to make it worth winning. In his eloquent November 12, 2001 address to the Claremont Institute, entitled “Our Churchillian Moment,” he concluded as follows:

[N]othing is more predictable than the danger rushing upon us from the oncoming fiscal train wreck. There is still time to take the actions needed to reduce spending, reform our tax code, take control of the debt, restore economic growth, and repeal and replace the president’s health care law … The biggest problem is timidity, lack of political will, fear of losing the next election for speaking truth …

Look, Republicans didn’t always get it right as a party ourselves. But if there ever was a time to gather our political courage and reclaim our ideas, it is now. The country is facing a very precarious moment. Your leaders owe you a real choice … It is our moral obligation, as elected representatives, to give the American people this choice.

Unseating an incumbent president always involves both a referendum and a choice. The verdict on Jimmy Carter’s performance was clear in 1980, but voters still had to be convinced that Ronald Reagan (whom the Democrats had demonized as “extreme”) was the right alternative; the election was close until after the debates. In 2012, the verdict on Obama has long been clear; with his pick of Ryan, Romney has now brought a similar clarity to the choice the voters face.

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Paul Ryan at Full Volume

One of the most entertaining scenes of the seemingly endless Republican primary debate season was Juan Williams’s “food stamp president” question to Newt Gingrich, which Gingrich handled as Manny Ramirez used to handle unprepared pitchers: bait them into throwing the pitch he wanted, hit it out of the park, and give the pitcher a good stare-down as he began to round the bases.

It typified the reason many conservatives wanted to take on President Obama with Gingrich—namely, his ability to effectively challenge the premise of a question and change the conversation. This is a useful skill because the mainstream political press will always seek to force conservatives to play by whatever rules are most advantageous to the liberal establishment, and Gingrich was able to set his own rules, to an extent. But people tend to forget the rules automatically change during a presidential general election: the exposure nominees get, through public appearances, speeches, rallies, and debates, gives candidates an ability to speak over the din of the media and directly to the American people. It raises the volume.

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One of the most entertaining scenes of the seemingly endless Republican primary debate season was Juan Williams’s “food stamp president” question to Newt Gingrich, which Gingrich handled as Manny Ramirez used to handle unprepared pitchers: bait them into throwing the pitch he wanted, hit it out of the park, and give the pitcher a good stare-down as he began to round the bases.

It typified the reason many conservatives wanted to take on President Obama with Gingrich—namely, his ability to effectively challenge the premise of a question and change the conversation. This is a useful skill because the mainstream political press will always seek to force conservatives to play by whatever rules are most advantageous to the liberal establishment, and Gingrich was able to set his own rules, to an extent. But people tend to forget the rules automatically change during a presidential general election: the exposure nominees get, through public appearances, speeches, rallies, and debates, gives candidates an ability to speak over the din of the media and directly to the American people. It raises the volume.

Which is why the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate may make it more difficult—despite what liberals think—to tag Romney with Ryan’s budget as they seek to depict it. Joining the ticket means Ryan will be at full volume, speaking directly to the voters. A poll last week found popular support for Ryan’s budget after it was described in positive terms. If Ryan has the chance to frame the debate about his budget, Democrats may find the Obama campaign’s demagoguery less effective than they think.

Some on the left are sensing this already. Here’s William Saletan on the supposed poll-tested unpopularity of entitlement reform:

So what? Screw the polls. Republicans will be on the right side of the spending debate. They’ll be on the right side of the substance debate, too. Instead of bickering about Romney’s tax returns and repeating the obvious but unhelpful observation that the unemployment rate sucks, we’ll actually have to debate serious problems and solutions. That’s great for the country.

I’d adjust that second sentence slightly: Change the polls. That’s what Ryan will seek to do with the new platform Romney has given him. Ryan has already shown his effectiveness as a spokesman for serious reform. Now he’ll be at full volume.

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Polls Show Romney Needs a Change

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.

Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.

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Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.

Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.

