Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential race

Voter Enthusiasm Among GOP Rises

Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

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Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

The GOP-Democratic gap is actually less troubling for Obama than the rising enthusiasm among independent voters. What’s causing the trend? The next line in the CBS story might give you an idea:

As for the direction of the country, voters are growing increasingly more pessimistic, however.

Sixty-four percent of those polled think the country is on the wrong track, up from 62 percent in May.

At HotAir, Ed Morrissey raises another good, related point:

The big takeaway, though, is that 49 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of independents express increased enthusiasm for this election, while only 27 percent of Democrats say the same thing. If Obama’s attacks are depressing enthusiasm, it’s pretty clear whose enthusiasm he’s depressing. That was always the risk for a candidate whose main qualification for office was hope and change, and whose signature outcome has been economic stagnation.

This is particularly problematic for Obama because his reelection relies on him either getting his base out to the polls in greater numbers than in 2008 or winning over new supporters to make up for the ones he’s lost. It doesn’t look like he’s made headway in either area, according to this poll. Not only does this point to a troubling trend down the road, it also requires Obama to refigure his current talking points. As Politico’s Donovan Slack reports, the Obama campaign has tended to play up positive enthusiasm numbers to argue it’s in good shape for November.

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Has Romney Made His Choice?

Mitt Romney showed guts today when he spoke to the NAACP and, as Roger Simon noted at Politico, neither groveled nor pandered to a hostile African-American audience. He may show even more nerve soon naming his running mate well in advance of the Republican National Convention. That’s the way Reuters is interpreting a comment made yesterday at an appearance in Colorado when the GOP candidate was asked whether he would name the person who will fill out his ticket before such announcements are normally made. Rather than shoot down the suggestion or not answer, Romney simply said he hadn’t decided.

The article says Romney and his advisers are considering moving up the pick in order to help raise even more money for their campaign war chest. The suggestion is also made that naming his vice presidential candidate will help distract the public from the scathing attacks the president and his surrogates are making on Romney’s wealth and business career. But if he does pick early — which is still merely speculation — the thinking here is that it will not be in order to gain some temporary advantage that would soon be dissipated. Rather, it would be because Romney had completed the systematic evaluation of his potential running mates and thought there was no point in prolonging the process. If the talk about moving up the announcement is real it is because Romney has made up his mind.

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Mitt Romney showed guts today when he spoke to the NAACP and, as Roger Simon noted at Politico, neither groveled nor pandered to a hostile African-American audience. He may show even more nerve soon naming his running mate well in advance of the Republican National Convention. That’s the way Reuters is interpreting a comment made yesterday at an appearance in Colorado when the GOP candidate was asked whether he would name the person who will fill out his ticket before such announcements are normally made. Rather than shoot down the suggestion or not answer, Romney simply said he hadn’t decided.

The article says Romney and his advisers are considering moving up the pick in order to help raise even more money for their campaign war chest. The suggestion is also made that naming his vice presidential candidate will help distract the public from the scathing attacks the president and his surrogates are making on Romney’s wealth and business career. But if he does pick early — which is still merely speculation — the thinking here is that it will not be in order to gain some temporary advantage that would soon be dissipated. Rather, it would be because Romney had completed the systematic evaluation of his potential running mates and thought there was no point in prolonging the process. If the talk about moving up the announcement is real it is because Romney has made up his mind.

Those who believe Romney is going to make a decision based on the ephemeral political advantages to be gained are forgetting that the Republican is the ultimate numbers-cruncher and specialized in mining the data exhaustively to make the right choice in business. He is probably conducting the veep search in the same manner he has made every other important business and political decision in his life, which makes the notion of moving up the pick merely in order to give him a couple of positive news cycles laughable. This is a man who is obsessed with long rather than short-term gains.

That is why it is likely that whoever he chooses will be someone he thinks can help him govern rather than someone who is, no matter how impressive, unlikely to be the difference in the fall election.

That is also why speculation on the identity of the choice is almost certainly worthless. Pundits who ponder the edges that people like Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie and Paul Ryan would provide the GOP ticket are probably not on Romney’s radar screen, as he is almost certainly viewing the question from a completely different frame of reference. Though most of the recent talk about the choice has centered on Portman, the only person who knows whether that is correct is Romney.

But whatever the outcome of the methodical process that Romney is pursuing on this question, it may be that once he has come up with his answer, the former business executive will probably not see much point in engaging in more public theater on the question. If so, then it is easy to imagine him just making his pick in a way that would allow him to get on to the substantive campaign work ahead with his ticket intact.

Whether that will help or hurt him, or as is most likely, have no effect at all on the outcome in November, is uncertain. But the guess here is that if he is thinking at all about naming his running mate in the upcoming weeks rather than waiting for the prelude to the convention, it will be because he has already made up his mind. As Romney showed today when he did not give an inch while speaking to the most hostile group possible to his candidacy, the Republican is going to stick to the plan he has set in his own head and won’t be asking the media for any help in narrowing down the field.

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Does Romney Even Want to Define Himself?

One of the great ironies of the 2012 presidential campaign is the extent to which President Obama’s team is openly trying to paint Mitt Romney as a strange, vaguely un-American “other,” as Roger Simon writes today. We heard the reverse complaint virtually nonstop during the last four years, first during the 2008 election and then during Obama’s first three years in office. Nearly any critique of Obama doing things differently–another irony, as his campaign was built on hope and change–was construed as an offensive implication that Obama is alien to Americans. Here’s Simon:

Swiss banks accounts? Who has Swiss bank accounts? Others, that’s who.

Biden described Romney using classic terms of “otherness.” Romney, Biden said, was “out of touch” and “out of step” with basic American values….

Nobody is saying (as of yet) that Romney did anything illegal by keeping millions of dollars in Swiss and other foreign banks. It just seems … odd.

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One of the great ironies of the 2012 presidential campaign is the extent to which President Obama’s team is openly trying to paint Mitt Romney as a strange, vaguely un-American “other,” as Roger Simon writes today. We heard the reverse complaint virtually nonstop during the last four years, first during the 2008 election and then during Obama’s first three years in office. Nearly any critique of Obama doing things differently–another irony, as his campaign was built on hope and change–was construed as an offensive implication that Obama is alien to Americans. Here’s Simon:

Swiss banks accounts? Who has Swiss bank accounts? Others, that’s who.

Biden described Romney using classic terms of “otherness.” Romney, Biden said, was “out of touch” and “out of step” with basic American values….

Nobody is saying (as of yet) that Romney did anything illegal by keeping millions of dollars in Swiss and other foreign banks. It just seems … odd.

What’s happening here, and what has been the source of criticism of Romney from the right for the last two weeks, is not only that the Obama campaign is defining Romney before he gets a chance to define himself, but that Romney doesn’t seem that interested in defining himself at all.

