Monday, October 1, 2012
Here we are, Presidential Debate #1 week. After a lull, the march toward the election regains some juice this week. Let me first say that my most important rule for debate week is this: totally, absolutely, completely ignore anything that campaign staff, surrogates and candidates have to say about their opponent's debating skills, need for victory or anything else. Not one word is genuine and not one word is relevant. I promise you, each candidate will have exactly the amount of debate prep his handlers feel he needs and both sides have been working on lines, arguments and strategies for plenty of time. Both sides are competent and prepared. The result of the debate will not depend on how much sleep they got or what medicine they took. All that stuff is ancillary and pointless. Ignore it.
N the flip side, these debates do matter. They matter a great deal. For months now, the candidates have been able to get away with attack lines and generalities without much push back. Debate victories are born from effective push back. So the question becomes, who will be pushed to say something they would rather not? Will POTUS have to concede that the past four years have not gone as he would have wished and he has not been able to deliver on many of his promises? Will Romney have to answer for his taxes and disdain for the masses? Will the GOP nominee have to either embrace some very unpopular stances or distance himself from his running mate (and by extension, his own base)? Will the President have to answer what he meant when he talked about having more "space" to work with Putin after the election?
In my opinion, that last question is a potential Achilles heel. If there is a weakness in the President's armor it is that there is a strong undercurrent sentiment (not so undercurrent on @SpencerianRed, of course) that Obama, untethered from reelection ever again, will pivot hard to the left - on social policy, on foreign policy, on many things. I believe that it will be Romney's main objective to stoke that fear. He will try to make Obama II much more unpalatable than Romney I. He will jump on this week's "news" that if Hugo Chavez were able to vote, he would vote for Obama. He will remind people that the next president will likely appoint two or three Supreme Court justices. It could be an effective line of attack, to list all of the potential "beneficiaries" of an Obama re-elect. Can he succeed? He hasn't shown an ability to do so this point.... But who knows?
This is another stage, a totally different kind of stage than the one he underwhelmed on at the convention, and he did prove fairly effective in the latter half of the 73 GOP primary debates. Granted, he was going against the scrap heap and cartoon buffoon parade, but still. Aside from Chavez, this week has started with some paper cuts for the President. Fast & Furious (no, not the Vin Diesel/Michelle Rodriguez variety) is back in the news, clips of broken 2008 debate promises are making the rounds, etc. Nothing is assured five weeks out. The debates are the first stage for a shot at an October surprise (like, oh, say a bunch of defense contractors announcing tens of thousands of layoffs to come and blaming Obama)...
On the other hand, the polling and prediction tide is still massively on POTUS' favor. He has many built in advantages. I would love to hear what @SpencerianBlue is discussing as the debates approach.
Over to you,
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Monday, October 1, 2012
To answer your question directly about the @SpencerianBlue feed and what they're saying as we begin Debate Week, it is still three words: organization, organization, organization.
...with the occasional ding against Romney/Ryan. I confess to being impressed with the collective discipline SpencerianBlue seems to be following, here. As we've talked about before, organizing and having a solid GOTV effort on the ground -- especially in those critical swing states -- is going to make it or break it for the Obama folks.
Folks are even using the debates as an organizing opportunity:
...and by "folks" I clearly meant the First Lady of the United States.
Okay, confession time: I'm not really big on the debates. I know, even after my nifty little story and reference from 1992 in our last back-and-forth, it's kind of a shocker.
The truth is that for getting to the heart of who each candidate is and what they stand for -- and any detail whatsoever about what they'll do -- well, the debates ain't it. Even worse than the conventions, actually. At least at the conventions you get a sense of who the emerging leaders are in each party, what direction the party wants to go, and a sense of whether or not the candidate at the top of the ticket can actually communicate with you.
Everything I'm reading about these debates suggests that if Romney and Obama just show up, breathe oxygen, blink every now and then and perhaps avoid drooling on their ties, then it'll be a victory (Governor Christie's remarks notwithstanding). There's nothing I hate worse than the lowering expectations game.