The stagnant polls are a sign Romney needs a change. If he picks a dull, mini-me running mate like Republican strategists were advising in Politico today, he’ll be ceding a certain amount of control over his election chances. He may be able to keep his favorability rating stable, or bump it up a few points. But mainly, he’ll be reliant on outside factors that could suppress Obama’s favorability ratings: the state of the economy, the situations in Iran and Syria, the battles in Congress, etc.

Choosing someone like Paul Ryan (or Rubio or Christie) would give Romney a chance to completely change the dynamic of the election — to make it about the larger conservative economic philosophy instead of Romney’s personal career in business. The election would still be a referendum on Obama, but at least Romney could provide a clear and bold alternative. So far, he hasn’t been able to; and a garden-variety VP pick isn’t going to help make that happen.

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The Dinkins Effect in the Presidential Race

Andrew Malcolm at Investors Business Daily has an interesting column on whether those who are telling pollsters they intend to vote for the president really are going to do so. The vast majority of them surely will, of course. But politics, like baseball, is a game of inches. If only two percent of those saying they will vote for Obama go into the voting booth and vote for Romney instead, that’s a four-percent shift, turning a comfortable 52-48 win into a 48-52 loss. If they simply stay home, that turns 52-48 into 50-50.

There are numerous signs the Obama campaign is very, very worried. His fundraising has not been the money machine it was in 2008, despite Obama’s burning out the engines of Air Force One going, hat in hand, from one group of fat cats to another. He is running through the money he does raise at a furious pace, mostly running negative ads in toss-up states. He is trying to shore up his base rather than reaching out to the center as he would if his base were secure. That doesn’t bear much resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” campaign of 1984, does it? There are even those who say Wall Street’s recent climb, despite very gloomy economic news, is due to a growing conviction on the Street that Obama is toast.

And yet pollsters all have the race tight as a tick, as Karl Rove terms it. What’s going on?

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Andrew Malcolm at Investors Business Daily has an interesting column on whether those who are telling pollsters they intend to vote for the president really are going to do so. The vast majority of them surely will, of course. But politics, like baseball, is a game of inches. If only two percent of those saying they will vote for Obama go into the voting booth and vote for Romney instead, that’s a four-percent shift, turning a comfortable 52-48 win into a 48-52 loss. If they simply stay home, that turns 52-48 into 50-50.

There are numerous signs the Obama campaign is very, very worried. His fundraising has not been the money machine it was in 2008, despite Obama’s burning out the engines of Air Force One going, hat in hand, from one group of fat cats to another. He is running through the money he does raise at a furious pace, mostly running negative ads in toss-up states. He is trying to shore up his base rather than reaching out to the center as he would if his base were secure. That doesn’t bear much resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” campaign of 1984, does it? There are even those who say Wall Street’s recent climb, despite very gloomy economic news, is due to a growing conviction on the Street that Obama is toast.

And yet pollsters all have the race tight as a tick, as Karl Rove terms it. What’s going on?

I think what I call the Dinkins effect is in operation. David Dinkins was the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York in 1989, having defeated three-term incumbent Ed Koch in the primary. His Republican opponent was Rudy Giuliani. The polls all showed Dinkins well ahead, but he won the race only narrowly. In 1993, there was the same match-up. The polls all showed Dinkins (who had a lousy record as mayor) as narrowly ahead. Giuliani won in a walk. The reason the polls were so wrong, I think, was because Dinkins is black and some people were simply unwilling to say, even to a pollster, they were voting against the black guy. Racism is nearly extinct in this country, but the fear of being thought racist is pervasive, and the willingness of some people on the left to play the race card apparent.

Could that be why President Obama has high ratings in polls asking about his “likeability”? My dislike of his politics probably clouds my judgment somewhat, but I don’t find him likeable at all. He’s arrogant, often mean-spirited, sometimes downright nasty. He avoids taking responsibility for failure but takes all the credit for success. He doesn’t have much of a sense of humor that I can see. He’s, well, chilly. I don’t like Bill Clinton’s politics much either, but I’m sure I’d have a great time having dinner with him some night. He may be left-of-center and more than a bit of a scoundrel in his personal life, but likeable he most certainly is. Obama, simply, is not.