That’s how Simon sees it: “This is the Republicans’ great hope, their great strategy: Forget about Romney. Romney is a cipher, a place holder. He has but one real quality: He is not Barack Obama.” That’s the other irony here: Obama, too, ran as a cipher. We didn’t even know the extent of it until this year, when we learned that Obama’s autobiography was actually a novel about a character Obama thought would be attractive to the Democratic electorate. He studied the identity politics of the left closely enough to discern a formula that could win him the nomination on biography alone. It worked–even though it wasn’t his biography.

So the Romney campaign may not be as lackadaisical as they are accused of being. Their seeming lack of a strategy may in itself be a strategy. But if so, they are misreading the Obama election. When Obama ran, he had a media establishment that steadfastly refused to vet him, wanting no part of debunking a story that won their hearts–facts and journalism be damned.

Romney does not have that luxury. Instead, the media will do what the Washington Post recently did. The Post ran a story accusing Romney of outsourcing jobs at Bain. As Jim Pethokoukis noted, the accusation was wrong—based on ignorance of outsourcing and business. But no matter—it promptly ended up in an Obama campaign ad. This two-pronged assault will continue.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most talented politician in America right now, Chris Christie, gave a speech at the Brookings Institution yesterday. Near the end of his speech, he told a familiar story about his mother’s deathbed reassurances that nothing between them had been “left unsaid.” Christie’s lesson was that when you form important relationships, you cannot be a cipher, a stand-in, a riddle:

We shouldn’t be listening to political consultants whispering in our ear to tell us, say as little as possible.  We shouldn’t be listening to those voices who say, just use the party doctrine and don’t stray. We tell people how we think and how we feel and let them judge us up or down… You can’t lead by being a mystery, you can’t lead by being an enigma, you can’t lead by being aloof, you can’t lead by being programmed.

Christie probably meant this more as a criticism of the president than of Romney, but Romney should take it to heart. According to recent polling, Obama’s supporters are voting for Obama, while a large number of Romney’s supporters are voting against Obama. Romney is not connecting–it’s as simple as that. But the solution is not so simple. It’s easy to produce campaign ads that successfully sow doubts about a candidate. It’s far less obvious how to convince an electorate, especially through advertising, that a candidate is someone they can relate to. This is an organic element of politics, something that tends to come naturally or not at all.

Simon is right that it’s possible Romney can win this way. But if Christie’s right, he can’t lead that way. The transformation of successful candidate Obama to fumbling, incompetent President Obama is a testament to both.

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Obama Can’t Buy Voter Enthusiasm

A Gallup poll out this morning found that Mitt Romney has an eight-point voter enthusiasm advantage over President Obama across 12 swing states, an edge that could make all the difference in a tight race:

The June swing-states poll showed 47 percent of registered voters across the 12 swing states backing President Barack Obama for president and 45 percent backing the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

However, voters in swing states who support Romney for president are more likely than those backing Obama to say they feel “extremely enthusiastic” about voting — 31 percent to 23 percent. The same pattern is seen by party, with 32 percent of Republicans in the swing states and 25 percent of Democrats reporting extreme enthusiasm. However, these candidate- and party-level differences disappear when one looks at total enthusiasm, defined as those either extremely or very enthusiastic.

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A Gallup poll out this morning found that Mitt Romney has an eight-point voter enthusiasm advantage over President Obama across 12 swing states, an edge that could make all the difference in a tight race:

The June swing-states poll showed 47 percent of registered voters across the 12 swing states backing President Barack Obama for president and 45 percent backing the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

However, voters in swing states who support Romney for president are more likely than those backing Obama to say they feel “extremely enthusiastic” about voting — 31 percent to 23 percent. The same pattern is seen by party, with 32 percent of Republicans in the swing states and 25 percent of Democrats reporting extreme enthusiasm. However, these candidate- and party-level differences disappear when one looks at total enthusiasm, defined as those either extremely or very enthusiastic.

Obama hasn’t been able to come up with a message that rallies his base yet, and the Romney scare tactics may not be enough to get these less-enthusiastic supporters out to the polls. Money isn’t the issue either, though Democrats may try to spin it that way. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, Obama has spent more than four times as much as Romney on swing state TV advertising so far:

President Obama has spent more than $91 million on television ads in eight swing states as of July 6, a massive sum that dwarfs the $23 million former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has disbursed on campaign commercials in those same places. Only heavy spending by Republican super PACs is keeping Romney within financial shouting distance of the incumbent on television at this point.

The data, which was provided to the Fix by a Republican media buyer, paints a fascinating picture of Obama’s overwhelming ad advantage in each of the states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia — where both campaigns are spending.

Yet more proof that money doesn’t guarantee an advantage. And considering Obama’s mediocre fundraising numbers and the way he’s been burning through cash, it’s hard to imagine he can keep up this pace of spending through the fall. Obama and the DNC reportedly had about $140 million on hand at the beginning of June. If they raise $70 million each month between now and the election (Obama’s largest monthly haul so far), that would give them about $420 million — with four months to go. If one thing is certain, it’s that Obama will not have the $300 million spending advantage on Romney that he had on John McCain in 2008.

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Romney’s $100 Million Month

This might explain what President Obama was so worried about during his frantic Air Force One plea for donations last weekend:

The Romney campaign, along with its Romney Victory fund and the Republican National Committee, raised more than $100 million in June, obliterating the campaign’s goal and setting the one-month record for any Republican campaign, according to a GOP official.

Barack Obama raised $150 million as he was surging in September 2008, the record month for any campaign.

This is huge for Romney. It’s a fundraising record for Republicans, and a big leap from the $77 million he raised in May. Obama’s team already appeared to be overextending itself, breaking records for number of fundraisers attended all the way back in May and continuing the frantic pace through June. Still, the president’s fundraising total lagged behind Romney’s last month. The Obama campaign hasn’t released its latest numbers yet, but it’s hard to imagine it could top Romney after pulling in just $60 million in May (which was actually the biggest haul for Obama so far this election). The president has hit a ceiling. How can he possibly pencil in more fundraisers or send out more pleading emails than he already does?

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This might explain what President Obama was so worried about during his frantic Air Force One plea for donations last weekend:

The Romney campaign, along with its Romney Victory fund and the Republican National Committee, raised more than $100 million in June, obliterating the campaign’s goal and setting the one-month record for any Republican campaign, according to a GOP official.

Barack Obama raised $150 million as he was surging in September 2008, the record month for any campaign.

This is huge for Romney. It’s a fundraising record for Republicans, and a big leap from the $77 million he raised in May. Obama’s team already appeared to be overextending itself, breaking records for number of fundraisers attended all the way back in May and continuing the frantic pace through June. Still, the president’s fundraising total lagged behind Romney’s last month. The Obama campaign hasn’t released its latest numbers yet, but it’s hard to imagine it could top Romney after pulling in just $60 million in May (which was actually the biggest haul for Obama so far this election). The president has hit a ceiling. How can he possibly pencil in more fundraisers or send out more pleading emails than he already does?

This news also seems to debunk the notion that Romney’s side lacks enthusiasm; Obama’s the one who appears to be trailing in that department. The Supreme Court health care decision was  a big boost for Romney (he racked up nearly $5 million in the 24 hours after the ruling). Meanwhile, Obama’s tax-the-rich rhetoric could be turning off pro-free market Democrats who supported his campaign in 2008.