But since this game is ubiquitous in the political arena, let me reluctantly join the band-wagon.
I've basically got my eyes on two different things, one for Obama, one for Romney.
For Obama, I think you're basically right. Throughout this campaign, there's been some drip, drip, drips. It's sort of nascent bad news -- not bad enough to knock him down, yet... but that's exactly the key word: "yet". Troubles escalating and morphing in the Middle East. Continued weak economic news here at home. Even the stuff you wrote so passionately about earlier: the tragic shootings and violence around the country. Even some of the stuff we wrote about with respect to the drone strike program in Pakistan.
When is there a straw that breaks the camel's back? And will the straw come in the next thirty-something days?
I suspect that's what Team Romney really meant when they said they were practicing "zingers" over the last couple of months as they prepared for the debates. They're not looking for a new "straw" -- they're looking to make the straws they already have heavier.
I think this is a dangerous strategy for two fairly obvious reasons: one, Mitt Romney is not known for his skillful delivery of, well, anything, much less zingers. Two, if the straws -- those issues floating around President Obama right now -- haven't had any measurable impact to date, why would they just because Mitt Romney points them out?
Which leads me to what I'll be watching for with respect to Romney... and it's not how many "zingers" he can deliver. It'll be the "human" factor. Like the Conventions, the substance is almost secondary.
No, it actually is secondary (mostly). Mitt needs to do something that I suspect most pundits would say is ridiculous: he needs to let his guard down. He needs to relax. He needs to, in the words of his wife, "unzip" (figuratively, please God).
He needs to perhaps, in the words of another guy who was the underdog -- and, admittedly, stayed the underdog -- shake his sould and let the glory out.
Indeed, Al Gore gave the best speech of his campaign -- one of the best of his political life only after that part of his life was all over.
I wonder if it'll be too late for Mitt, too.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The economic straws may be at hand, but they may not be what the pundits are citing. Every month, jobs numbers come out and are dissected and framed and windbagged to death on tv, radio, blogs and the like. I think that those "jobs numbers" are a total abstraction to almost everyone but the political/media chatterers and do not really move the public perception needle. Whether the economy added 105,000 seasonally-adjusted jobs or 155,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in September, and whether that is good enough or not quite good enough, is the ultimate in inside baseball. Even the pundits have a hard time explaining what it means. It is just a projection - often revised by 30% or more months down the road. It is such an aggregate, detached piece of information that it has little real-world impact on voter preference. But layoff notices... well, that is a different matter entirely. Layoff notices are real. They are terrifying. They hit home in a way that unemployment figures and jobs numbers cannot. It is the definition of a "kitchen table" issue. And layoff notices could be the October Surprise that Romney so desperately needs.
Due to the "across the board" 9% sequestration-mandated cut that will indirectly affect federal employees, defense contractors and a wide swath of industries, there is a real and valid fear that the economy will contract and employers will be forced to lay off en masse. The timing could be devastating. If employers are to comply with federal law, those who fear that they will have to lay off workers as a result of the January 2 "fiscal cliff" will have to send notice to employees no later than November 2. Yes, just days before the election. ABC news ran a story about Lockheed Martin (a huge employer in the swing state of Virginia - and Florida too) grappling with the issue and the Obama administration basically giving them a waiver of the WARN Act (a law designed to give employees adequate notice of potential mass layoffs.) In fact, the Administration has gone so far as to offer to cover liability for employers who may be sued for violating the Act.
I don't care what side of the aisle you're on, that smells. And it has the potential to make the cable to kitchen table jump that no other single economic story has during this election cycle.
I wonder if Team Romney is holding off on this one until tomorrow, because it seems like they should be screaming about it. Republican Senators certainly are:
In a statement Friday, GOP Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte accused Obama of putting “his own reelection ahead of the interests of working Americans and our national security by promising government contractors that their salary and liability costs will be covered at taxpayer expense if they do not follow the law that requires advance warning to employees of jobs that may be lost due to sequestration. … Apparently, President Obama puts politics ahead of American workers by denying them adequate time to plan their finances and take care of their families.