Also, of course, a lot of people might be unwilling to admit they think they were sold a bills of goods in 2008 by a political flim-flam man. No one likes to admit they were cheated. So they say they’re voting for Obama but then won’t.

I’d certainly advise the Romney campaign to ignore all this speculation. No one ever lost a political race because they assumed they were ten points behind and acted accordingly.

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Voters and Romney’s Mormon Faith

There’s been some concern that Republican-leaning evangelical voters might be hesitant to vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion. But the latest Pew Research Center survey found little justification for that theory:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that 60 percent of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.

The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully eight-in-ten voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60 percent) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21 percent).

Oddly enough, more voters (60 percent) correctly identify Romney’s religion as Mormon than (49 percent) correctly identify Obama’s religion as Christian. Seventeen percent still say Obama is Muslim, a statistic that the media always loves to jump on as “proof” of public stupidity.

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There’s been some concern that Republican-leaning evangelical voters might be hesitant to vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion. But the latest Pew Research Center survey found little justification for that theory:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that 60 percent of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.

The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully eight-in-ten voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60 percent) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21 percent).

Oddly enough, more voters (60 percent) correctly identify Romney’s religion as Mormon than (49 percent) correctly identify Obama’s religion as Christian. Seventeen percent still say Obama is Muslim, a statistic that the media always loves to jump on as “proof” of public stupidity.

But in fact, religion doesn’t seem to have a major influence over who people vote for, according to Pew. Though it does seem to impact voter enthusiasm:

Comfort with Romney’s faith, however, is related to the enthusiasm of Republican support for his candidacy. Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say they are comfortable with Romney being Mormon, 44 percent back him strongly. Among those who are uncomfortable with it, just 21 percent say they back him strongly.

Romney hasn’t spent much time talking about his religion, and according to Pew, there is little reason for him to do so. Just 16 percent of voters say they want to know more about Romney’s faith — and it’s probably safe to assume most of them work at the New York Times.

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Obama’s “I’m Not a Witch” Moment

I’m not sure who recommended that Obama cut an ad insisting that “of course” he believes business owners should get credit for building their own businesses. But this seems like a very bad move:

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I’m not sure who recommended that Obama cut an ad insisting that “of course” he believes business owners should get credit for building their own businesses. But this seems like a very bad move:

If there was one takeaway from Christine O’Donnell’s disastrous campaign ad, it’s that this isn’t the way to push back on an attack. When a politician goes on camera to deny a provocative charge that can’t be substantiated either way (i.e. that they don’t engage in witchcraft, or that they believe in individual enterprise) it connects them with the allegation they’re denying and can raise a seed of doubt in voters’ minds.

Typically, when you’re trying to explain that someone took your recorded words out of context, you would simply just play the words in context — that usually settles it. Obama doesn’t do that in this video, which is the biggest red flag for any viewer. They’ve heard Obama’s quote with their own ears in Romney’s ad. If it was taken out of context, why doesn’t Obama’s ad just include it in context?

The second problem is that Obama is elevating Romney’s attacks and bringing more attention to a speech that is out of touch with the general public’s views on business. The ad directs viewers to the Obama campaign website, where they can view the speech for themselves — and will see on their own that the president did say what he claims he did not.

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Polls Agree: Obama Attacks Not Working

Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup poll found President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital career have had little impact on the race. Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll supposedly contradicts that finding, but don’t put much stock in that just yet:

Sustained attacks by President Barack Obama’s campaign on Republican rival Mitt Romney’s business history and refusal to release more tax records appear to be working, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.

More than a third of voters who are registered to a party or as an independent said in the online survey that what they had heard about Romney’s taxes and his time at Bain Capital private equity firm had given them a less favorable impression of the Republican candidate.

And particularly worrying for Romney is that a large slice of independent voters — whom he needs to win the November 6 election — are also buying into the Obama campaign’s portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman who may be hiding something in his taxes.