But never mind all that. Romney’s $100 million month is just an attempt at “distraction,” according to the Obama campaign:

Ben LaBolt, Obama campaign national press secretary, issued this statement after Politico reported the $100-million month: “Mitt Romney is trying to distract from a week when he took contradictory positions on the freeloader penalty in the Affordable Care Act and we learned more about his offshore finances in Switzerland, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands.

“Americans are less concerned about how much money he raised to get himself elected and more interested in what he would do after repealing health reform, which he has refused to share, and why he won’t disclose the necessary tax returns that prove whether or not he paid any U.S. taxes on his shell corporation in Bermuda.”

Uh, sure, that’s plausible. Romney needed to divert attention from his tax returns, and the easiest way to do it was to…raise a record-breaking $100 million dollars for his campaign? (Obama, of course, would never stoop to such stunts).

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Who’s the Real Extremist?

If President Obama has sounded nostalgic for his 2008 opponent John McCain lately, it’s because he’s trying to make the case that the once-moderate Republican Party has fallen into the hands of extremists like Mitt Romney (cue skeptical side-eye). But according to a Rasmussen poll, likely voters are not buying it. Forty-seven percent say Obama’s views are “extreme” while just 31 percent say the same about Romney:

A bare majority of voters still considers Mitt Romney in the political mainstream, while the number who think President Obama’s views are extreme has edged up for the second month in a row. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 51percent of Likely U.S. Voters describe the political views of the presumptive Republican presidential candidate as mainstream. Thirty-one percent consider his views extreme. Eighteen percent are not sure.

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If President Obama has sounded nostalgic for his 2008 opponent John McCain lately, it’s because he’s trying to make the case that the once-moderate Republican Party has fallen into the hands of extremists like Mitt Romney (cue skeptical side-eye). But according to a Rasmussen poll, likely voters are not buying it. Forty-seven percent say Obama’s views are “extreme” while just 31 percent say the same about Romney:

A bare majority of voters still considers Mitt Romney in the political mainstream, while the number who think President Obama’s views are extreme has edged up for the second month in a row. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 51percent of Likely U.S. Voters describe the political views of the presumptive Republican presidential candidate as mainstream. Thirty-one percent consider his views extreme. Eighteen percent are not sure.

A large part of Obama’s campaign message relies on painting Romney as far-right and out-of-touch. But the public is not buying it. The problem is that Romney does not fit the caricature of a raving right-winger. He has a measured speaking style and amiable demeanor; he was governor of one of the most liberal states in the country; and he worked with state Democrats on left-of-center policies, including the Massachusetts precursor to Obama’s health care plan. He has conservative tendencies, but the idea that he’s the second coming of Barry Goldwater is not believable.

Then there’s the contrast: Obama, for all his talk about bipartisan unity, has no record of crossing the aisle. This is a president who wouldn’t even reach out to Olympia Snowe. His signature achievement, ObamaCare, is a massive government overreach that’s unpopular with the majority of Americans. His policy prescriptions — on environmental regulations, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, taxes, health care, defense cuts, oil production, etc. — range from left-of-center to extreme left. Moderate Democrats are distancing themselves from him. In short, he has very little credibility to label someone like Romney “extreme” — which explains why the public isn’t going along with it.

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Jobs Report Rains on Obama’s Bus Tour

The unemployment numbers in May were bad, but June showed no improvement, according to the jobs report released this morning. Just 80,000 jobs were added last month (economists expected 95,000 on the lower end of estimates), keeping the unemployment rate unchanged, via BLS.gov:

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to edge up in June (+80,000), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Professional and business services added jobs, and employment in other major industries changed little over the month.

The number of unemployed persons (12.7 million) was essentially unchanged in June, and the unemployment rate held at 8.2 percent. (See table A-1.)

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The unemployment numbers in May were bad, but June showed no improvement, according to the jobs report released this morning. Just 80,000 jobs were added last month (economists expected 95,000 on the lower end of estimates), keeping the unemployment rate unchanged, via BLS.gov:

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to edge up in June (+80,000), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Professional and business services added jobs, and employment in other major industries changed little over the month.

The number of unemployed persons (12.7 million) was essentially unchanged in June, and the unemployment rate held at 8.2 percent. (See table A-1.)

Economists had revised their initial estimates yesterday after some encouraging indications from ADP. The Wall Street Journal reported that the late estimate for June was around 100,000 new jobs — but obviously the reality fell far short.

The dismal numbers come as President Obama wraps up his jobs tour in the Rust Belt:

U.S. President Barack Obama is facing the release of a potentially weak jobs report from June as he wraps up a two-day campaign bus tour in Ohio and Pennsylvania Friday. …

Ohio and Pennsylvania are two crucial states in the November general election, both of which Mr. Obama carried in the 2008 election. The president is using the campaign swing to portray himself more like a champion of average, working-class Americans than his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, a wealthy businessman before entering politics.

After last month’s jobs report, Obama lost ground in states like Michigan and Ohio, which means the numbers released today could counteract any benefit gained from his jobs tour this week.

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Pro-Obama Super PACs Outspending GOP

The common assumption is that conservatives will have an outside money advantage in the presidential election, thanks to massive spending by pro-Romney super PACs. This wisdom is on display in the New York Times today, which wonders whether Democrats will be able to “catch up in the super PAC game”:

“They’re spending ridiculous amounts of money on the other side,” [potential donor] Amber Mostyn said. “All the crazy commercials they’re going to put up — how do you combat that?”

Burton was ready for this question. “You don’t do it dollar for dollar,” he said. He whipped out his iPad and showed the Mostyns a few slides from his PowerPoint presentation. The slides included polling data indicating voters’ lack of familiarity with Romney’s business record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, as well as financial figures from the 2010 midterm election showing how well-spent donations could help a Democrat prevail over a better-financed Republican opponent.

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The common assumption is that conservatives will have an outside money advantage in the presidential election, thanks to massive spending by pro-Romney super PACs. This wisdom is on display in the New York Times today, which wonders whether Democrats will be able to “catch up in the super PAC game”:

“They’re spending ridiculous amounts of money on the other side,” [potential donor] Amber Mostyn said. “All the crazy commercials they’re going to put up — how do you combat that?”

Burton was ready for this question. “You don’t do it dollar for dollar,” he said. He whipped out his iPad and showed the Mostyns a few slides from his PowerPoint presentation. The slides included polling data indicating voters’ lack of familiarity with Romney’s business record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, as well as financial figures from the 2010 midterm election showing how well-spent donations could help a Democrat prevail over a better-financed Republican opponent.