I am curious to see if this comes up at the debate, to see if Romney can string together a coherent argument about it. POTUS better have a good answer for that one ready to go. If not, the mini pendulum swing back toward a competitive election may continue this week. The paper cuts I mentioned have been joined by a @SpencerianRed that seems to be energized in a new way this week. Libya, the Elway endorsement to juxtapose the Chavez one for POTUS, Border Agent deaths, American servicemen deaths in Afghanistan topping 2,000, the advertizing binge of old Obama promises... all supported by the "hey, don't write this thing off too soon" narrative that is writing itself and who knows what the landscape will look like in a few days.
And then there's this... someone in the GOP is actually being creative for a change. This is really a brilliant piece of political theater and has the potential to hammer home the "are you better off" question in a down-to-earth, kitchen table (again) way. A potential straw #2 for the camel's back. Selling gas for $1.84 (the average price when Obama took office) to a limited number of customers is a stroke of genius. Also, without question the best and most beneficial use of campaign fundraising ever. To think, they are actually using campaign funds to make life just a smidgen better for some people - and save them money. Kudos to Americans for Prosperity - Michigan for the gimmick of the year.
Can Romney capitalize? Well, that has been the question for a year now, and the answer almost always seems to be no. Then again, the answer always seemed to be no in the primaries and he won. Is this what is propping up the current Romney staff? Is this why he hasn't been pressured to (or realized on his own that he needs to) dump the incompetents? Good is the enemy of great, right? He was good enough to beat the dregs of the GOP, but he needs to be great to beat Obama. So far, we haven't seen it. He has at least two tailor-made openings to do it in the debate.
Can Romney paint this picture?
What say you, @SpencerianBlue?
Best to the family,
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
So, tonight tells the tale.
I'm actually going to try and avoid going overboard on any more analysis, here. I think I know where you're coming from, and I basically think you're right: things could be lining up for an Obama disappointment.
There are a lot of indicators which ought to strike fear into the heart of Team Obama in Chicago. At least... some fear.
Because that's the thing: they're just indicators. Yeah, layoff notices are real, and yes, the fiscal cliff is real. Defense cuts and subsequent layoffs would surely be real.
But one of two things are happening, Matt. Either people are making a determination that yeah, things are still bad and, yeah, things may even be getting worse, but Mitt Romney as an alternative to Barack Obama is just unacceptable. I think you'd have to say that if that is really true, then it is a reflection of the Romney Campaign. And we can surely agree that the Romney folks have run a genuinely awful campaign.
The other is that people just aren't connecting the dots.
I want it to be the former (so does the Obama Campaign), but a better guess is that there's a mix.
So to bring it back to the debates, I think we'll see an earnest, focused President Obama. And we'll see Mitt on the attack.
If Mitt can connect those dots -- paint that picture, as you say -- then he's re-opened that window of opportunity most folks think is closing (or has closed).
If he doesn't and the President effectively reassures us things will get better -- and how -- then next week we may be talking about just how nailed shut that window really is.
One last side-note on this: I'll probably have the debate on, but I'm going to try and follow along on Twitter, Facebook and some blogs. I'll be curious to see how it plays out in the world of social media, something not a lot of folks have talked about. You know, Nixon actually beat Kennedy in their debate -- if you listened to the radio. But if you watched it on TV, everyone said Kennedy won.
I wonder who will come out on top in these new(ish) mediums?
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Welcome to Into the Echo Chamber, the weekly electronic conversation of the 2012 presidential campaign as viewed from two Twitter feeds. Matt Spence is monitoring the Twitterverse of the Romney Campaign, Republicans, and the "red" side of the aisle at @SpencerianRed. I am monitoring the tweets of the Obama Team, Democrats using @SpencerianBlue. Our email-based back-and-forths are posted here on Thursdays.