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Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup poll found President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital career have had little impact on the race. Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll supposedly contradicts that finding, but don’t put much stock in that just yet:

Sustained attacks by President Barack Obama’s campaign on Republican rival Mitt Romney’s business history and refusal to release more tax records appear to be working, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.

More than a third of voters who are registered to a party or as an independent said in the online survey that what they had heard about Romney’s taxes and his time at Bain Capital private equity firm had given them a less favorable impression of the Republican candidate.

And particularly worrying for Romney is that a large slice of independent voters — whom he needs to win the November 6 election — are also buying into the Obama campaign’s portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman who may be hiding something in his taxes.

According to the poll, 36 percent of registered voters said the attacks have given them a less favorable impression of Romney, but Democrats likely make up an overwhelming portion of that statistic.

As for independents, 26 percent viewed Romney less favorably and 13 percent more favorably after hearing attacks on his Bain record. In other words, 74 percent of independents either view Romney more favorably after the attacks, or simply don’t care. That’s the problem for Obama. If independent voters just yawn at his Bain attacks and move on, that’s almost as bad as if the attacks backfire altogether. He’s still sinking tons of money into messaging that isn’t helping him.

Also note that the Reuters/Ipsos poll has a “credibility interval” of plus or minus 8.7 percentage points for independents. That’s a massive margin of error, which makes it difficult to take away anything serious from its findings on independents.

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November Surprise?

Last week, I wrote about how the sequester will trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to warn staff of pending layoffs a minimum of 60 days in advance. That means potentially hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers would receive layoff warning notices on November 2 — 60 days before sequestration hits, and just five days before the presidential election.

Needless to say, this is a BFD for President Obama. So you may not be too shocked to learn that the administration might be pressuring employers to delay these notices until after Election Day. HotAir’s Tina Korbe flags this key item in Sen. Jim Inhofe’s floor speech last week:

“I have every reason to believe, because I’ve heard from people in industry, that the president of the United States is trying to get them to avoid sending pink slips out until after the November 7 election,” said Inhofe.  “I would remind him that we have something called the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the WARN Act.  It requires these companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.

“Since sequestration will take place on January 2, these workers must be notified of their pink slip by November 2.  This is what I’d like to remind those companies:  they don’t have to wait. If they want to notify workers today, they can do that. I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama Sequestration be notified in advance of the November election. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”

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Last week, I wrote about how the sequester will trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to warn staff of pending layoffs a minimum of 60 days in advance. That means potentially hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers would receive layoff warning notices on November 2 — 60 days before sequestration hits, and just five days before the presidential election.

Needless to say, this is a BFD for President Obama. So you may not be too shocked to learn that the administration might be pressuring employers to delay these notices until after Election Day. HotAir’s Tina Korbe flags this key item in Sen. Jim Inhofe’s floor speech last week:

“I have every reason to believe, because I’ve heard from people in industry, that the president of the United States is trying to get them to avoid sending pink slips out until after the November 7 election,” said Inhofe.  “I would remind him that we have something called the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the WARN Act.  It requires these companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.

“Since sequestration will take place on January 2, these workers must be notified of their pink slip by November 2.  This is what I’d like to remind those companies:  they don’t have to wait. If they want to notify workers today, they can do that. I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama Sequestration be notified in advance of the November election. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”

As Inhofe says, failing to send the layoff notices a minimum of 60 days in advance would be a violation of the WARN Act; and the last thing these companies want is a slew of employee lawsuits to compound their budget cuts. One thing is clear — if sequestration is to take place, the massive impact on the job market will be felt before the election. Potentially just days before.

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Brown Camp Hits Warren’s Own “You Didn’t Build That” Moment

Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

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Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

But everyone knows the end of Johnson’s administration was the end of an era for the Democrats. It’s the consistent appearance of a living ex-president, Bill Clinton, that marks current GOP messaging strategy. The sudden appreciation for the opposing party’s past standard-bearers is common to both the Democrats and Republicans. Once they were pinko commies and neo-fascists, now they are centrist Democrats and compassionate Republicans. Even Bush saw the need for comprehensive immigration reform, says one. Even Clinton signed welfare reform, says the other.