But NRO’s Jim Geraghty reports that as of right now, it’s the pro-Romney super PACs that have to catch up with the opposition. He crunched the Federal Election Commission data from January 2011 through this week and found a major discrepancy in spending:

According to Federal Election Commission data filed from January 2011 through July 3, super PACs and all groups making “independent expenditures” in the political arena have spent $35.3 million in opposition to Romney, and only $9 million in opposition to Obama. Rove’s American Crossroads, for example, has spent $3.1 million this cycle. But only $158,126.17 of that has been spent in efforts opposing President Obama, and a separate $7,500 has been spent on Web ads supporting Mitt Romney. For perspective, the group spent $358,202.98 in mid-June in just one expenditure on “TV/Media Purchases” opposing Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine in Virginia, and then spent the same sum a week later in the same race.

There’s still plenty of time until the election, and the political spending will pick up as it gets closer. Republicans also had the disadvantage of a competitive primary, giving conservative groups a smaller window of time so far to focus on general election messaging. But Jim’s findings certainly blow apart the narrative that pro-Obama groups are lagging far behind when it comes to super PAC spending. Interesting that the mainstream media hasn’t picked up on that yet, no?

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Ruling Has Silver Lining for Romney

I find it hard to believe the spin that the Supreme Court upholding the health care law is somehow politically better for Republicans because it will “energize the base.” Nullifying Obama’s signature legislative achievement — which he rammed through while the economy was on the brink — would have been a powerful blow to his campaign (and don’t tell me that wouldn’t have galvanized the conservative base just as well).

But there is a silver lining here for Mitt Romney. If the Court had overturned the law in its entirety, Romney would have been under intense pressure to provide a detailed alternative — a challenge that, as David Frum points out, would be difficult enough for him after the election. This would be a far more perilous task during the election, which is why, so far, Romney has avoided it.

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I find it hard to believe the spin that the Supreme Court upholding the health care law is somehow politically better for Republicans because it will “energize the base.” Nullifying Obama’s signature legislative achievement — which he rammed through while the economy was on the brink — would have been a powerful blow to his campaign (and don’t tell me that wouldn’t have galvanized the conservative base just as well).

But there is a silver lining here for Mitt Romney. If the Court had overturned the law in its entirety, Romney would have been under intense pressure to provide a detailed alternative — a challenge that, as David Frum points out, would be difficult enough for him after the election. This would be a far more perilous task during the election, which is why, so far, Romney has avoided it.

Any Republican candidate would find it tricky to come up with health care reform that appeased the diverse conservative base, was politically and financially viable, and still somewhat defensible against Democratic attacks. For Romney, these problems are compounded by the fact that he’s still paying penance for RomneyCare. Conservatives still view him warily and don’t trust him completely, especially on health care. If his proposal wasn’t 100 percent Tea Party-approved, it could mean disaster for his campaign. And if it did pass muster with all the far-flung corners of the conservative base? Then Democrats would finally have the “radical, right-wing” candidate they’ve been dying to run against. They would do to Romney what they’ve tried to do to Paul Ryan.

Yesterday’s decision means Romney gets to avoid all that — at least for now.

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Swing States are Neck-and-Neck

Today’s NBC News/Marist poll has President Obama and Mitt Romney virtually tied in New Hampshire, North Carolina and — most troubling for the president — Michigan. With little more than four months to go, the close race in the key Rust Belt state is the latest sign of turmoil in Obama’s reelection strategy.

A new round of NBC News-Marist polls shows President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney running almost neck-and-neck in three key battleground states, with Obama holding a slight advantage in Michigan and North Carolina, and the two candidates tied in New Hampshire.

In Michigan, Obama is ahead by four percentage points among registered voters, including those who are undecided but are still leaning toward a candidate, 47 to 43 percent.

In North Carolina, the president gets 46 percent to Romney’s 44 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error.

And in New Hampshire, the two men are tied at 45 percent each.

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Today’s NBC News/Marist poll has President Obama and Mitt Romney virtually tied in New Hampshire, North Carolina and — most troubling for the president — Michigan. With little more than four months to go, the close race in the key Rust Belt state is the latest sign of turmoil in Obama’s reelection strategy.

A new round of NBC News-Marist polls shows President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney running almost neck-and-neck in three key battleground states, with Obama holding a slight advantage in Michigan and North Carolina, and the two candidates tied in New Hampshire.

In Michigan, Obama is ahead by four percentage points among registered voters, including those who are undecided but are still leaning toward a candidate, 47 to 43 percent.

In North Carolina, the president gets 46 percent to Romney’s 44 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error.

And in New Hampshire, the two men are tied at 45 percent each.

In New Hampshire, the race has narrowed in Romney’s favor since mid-May. In 2008, Obama won the state by 10 points, but it was expected to be in play this year. The president’s go-negative strategy may be less effective in New Hampshire, as voters there are familiar with Romney and many already hold an opinion about him. Romney’s favorability ratings are also higher in New Hampshire than in the two other states in the survey.

Democrats hoped to hold onto North Carolina by holding the convention there, but so far that has seemed to be a colossal misstep. Rather than helping Obama, the attention on the scandal-ridden state Democratic Party has mainly resulted in negative publicity. The president’s gay marriage decision, which appeared to be a direct rebuke of North Carolina voters, didn’t help either. Obama beat John McCain by just .4 percent there in 2008, so he has a steep hill to climb.

But Obama’s failure to open a lead in Michigan is by far the worst news for his campaign, and a sign he’ll have to fight just for a chance to hold onto the Rust Belt. Since the beginning of June, the race has been tightening in the state (as well as Pennsylvania and Ohio), likely in response to the gloomy jobs numbers and stagnant recovery. The last NBC/Marist poll in February showed Obama up by 18 points in Michigan, but that was back when the unemployment situation appeared to be improving. A lot has changed since then–much of it for the worst for the president.

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Political Ads Are Slippery Evasions of Truth

Politics is an ugly, dirty business, a business where truth, in Winston Churchill’s marvelous phrase, is usually “attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in political TV ads, where the slippery evasions of marketing merge with the needs of ideology.

This week’s winner of the Lillian Hellman Memorial Prize for Mendacity (“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the”—Mary McCarthy) is a new TV ad for the Obama campaign that the Washington Post, a liberal newspaper, gives four Pinocchios to.

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Politics is an ugly, dirty business, a business where truth, in Winston Churchill’s marvelous phrase, is usually “attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in political TV ads, where the slippery evasions of marketing merge with the needs of ideology.

This week’s winner of the Lillian Hellman Memorial Prize for Mendacity (“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the”—Mary McCarthy) is a new TV ad for the Obama campaign that the Washington Post, a liberal newspaper, gives four Pinocchios to.

The ad, for instance, describes Mitt Romney as a “corporate raider,” a phrase that brings to mind the Michael Douglas character, Gordon Gecko, in the movie Wall Street. But as the Post points out, corporate raiders are invariably adversaries of the management of the corporation they seek to control. Bain Capital was an ally, one that worked long-term with management to make the company more profitable for everyone, not just Bain Capital. As the Post’s Fact Checker writes,

In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered renowned corporate raiders such as Carl Icahn and his ilk. We also have closely studied Bain Capital and can find no examples that come close to this situation; its deals were done in close association with management. Indeed, Bain generally held onto its investments for four or five years, in contrast to the quick bust-em-ups of real corporate raiders. So calling Romney a “corporate raider” is a real stretch.

It’s not a real stretch, it’s a lie. The Obama campaign’s justification for the term? A single use of the phrase by a Reuter’s stringer that apparently got by the Reuter’s copyeditors.

One of the nice things about living in a deep-blue TV market is being spared ads like this by the thousands. A school classmate of mine who lives in Ohio was complaining at a reunion two weeks ago that his airwaves are already saturated with political ads. I expect that come October, he will be reading a lot of books. They may be an old-fashioned form of entertainment, but they are blissfully ad-free.

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Barack Obama’s Awful June Just Got Worse

President Obama was already suffering one of the worst imaginable months for an incumbent president in an election year – including a dismal jobs report and declining factory orders, falling approval ratings (including in swing states), the overwhelming victory of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the president’s widely ridiculed claim the private sector is “doing fine,” Bill Clinton’s various apostasies, the realization that Obama might be outspent in this election by Mitt Romney, and a major speech in Ohio that was panned even by sympathetic liberals. (Jim Geraghty provides a nice summary and analysis here.)

But it may be that the first half of June was a walk in the park compared to the latter part of the month. Because two events – one which just happened and one that will happen next week – may turn out to be powerful, and even crippling, body blows to the president.

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President Obama was already suffering one of the worst imaginable months for an incumbent president in an election year – including a dismal jobs report and declining factory orders, falling approval ratings (including in swing states), the overwhelming victory of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the president’s widely ridiculed claim the private sector is “doing fine,” Bill Clinton’s various apostasies, the realization that Obama might be outspent in this election by Mitt Romney, and a major speech in Ohio that was panned even by sympathetic liberals. (Jim Geraghty provides a nice summary and analysis here.)

But it may be that the first half of June was a walk in the park compared to the latter part of the month. Because two events – one which just happened and one that will happen next week – may turn out to be powerful, and even crippling, body blows to the president.

The first one is the burgeoning “Fast and Furious” scandal, which has now been elevated from a secondary story to a major one. The president’s assertion of executive privilege is without foundation–a transparent effort to protect his attorney general, and possibly himself, from a legitimate congressional inquiry about a scandalous policy failure. The more this story unwinds, the more obvious this will become.

The man who promised us a “new standard of openness” and the “most transparent and accountable administration in history,” who said his administration would create “an unprecedented level of openness in government” and would “work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration” is now engaged in what could reasonably be construed to be a cover up. (If you’d like your belly laugh for the day, you might take a look at this document, Open Government 2.0 (!), put out by the Department of Justice – which claims, “The Department of Justice is committed to achieving the president’s goal of making this the most transparent administration in history.”)

This is Obama’s first bona fide, full-scale scandal. The president, with his assertion of executive privilege, has now placed himself at the center of the storm. And he’s done so with less than 140 days before the election. One can only imagine what the administration has to hide in order for Obama to have done what he did.

In addition, next week, the Supreme Court will in all likelihood announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. If the Court overturns the ACA, in whole or in part, it will be devastating to the president. After all, his signature domestic achievement — one which dominated American politics for much of Obama’s first term — will not only have been judged to be unconstitutional; it will also have proven to be a colossal waste of the country’s time and energy. And even if the Court doesn’t overturn the Affordable Care Act, it will thrust to the fore what presidential scholar George C. Edwards III calls “perhaps the least popular major domestic policy passed in the last century” (which helps explain why the president rarely speaks about this “achievement” in the run-up to the election).

Elections are rarely decided in June, and this one won’t be, either. But history may look back at this as the month when the president fell behind Romney and never fully recovered.

We’ll know soon enough.

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Taking the Views of the Voters into Account

During my appearance earlier this week on a national talk radio talk show, a caller – in the context of how formidable Mitt Romney is as a candidate – argued that the test will be whether Romney criticizes Barack Obama for his pre-presidential associations and voting record. In the last few weeks, I’ve also heard from a friend who thought the president’s critics should focus attention on Obama’s association with the radical New Party (for more, see Stanley Kurtz’s fine piece here). And still others have argued with me that Obama’s failure to produce his transcripts from college ought to be a focal point of the election.

My answer in each case is this: Among the challenges in politics is to remind oneself that issues we think are of major importance aren’t always what much of the public thinks are issues of major importance. In other words, you could believe that Obama’s association with the New Party is relevant in terms of his past and current policies – but much of the public might simply disagree. A campaign has to pursue strategies that are effective — and no campaign manager worth his salt will spend valuable time fighting to convince the public they should care about an issue they don’t much care about.

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During my appearance earlier this week on a national talk radio talk show, a caller – in the context of how formidable Mitt Romney is as a candidate – argued that the test will be whether Romney criticizes Barack Obama for his pre-presidential associations and voting record. In the last few weeks, I’ve also heard from a friend who thought the president’s critics should focus attention on Obama’s association with the radical New Party (for more, see Stanley Kurtz’s fine piece here). And still others have argued with me that Obama’s failure to produce his transcripts from college ought to be a focal point of the election.

My answer in each case is this: Among the challenges in politics is to remind oneself that issues we think are of major importance aren’t always what much of the public thinks are issues of major importance. In other words, you could believe that Obama’s association with the New Party is relevant in terms of his past and current policies – but much of the public might simply disagree. A campaign has to pursue strategies that are effective — and no campaign manager worth his salt will spend valuable time fighting to convince the public they should care about an issue they don’t much care about.

There’s an argument to be made that there’s much in Obama’s past that is not only legitimate to discuss but foreshadowed his presidency. Still, that doesn’t make it a wise tactic to use in an election in which (a) the public is already quite familiar with the incumbent (the result being that revelations about his distant past won’t move the needle in terms of their views toward him) and (b) the incumbent has amassed an indefensible record on the economy, which is far and away the issue most on the minds of the voters. Independents in particular would probably be turned off by all this, judging it to be a petty distraction from the issues that are most on their minds.

To reiterate: this doesn’t make Obama’s past off-limits or irrelevant. And those who spend their life commenting on politics have every right to delve into these matters. It simply means that if Republicans running for office hope to win, they’ll align their campaign with the issues the voters consider predominant.

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Voters Sour on Obama

Eleanor Clift, writing in The Daily Beast, reports on a focus group of a dozen independent voters. The bottom line? They are souring on Obama – including many of those who voted for him in 2008.

To be specific, Democratic pollster Peter Hart gathered a group (sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center) in Denver last week. Nine of the 12 people voted for Obama four years ago. Today, only three lean toward him. Among the findings: (a) independents “aren’t biting” when it comes to the attacks on Mitt Romney on Bain Capital; (b) to the degree the public believes the economy is improving, the president doesn’t get the credit for it; (c) the president simply is not connecting with the voters he needs to win; and (d) there’s “no sense of leadership” emanating from the president.

“Whether it’s a failure of policy or of communications is debatable,” according to Clift, “but the sense of disillusionment with Obama’s performance is real.”