But Clinton polls better among the nation and his own party than Bush, so he will find a place for himself in this campaign on both sides. Democrats will ask him to campaign for them, preferring him to Obama. Republicans will remind Democrats at every turn just how “reasonable” Clinton was compared to Obama. Mitt Romney hit this theme after Obama’s heavy-handed attempt to gut welfare reform by executive fiat:

“President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare,” Romney said.  “The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.”

The Brown campaign’s video is only the latest, but almost surely not the last, time voters will see the GOP attempt to plant a flag on centrist territory abandoned by Obama. Because of Obama’s lack of private-sector experience, and Warren’s apparent attempt to claim minority status–paired with an inability to substantiate that claim–to get ahead in the academic world, the two make easy targets for such ads. Their opponents can criticize them not only for saying such nonsense, but for believing it too.

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Personal Attacks and Political Wives

The heated debate about whether Ann Romney said “you people” during an interview yesterday (she didn’t) was an example of the sillier controversies that tend to engulf candidates’ wives. (For another example, see: Michelle Obama accused of spending $50,000 on lingerie).

But it’s strange how much partisan vitriol is actually channeled into these debates. Take Salon’s Joan Walsh’s enraged column on the Ann Romney “you people” remark that never actually happened:

Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. Of course Romney has displayed contempt for certain African-Americans – like when she and her husband told the Obamas to “start packing,” because in Ann’s words, “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now,” to live in the White House. As if the Obamas were troublesome tenants who’d overstayed their welcome in the home that rightly belongs to the Romneys.

She displayed her plutocratic sense of entitlement when she proclaimed Hilary Rosen’s remarks about her stay-at-home-mom status “a birthday present.” Romney’s sincere reaction wasn’t outrage but opportunism; she enjoyed the sight of Rosen being grilled on a spit over a bipartisan open flame. Good to know it’s all about you, Ann.

So Walsh mishears one mundane line from Ann Romney, and takes it as evidence that she’s an elitist, plutocratic, entitled, narcissistic, opportunist? I wonder if Walsh’s criticism would have been so personal if Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, or any of Romney’s other campaign surrogates had actually used the phrase “you people.”

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The heated debate about whether Ann Romney said “you people” during an interview yesterday (she didn’t) was an example of the sillier controversies that tend to engulf candidates’ wives. (For another example, see: Michelle Obama accused of spending $50,000 on lingerie).

But it’s strange how much partisan vitriol is actually channeled into these debates. Take Salon’s Joan Walsh’s enraged column on the Ann Romney “you people” remark that never actually happened:

Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. Of course Romney has displayed contempt for certain African-Americans – like when she and her husband told the Obamas to “start packing,” because in Ann’s words, “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now,” to live in the White House. As if the Obamas were troublesome tenants who’d overstayed their welcome in the home that rightly belongs to the Romneys.

She displayed her plutocratic sense of entitlement when she proclaimed Hilary Rosen’s remarks about her stay-at-home-mom status “a birthday present.” Romney’s sincere reaction wasn’t outrage but opportunism; she enjoyed the sight of Rosen being grilled on a spit over a bipartisan open flame. Good to know it’s all about you, Ann.

So Walsh mishears one mundane line from Ann Romney, and takes it as evidence that she’s an elitist, plutocratic, entitled, narcissistic, opportunist? I wonder if Walsh’s criticism would have been so personal if Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, or any of Romney’s other campaign surrogates had actually used the phrase “you people.”

This is the strange contradiction about candidates’ wives. Should they be viewed as members of the campaign, fair game for the same criticism and political attacks as any other staff? Or should they be viewed as extensions of the candidates’ personal lives, to be treated with respect and restraint? Melinda Henneberger touches on this in the Washington Post this morning:

I’ve routinely defended women in politics, spouses included, of course, from unfair attacks — from racist “jokes” involving Michelle Obama to trivial slams on Ann Romney’s designer T-shirt. But spouses are full partners in the current campaigns, strategically and every other way, just as they ought to be.

And at some point – right now would be my preference – we’ve got to stop pretending that they are by definition off-limits, or ought to be.

After all, Michelle Obama is heading up a new get-out-the-vote initiative — the “It Takes One” program to encourage grass-roots turnout efforts. She’s cutting ads, and as the Post’s Krissah Thompson wrote, taking on an “overtly political role that is rare for a first lady.”

Ann Romney, meanwhile, is raising money and giving a series of high-profile interviews — answering questions about possible veep choices by saying “we” haven’t made any decision yet.”

These women are leading the charge, not sitting home asking how it went, and as they stand on stage, microphones in hand, it’s absurd and even infantilizing to claim that they should be left alone.

Henneberger makes a good point. Candidates’ wives are often deemed “off-limits” for typical political attacks. And when they are criticized, it tends to be for petty issues and infused with a disproportionate amount of animosity. But these women are active on the campaigns, and it makes sense that they should be fair game. Of course, that would also mean toning down the personal attacks and viewing these women as political figures rather than extensions of the candidates.

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The Myth of Obama’s Rhetorical Brilliance

Checking for context before slamming someone for a single line in a speech is always a noble endeavor. But there’s a point when the “benefit of the doubt” becomes ridiculous. A prime example is the liberal argument that President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment wasn’t directed at businesses:

When he made the comment in Roanoke, Va. Friday, Obama was arguing that businesses needed infrastructure investment to succeed.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

The antecedent to “that” is not the business, but “roads and bridges,” as well as the “American system” as a whole.

To believe that Obama was talking about businesses, you only have to watch his speech in context and take it at its literal meaning. To believe Obama was talking about something else, you have to divine certain messages from his ambiguous body language, assume he mixed up his demonstrative pronouns, and concede that the context was structured oddly. Even then, it isn’t clear what exactly he’s referring to.

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Checking for context before slamming someone for a single line in a speech is always a noble endeavor. But there’s a point when the “benefit of the doubt” becomes ridiculous. A prime example is the liberal argument that President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment wasn’t directed at businesses:

When he made the comment in Roanoke, Va. Friday, Obama was arguing that businesses needed infrastructure investment to succeed.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

The antecedent to “that” is not the business, but “roads and bridges,” as well as the “American system” as a whole.

To believe that Obama was talking about businesses, you only have to watch his speech in context and take it at its literal meaning. To believe Obama was talking about something else, you have to divine certain messages from his ambiguous body language, assume he mixed up his demonstrative pronouns, and concede that the context was structured oddly. Even then, it isn’t clear what exactly he’s referring to.

How could this be, considering he’s supposed to be one of the world’s most celebrated orators? The answer is, no teleprompter:

Judging from video and photos of the event, Obama wasn’t using his teleprompter. According to the video footage posted below, Obama pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his front shirt pocket at the beginning of his speech, and slowly unfolded it. Throughout the speech, Obama glances down at his sheet of paper, rather than the usual mechanical side-to-side head turns from screen to screen.

Wide-angle photos of the event show no sign of the familiar twin-screens that typically follow Obama everywhere. Instead, a white sheet of paper is seen at the podium.

No wonder the speech was such a train wreck, and I’m not just talking about the most controversial line. Here’s a key excerpt:

If you were successful somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you own a business — that, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Iternet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Stilted, flat, unimaginative and full of banal observations. “Imagine if everybody had their own fire service,” he said at one point. “That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.” Really? It actually sounds like firefighting would be pretty easy if America had 300 million fire services. Not that this is physically possible, or that anybody has ever proposed such a thing. “Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet,” he added. The idea that the government created the Internet to help companies make money is so obviously inaccurate that it’s not even worth discussing. And what does any of this have to do with raising federal income taxes?

For the past four years, liberals have tried to sell us on the idea that Obama is one of the greatest speakers of all time. Now they’re complaining that conservatives are taking his words literally and not cutting him enough slack. Which one is it?