“He set up expectations that began 46 months ago, and they only grew over time,” according to Hart.

One man, a 31-year-old Web designer and home remodeler who voted for Obama in 2008, said, “The whole platform was hope—I don’t feel any more hope today.”

Pressed by Hart as to which candidate he was leaning toward, this person admitted, “I don’t even know if I’m going to vote this time.” In Hart’s view, the young Web designer should be in Obama’s corner, and the fact that he isn’t is emblematic of the president’s problems.

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Eleanor Clift, writing in The Daily Beast, reports on a focus group of a dozen independent voters. The bottom line? They are souring on Obama – including many of those who voted for him in 2008.

To be specific, Democratic pollster Peter Hart gathered a group (sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center) in Denver last week. Nine of the 12 people voted for Obama four years ago. Today, only three lean toward him. Among the findings: (a) independents “aren’t biting” when it comes to the attacks on Mitt Romney on Bain Capital; (b) to the degree the public believes the economy is improving, the president doesn’t get the credit for it; (c) the president simply is not connecting with the voters he needs to win; and (d) there’s “no sense of leadership” emanating from the president.

“Whether it’s a failure of policy or of communications is debatable,” according to Clift, “but the sense of disillusionment with Obama’s performance is real.”

“He set up expectations that began 46 months ago, and they only grew over time,” according to Hart.

One man, a 31-year-old Web designer and home remodeler who voted for Obama in 2008, said, “The whole platform was hope—I don’t feel any more hope today.”

Pressed by Hart as to which candidate he was leaning toward, this person admitted, “I don’t even know if I’m going to vote this time.” In Hart’s view, the young Web designer should be in Obama’s corner, and the fact that he isn’t is emblematic of the president’s problems.

It’s true enough that Governor Romney has not closed the sale with these voters (which one wouldn’t really expect at this stage). And there’s always the possibility that the president will win back these voters. But for now, there is a pronounced and undeniable erosion in support for the president. The sense one gets is that these independents, who bought into the high expectations Obama created in 2008, have been terribly let down by him. He’s liked but viewed as weak. The candidate who four years ago promised  to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet is seen, even by his erstwhile supporters, as overmatched by events and at their mercy. The Obama who was sold to us in 2008 was a mirage.

Perhaps Obama really is best equipped to be a community organizer.

If the attacks on Bain Capital aren’t taking root, the meta-narrative that Barack Obama is simply inept and in over his head is. There might be worse impressions for an incumbent president to have – but if so, they don’t immediately come to mind.

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Swinging the Hispanic Vote

Obama’s deportation decision already seems to be boosting his support with Hispanic voters, and it’s getting high marks from the general public as well, according to a Bloomberg poll:

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.

Note that even McCain’s very moderate views on immigration were only able to net him 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Obama’s 67 percent. With that in mind, Romney’s muted response to Obama’s announcement is smart. He isn’t doing anything to specifically turn voters away from him on immigration, but he’s also keeping his focus on the economy and unemployment, issues that have had an outsized impact on the Hispanic community. Obama’s hope at this point is to knock Romney off message and shift attention to social issues that distract from his economic record.

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Obama’s deportation decision already seems to be boosting his support with Hispanic voters, and it’s getting high marks from the general public as well, according to a Bloomberg poll:

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.

Note that even McCain’s very moderate views on immigration were only able to net him 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Obama’s 67 percent. With that in mind, Romney’s muted response to Obama’s announcement is smart. He isn’t doing anything to specifically turn voters away from him on immigration, but he’s also keeping his focus on the economy and unemployment, issues that have had an outsized impact on the Hispanic community. Obama’s hope at this point is to knock Romney off message and shift attention to social issues that distract from his economic record.

But will his immigration announcement translate into votes? Nate Silver doesn’t see it as a game-changer:

The danger for Democrats was that these voters, unenthusiastic about both choices, might not have turned out to vote at all. Historically, Hispanics have not been as likely to register to vote as other groups, in part a reflection of the fact that a fair number of them are not United States citizens. However, voting participation has been relatively low, even among those Hispanics who were registered to vote.

Mr. Obama’s decision could motivate some additional turnout among these voters. If, for instance, Hispanic turnout increases by 5 percent, and 5 percent of Hispanics who might otherwise have voted for Mr. Romney now vote for Mr. Obama instead, it would swing a net of about 1 percentage point in support to Mr. Obama. That is hardly a game-changer, but it could matter in an election that could be very close.

Obama’s illegal immigration move, like his gay marriage decision, was made out of necessity. If Marco Rubio had been able to get the votes on his DREAM Act legislation, it would have been a significant embarrassment for Obama, who has paid lip service to immigration reform for years but never made a serious effort to follow through.

Like the president’s gay marriage decision, the deportation rule won’t hold the media attention for long. With Romney’s subdued response on the topic, it will soon run out of oxygen, and the economic news will move back to the top of the news cycle.

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How Desperate Can MSNBC Get?

As if yesterday’s “controversy” about Mitt Romney supposedly marveling over WaWa sandwich technology wasn’t dumb enough, it turns out that it wasn’t even accurate. Instead, his comments had been misleadingly edited by MSNBC, as the blog Sooper Mexican discovered. Here is the deceptively edited version of the speech published by MSNBC:

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As if yesterday’s “controversy” about Mitt Romney supposedly marveling over WaWa sandwich technology wasn’t dumb enough, it turns out that it wasn’t even accurate. Instead, his comments had been misleadingly edited by MSNBC, as the blog Sooper Mexican discovered. Here is the deceptively edited version of the speech published by MSNBC:

At the beginning of the clip, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell wonders hopefully whether this is Romney’s “supermarket scanner moment.” But within hours, Mitchell’s network ended up with egg on its face after other news outlets who picked up the story were forced to issue corrections. It turned out Romney wasn’t “amazed” by WaWa’s touch-screen sandwich maker, but by the contrast between private sector innovation and public sector bureaucracy — a point that is perfectly clear in context. Here is the full video, via Sooper Mexican:

So far, MSNBC has not commented on the distortion. Neither has the Obama campaign, which, as Allahpundit pointed out, had already started running with a talking point about how hilariously out-of-touch Romney is on modern sandwich issues.

Those brilliant Obama strategy gurus just can’t catch a break, can they? Keep at it, guys, I’m sure something will stick eventually.

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Five Reasons Why Romney is the Favorite

Why is Barack Obama’s road to re-election so steep and uncertain at this stage?

There are five important reasons.

1. An indefensible record. Every election which features an incumbent is, at least in good measure, a referendum on the record of the incumbent. The problem facing Obama is that he can’t offer a convincing case that his policies have succeeded. Recall that at the outset of his presidency, Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years… If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” Yet last October, Obama had to concede to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “I don’t think [people are] better off than they were four years ago.”

In addition, the main achievements of the Obama presidency – including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package – are deeply unpopular. By virtually any measure, then, the president has presided over a failed first term. He cannot reinvent, and therefore he cannot successfully defend, his record.