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Voters Not in Mood for Lofty Promises

President Obama’s attacks on Bain, his deportation order, his gay marriage evolution, his massive spending advantage — all have failed to move the dial nationally, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The Obama campaign will argue that he’s focusing on gaining an edge in swing states and among certain demographics, but this is still a grim picture for them. Despite his significant advantages during the past few months, his national support has flatlined. What’s going to happen once the fundraising playing field evens out?

Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney. …

The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.

When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

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President Obama’s attacks on Bain, his deportation order, his gay marriage evolution, his massive spending advantage — all have failed to move the dial nationally, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The Obama campaign will argue that he’s focusing on gaining an edge in swing states and among certain demographics, but this is still a grim picture for them. Despite his significant advantages during the past few months, his national support has flatlined. What’s going to happen once the fundraising playing field evens out?

Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney. …

The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.

When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

The tax return attack on Romney hasn’t worked because the American people don’t get worked up about that issue. The media and political establishments care — the general public not so much.

Obama’s pandering to various interest groups doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent either, and it’s pretty clear why. He can promise whatever he wants, but he’s just not reliable. Americans trusted him in 2008 when he campaigned as a Washington reformer, and it was only after his failures started piling up when he told them about the fine print — that “change takes time” and “doesn’t happen overnight.” People aren’t mad, they’re disappointed, and they’re not likely to be in the mood for lofty promises this time around.

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The Hands That Built Those Businesses

Something seems to have clicked for Mitt Romney in the past few days. There were a few minutes when he was flailing on the tax return issue, but President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment appears to have reinvigorated Romney. His new web video out this morning which profiles a small business owner in New Hampshire is a prime example:

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Something seems to have clicked for Mitt Romney in the past few days. There were a few minutes when he was flailing on the tax return issue, but President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment appears to have reinvigorated Romney. His new web video out this morning which profiles a small business owner in New Hampshire is a prime example:

The video is great on its own, but with some tweaks and shortening it could be an absolutely brutal TV ad. Obama’s comments sound even more condescending and offensive when juxtaposed against the daily struggles of a small business owner. His sarcastic line about entrepreneurs thinking their success came from being “just so smart” comes off as particularly snide. Imagine the impact if the Romney campaign decided to run one of these ads in every swing state, profiling small business owners from each one.

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Romney Should Send Obama a Fruit Basket

The president’s “you didn’t build that” statement has not only framed the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exactly as Romney  needed, it has transformed Romney’s campaign. He gave a very good speech last week at the NAACP convention, but even the strength of that performance was as nothing next to what he’s done over the past two days. I’ve now watched Romney’s speeches yesterday and today centering on the remark and its meaning, and what I’m seeing is a Mitt Romney come alive—or at least, a Romney new to me. He has always been articulate and with a command of facts and figures, but the distanced awkwardness that accompanied them has suddenly vanished. In their place is a loose, fluid, confident, and passionate spokesman defending the free enterprise system against Obama’s government-centered approach. Romney has done something you hear people talk about theoretically but which doesn’t often happen—he has found his voice as a presidential candidate. And it’s all due to Barack Obama. I hope a fruit basket is on the way to the White House. It would only be polite.

The president’s “you didn’t build that” statement has not only framed the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exactly as Romney  needed, it has transformed Romney’s campaign. He gave a very good speech last week at the NAACP convention, but even the strength of that performance was as nothing next to what he’s done over the past two days. I’ve now watched Romney’s speeches yesterday and today centering on the remark and its meaning, and what I’m seeing is a Mitt Romney come alive—or at least, a Romney new to me. He has always been articulate and with a command of facts and figures, but the distanced awkwardness that accompanied them has suddenly vanished. In their place is a loose, fluid, confident, and passionate spokesman defending the free enterprise system against Obama’s government-centered approach. Romney has done something you hear people talk about theoretically but which doesn’t often happen—he has found his voice as a presidential candidate. And it’s all due to Barack Obama. I hope a fruit basket is on the way to the White House. It would only be polite.

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