2. A weakening economy. The Obama campaign rested its hopes on the American economy getting stronger rather than weaker. This would have allowed the president to argue that while things haven’t improved as quickly as Americans had hoped, the trajectory was encouraging, that progress was being made, that the building blocks to prosperity were in place. From there, Obama would say he needed a second term to complete what he (belatedly) started in his first. But the data this year – including dismal economic growth, job creation, and factory orders – have left the Obama narrative in ruins. In the fourth year of his presidency, Obama is presiding over a weak economy that is becoming weaker still. The issue the public cares most about (the economy) is the issue the president is most vulnerable on.

3. Intellectual exhaustion. The Obama campaign is out of ideas. On the economy, Obama has used virtually everything in his progressive toolkit. Nothing has worked. And so the president, unable to defend his record in the first term, is left with no compelling vision to offer in a second term. Witness his speech in Ohio yesterday. It was billed as a “major” address on the economy. But it was widely panned even on the left for being empty and uninteresting. The president himself cannot articulate why his agenda in a second term would be more effective than what he’s done in his first term. He’s running on empty.

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Why is Barack Obama’s road to re-election so steep and uncertain at this stage?

There are five important reasons.

1. An indefensible record. Every election which features an incumbent is, at least in good measure, a referendum on the record of the incumbent. The problem facing Obama is that he can’t offer a convincing case that his policies have succeeded. Recall that at the outset of his presidency, Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years… If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” Yet last October, Obama had to concede to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “I don’t think [people are] better off than they were four years ago.”

In addition, the main achievements of the Obama presidency – including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package – are deeply unpopular. By virtually any measure, then, the president has presided over a failed first term. He cannot reinvent, and therefore he cannot successfully defend, his record.

2. A weakening economy. The Obama campaign rested its hopes on the American economy getting stronger rather than weaker. This would have allowed the president to argue that while things haven’t improved as quickly as Americans had hoped, the trajectory was encouraging, that progress was being made, that the building blocks to prosperity were in place. From there, Obama would say he needed a second term to complete what he (belatedly) started in his first. But the data this year – including dismal economic growth, job creation, and factory orders – have left the Obama narrative in ruins. In the fourth year of his presidency, Obama is presiding over a weak economy that is becoming weaker still. The issue the public cares most about (the economy) is the issue the president is most vulnerable on.

3. Intellectual exhaustion. The Obama campaign is out of ideas. On the economy, Obama has used virtually everything in his progressive toolkit. Nothing has worked. And so the president, unable to defend his record in the first term, is left with no compelling vision to offer in a second term. Witness his speech in Ohio yesterday. It was billed as a “major” address on the economy. But it was widely panned even on the left for being empty and uninteresting. The president himself cannot articulate why his agenda in a second term would be more effective than what he’s done in his first term. He’s running on empty.

4. A formidable opponent. The Obama campaign’s attempt to disqualify Mitt Romney on grounds that he’s too extreme to be president has fizzled. Whatever complaints one may have about Romney, being an extremist is not a plausible one. As Bill Clinton admitted, Romney has been a governor, had a “sterling business career,” and “crosses the qualification threshold.” Since securing the GOP nomination, Romney has made few unforced errors. He’s begun to repair the damage he had sustained. He’s shown impressive discipline and focus as a candidate. He’s outraising the president. And Governor Romney’s campaign is, at least as of now, clearly superior to the president’s.

5. The late break. In most presidential elections, undecided voters break in large numbers for the challenger. If someone is undecided about an incumbent they know well, they will usually cast their ballot for the challenger. That’s particularly true when the country is suffering from economic difficulties and the political fundamentals are bad for the person occupying the Oval Office, which is certainly the case today.

Craig Shirley’s book Rendezvous With Destiny reminds us that 10 days before the 1980 election, Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan by one point in a CBS News/New York Times poll; and the morning of the presidential debate (October 29), a Gallup Poll reported that Carter had a three-point lead over Reagan. Yet Reagan outdueled Carter in the debate and ended up winning 44 states and defeating Carter by almost 10 points.

I have long believed, and continue to believe, that the durable dynamic in this race will be that a majority of the public, and a large majority of independent voters, (a) consider Barack Obama’s tenure to be a failure and (b) are inclined to vote against him. They are bone weary of his presidency, and they want it over.

The challenge for Mitt Romney is to sufficiently reassure these voters that he’s up to the task of being president and that he would be an improvement over Obama. There have been higher bars to clear in the history of American politics, and at this stage in the race – with less than 150 days to go – the former Massachusetts governor is on course to do just that. Which is why he should be considered the favorite in the race.

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DNC Bus Tour to Shadow Romney

As Jonathan noted, the latest poll out of Michigan is more evidence that the state is seriously in play for Mitt Romney. Take into account that Obama won Michigan by 16 points in 2008, and was up by 14 points in a Public Policy Polling survey taken just last month. Whether the tightening of the Michigan race is due to fallout from the Wisconsin recall or the latest jobs report, something has clearly shifted the momentum to Romney in the past few weeks.

The Romney campaign sees an opening, and it’s tapped Michigan as the final stop on its swing-state bus tour next week. If you’re wondering how nervous Democrats are about losing the rust belt, take a look at this desperate gambit:

Democrats are launching a bus tour this morning to mirror Mitt Romney’s weekend bus tour of several swing states. The Democratic National Commmittee’s bus will stop in the same states Romney is visiting, carrying Democratic surrogates and Massachusetts officials to highlight the weaknesses in Romney’s record as Bay State governor and to criticize his economic platform. For instance, the bus is scheduled to stop in Scranton, Pa., this afternoon with former Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Massachusetts teacher and a member of the Pennsylvania teacher’s union aboard. …

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As Jonathan noted, the latest poll out of Michigan is more evidence that the state is seriously in play for Mitt Romney. Take into account that Obama won Michigan by 16 points in 2008, and was up by 14 points in a Public Policy Polling survey taken just last month. Whether the tightening of the Michigan race is due to fallout from the Wisconsin recall or the latest jobs report, something has clearly shifted the momentum to Romney in the past few weeks.

The Romney campaign sees an opening, and it’s tapped Michigan as the final stop on its swing-state bus tour next week. If you’re wondering how nervous Democrats are about losing the rust belt, take a look at this desperate gambit:

Democrats are launching a bus tour this morning to mirror Mitt Romney’s weekend bus tour of several swing states. The Democratic National Commmittee’s bus will stop in the same states Romney is visiting, carrying Democratic surrogates and Massachusetts officials to highlight the weaknesses in Romney’s record as Bay State governor and to criticize his economic platform. For instance, the bus is scheduled to stop in Scranton, Pa., this afternoon with former Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Massachusetts teacher and a member of the Pennsylvania teacher’s union aboard. …

Democrats are calling their tour the “Romney Economics: The Middle Class Under the Bus.”

Obama was right about one thing in his speech yesterday. This election will be about two competing economic visions — Romney’s actual proposals, versus the negative Democratic spin on Romney’s proposals.

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Who Loses if ObamaCare is Overturned?

A popular argument lately has been if the Supreme Court overturns ObamaCare, it will actually be disastrous for Republicans by taking away a major motivating force that would have driven voters to the polls in November. That’s hard to believe. Voters routinely cite jobs and the economy as the top issues that influence their votes, with health care trailing well behind. Those who do list health care as a key voting priority are actually more likely to support Obama. Not to mention, anyone who was planning to vote based on their opposition to ObamaCare would likely be attracted to the GOP’s broader economic vision as well.

Democrats have by far the most to lose if the law is struck down, and their response will be hugely important. In the WSJ today, Karl Rove outlines the best case Obama can make if his signature legislative achievement is overturned:

If the court moves to invalidate part or all of the Affordable Care Act, what matters most politically is Mr. Obama’s response.

The president could pivot to the center and regain some of the high ground he occupied in his 2008 campaign. He could say that while he disagreed with the court’s decision, the justices had the responsibility under our system to decide whether the law was constitutional. Everyone needs to respect and accept the verdict.

He could then add that a big problem remains: Tens of millions of our fellow citizens lack affordable health insurance. Now it is the responsibility of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives to come together and provide access to coverage. And the president could offer proposals to do that.

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A popular argument lately has been if the Supreme Court overturns ObamaCare, it will actually be disastrous for Republicans by taking away a major motivating force that would have driven voters to the polls in November. That’s hard to believe. Voters routinely cite jobs and the economy as the top issues that influence their votes, with health care trailing well behind. Those who do list health care as a key voting priority are actually more likely to support Obama. Not to mention, anyone who was planning to vote based on their opposition to ObamaCare would likely be attracted to the GOP’s broader economic vision as well.

Democrats have by far the most to lose if the law is struck down, and their response will be hugely important. In the WSJ today, Karl Rove outlines the best case Obama can make if his signature legislative achievement is overturned:

If the court moves to invalidate part or all of the Affordable Care Act, what matters most politically is Mr. Obama’s response.

The president could pivot to the center and regain some of the high ground he occupied in his 2008 campaign. He could say that while he disagreed with the court’s decision, the justices had the responsibility under our system to decide whether the law was constitutional. Everyone needs to respect and accept the verdict.

He could then add that a big problem remains: Tens of millions of our fellow citizens lack affordable health insurance. Now it is the responsibility of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives to come together and provide access to coverage. And the president could offer proposals to do that.

The Obama campaign would be smart to take Rove’s advice and shift to the center if the law is overturned. But judging from the campaign’s strategical blunders so far, it seems more likely to take the opposite route. If ObamaCare is struck down (completely or in part), the Democratic base will go ballistic. The left already views Obama as a weak leader who has acquiesced to Republicans and failed to push through a more muscular progressive agenda. It would be devastating to have his single biggest accomplishment erased from the books. Unless the president publicly endorses an even more radical health care law to replace ObamaCare, progressives may be reluctant to support him for another term.

On the other hand, if ObamaCare is upheld by the Supreme Court, the left will have an additional reason to turn out and vote — if only to prevent Mitt Romney from taking office and dismantling the chief progressive accomplishment of the past four years.

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Mormon Issue Not New for Romney Adviser

Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has unearthed a fascinating old C-SPAN clip from 1994, after Ted Kennedy defeated Mitt Romney in that year’s Massachusetts Senate race. The clip shows Stu Stevens, a GOP media strategist who is currently Romney’s chief strategist, discussing the Kennedy campaign’s conduct during the election. Kennedy elections are notoriously no-holds-barred affairs, and Stevens credited the Kennedy win in part to the Democrat’s repeated use of “the Mormon card”:

The Kennedy campaign very insidiously played the Mormon card in Massachusetts, by simply saying over and over again they weren’t going to talk about the fact that Romney was a Mormon. And this sort of worked. And the Romney campaign should’ve reacted more quickly to it. I think that they felt in Massachusetts it wouldn’t work because Massachusetts has a reputation of being a very tolerant state.

Romney’s rookie mistake, assuming the famous “liberal tolerance” was not the mirage it has always been, may not be a mistake the campaign will make again. That is all the more likely as Stevens is now a prominent campaign adviser. And it’s an important lesson to learn, because as Alana pointed out yesterday, Kaczynski’s colleague McKay Coppins is only the latest to produce a study showing that liberal anti-Mormon bigotry continues to rise.

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Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has unearthed a fascinating old C-SPAN clip from 1994, after Ted Kennedy defeated Mitt Romney in that year’s Massachusetts Senate race. The clip shows Stu Stevens, a GOP media strategist who is currently Romney’s chief strategist, discussing the Kennedy campaign’s conduct during the election. Kennedy elections are notoriously no-holds-barred affairs, and Stevens credited the Kennedy win in part to the Democrat’s repeated use of “the Mormon card”:

The Kennedy campaign very insidiously played the Mormon card in Massachusetts, by simply saying over and over again they weren’t going to talk about the fact that Romney was a Mormon. And this sort of worked. And the Romney campaign should’ve reacted more quickly to it. I think that they felt in Massachusetts it wouldn’t work because Massachusetts has a reputation of being a very tolerant state.

Romney’s rookie mistake, assuming the famous “liberal tolerance” was not the mirage it has always been, may not be a mistake the campaign will make again. That is all the more likely as Stevens is now a prominent campaign adviser. And it’s an important lesson to learn, because as Alana pointed out yesterday, Kaczynski’s colleague McKay Coppins is only the latest to produce a study showing that liberal anti-Mormon bigotry continues to rise.

And after Barack Obama’s strikingly negative campaign in 2008, and the campaign’s record of playing the Mormon card already, it’s clear the Obama campaign will try to out-Kennedy Kennedy (surely a dubious honor). As Alana also noted, the media–especially the New York Times–have relentlessly pushed the anti-Mormon nonsense in just about every conceivable way. And David Axelrod has repeatedly signaled that this will be one element in the president’s reelection strategy.

The question, then, is what Stevens plans to do to counter it. The rising rates of liberal anti-Mormon bigotry combined with the institutional support for that bigotry offered by the media limits the effectiveness of using Kennedy’s campaign as a model. And it also means talking about his religion may work against Romney.

There is also another challenge to countering such bias. In 2008, the Obama campaign believed that part of what sunk John Kerry’s campaign in 2004 was the candidate’s slow response to criticism. (In reality, what sunk John Kerry was being John Kerry.) So the Obama campaign resolved to preemptively accuse Republicans of racism, on the record and often. And when President George W. Bush gave a moving speech in 2008 at the Israeli Knesset at which he denounced appeasers, the combination of Obama’s acute narcissism and overdeveloped sense of self-pity caused the campaign to have one of its lowest moments, announcing that when Bush mentioned appeasers he must have been talking about Obama, and how dare he.

Stevens would do well to learn his own lesson from that: It is off-putting to always be in complaint mode, and voters don’t really like being told they are bigots. So his desire to be proactive on the issue of Romney’s religion carries its own inherent risks. It’s not clear exactly what the right answer is, but we now know Stevens has been mulling over this very question for quite some time.

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