Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nine More Days Until the Next Four Years

Single digits. In terms of days before the U.S. election, we are into single digits. With nine days to go, the two tickets are busily criss-crossing the country and dropping into and out of the swing states that will decide the Presidency.

With nine days to go Super PACs and other lobby / public advocacy groups are making their own final pushes, reaching out through advertising and trying to make their case as to who would be best placed (or more often arguing who is worst placed) to lead the U.S.

And with nine days to go the media is following it all and stoking a sense of anticipation about a close race and a night - November 6th - that will set the tone for the next four years in American politics.

This is the homestretch.

...cue CNN dramatic music with a voice over by a visibly excited Wolf Blitzer.


When you boil it all down, there are essentially two things on which the Obama and Romney campaigns are each focused in these final days:

1. Convince the very few remaining undecided voters to vote for them; and
2. Make sure that their committed voters - their base - is mobilized and ready to get out and vote.

Of the two, the second is probably the most important given that there is such a small slice of the electorate on the fence.

Getting one's base energized, engaged and out on voting day is crucial. At this late stage the candidate who is best able to deliver on this front will likely win.

Voter mobilization will be important for a couple of reasons. The first, and most obvious, is the need to get your supporters out and voting in those areas where you need them the most.

Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and states like them will decide the campaign. Polling in many of these states is close and therefore making sure your people vote is critical.

Second, while the Electoral College will decide the Presidency both candidates would also like to be able to secure the moral victory by capturing the popular vote. To this end, running up high margins in those states in which you expect to win is also important.

This second point is particularly important for President Obama. As things stand, he is forecast to win the Presidency (most aggregators are giving him odds of anywhere from 60-40 to 75-25).

However, the popular vote is something that could well go to Mr. Romney. Capturing both would do President Obama a world of good as he prepares to tackle the economy and other challenging issues.

Tough decisions are required in the months and years ahead. It would be better for the President to be able to make them without wearing the label of "the guy the majority of Americans voted against."


The point above leads one to start thinking more about 10 days from now and beyond. About what America looks like after this campaign and how it will move through the next few years.

Make no mistake, this is an incredibly divided country. And it is a divided country with big challenges on its plate and tough decisions ahead.

Here are some questions to consider...

1. Post-November 6th, the U.S. will be able to turn the page on the campaign and rhetoric, and focus on the issues at hand?

2. Is the U.S. prepared to have a real conversation about taxes and tax policy?

3. Are the elected officials - House, Senate and the President - finally prepared to get back to the business of governing the country?

A side-story to these questions concerns the Republicans. What might a loss mean to a party already being pulled in two directions? How does the party and the Tea Party react to defeat and what does that mean for American politics?


We are in the homestretch and the final sprint is underway. In nine days time (or thereabouts, depending on late returns and potential court challenges) we will know who will be President of the U.S. for the next four years.

The answer to that question, however, opens up the door to many, many others. After the campaign, the real work begins.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Entering the Home Stretch of the Long and Winding the White House

Part of a continuing series on the U.S. Presidential Election. For more reading, be sure to check out the earlier posts: hereherehere,
here and

Last night the fourth and final debate of this 2012 U.S. Presidential campaign was held. With the conclusion of that debate we have entered the home stretch; the final two weeks before election day.

In fairness, though, calling it a final two weeks does not do justice to the next fourteen days. No, what we can expect is something that would better be described as frantic race to the finish of what has become an incredibly close race.

So what should we watch for?

In an earlier post, I referenced six things to keep an eye on...

1. Momentum
2. Who's spending money and time where
3. Polling, especially at the state level in the key swing states
4. Voter enthusiasm
5. The economy
6. Wild cards like Libya, Iran, Super PAC activity, voting irregularities / suppression.

How things play out under these broad areas or themes will go a long way towards giving clarity about the final two weeks and what we can expect on November 6th.


Currently, if you have a look at Nate Silver's excellent blog or Intrade you see that President Obama remains the favourite. The degree to which he is the favourite varies among such composites, but in all cases a key driver of the modelled outcome is the small leads he holds in the various swing states.

However, there continues to be a heavy focus on the national numbers - things like Gallup, the various media-sponsored tracking polls, etc. Those numbers tell a story which now favours Governor Romney.

Those numbers are important, without question. But in my opinion, their importance is less about the race we see now and more about an outcome with which we could be presented.

At this time there is a possibility that President Obama could win the Presidency but lose the popular vote. The probability is still low, but it has been increasing with each new national poll that shows Governor Romney with momentum.

Under such a scenario, the potential for real progress in the U.S. in the areas in which it is sorely needed is limited. Further complicating things is a Congress that will likely be split between the two parties (Republican House, Democratic Senate).

A country that is already severely polarized would become more so. That's not good for anyone - American or otherwise.


Quick trivia question - on November 6th, 2012, which state will likely lay claim to having the most lawyers per capita within its borders?

One other scenario has been on my mind lately; namely whether we have the potential for an election like the one we saw in 2000. This time around replace the state of Florida with the state of Ohio.

As President Obama's margins get thinner, all roads appear to be leading to Ohio. For the President, the state represents a firewall against a Romney surge elsewhere. For Romney it is a must-have, as without it his path to 270 becomes extremely difficult (though technically not impossible).

For these reasons one cannot overstate the bastion of hyper-political activity the Buckeye state will become between now and November 6th. Unfortunately, with so much at stake the concern about voting irregularity becomes legitimate.

Florida 2000 is still fresh in people's minds, as are the suggestions of irregularity in Ohio in 2004. In both cases, the White House was delivered to the Republicans. This time around, expect both parties to be on the ground, in large numbers, contesting anything and everything that they can.

All of which leads to the possibility of a 2000-redux. We might not know who wins right away.


Last night the debates offered President Obama and Governor Romney a chance to make their final arguments to a national audience. Now they take those arguments on the road.

To Virginia and Wisconsin. And Nevada and Colorado. Perhaps to Pennsylvania and North Carolina.  Likely to Florida. Definitely to Iowa. And yes, to Ohio.

Yet for all that work, money, time and energy it is still quite likely that we could get to the morning of November 6th and still be unsure as to who will win.

This is why I am A Guy Watching Politics.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Devil is in the Details - what does Obama 2.0 look like?

On Monday the final debate in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election campaign will be held. Following that debate, we will enter the homestretch - a frantic two week period during which the candidates and their parties will do all they can to close the deal with the voter.

One thing I will be looking for as we head into that period is the degree to which either candidate looks to move beyond a "thematic campaign", and starts to be more specific as to what the voters could expect from either a first Romney or second Obama term. Of particular interest to me is the Obama campaign.


The Obama campaign has been criticized for not doing enough to define for the voter what they can expect if the President is elected to a second term. Instead the approach they have taken has been to: (a) attempt to cast doubts about what a Romney Presidency would mean; and (b) articulate a more high-level thematic description of a second term.

I see this as a weakness and a potential problem.

In 2008, Mr. Obama could adopt such an approach. After eight years of George W. Bush, many Americans were looking for something new and different. They were looking for hope and change; they were looking for an ideal within which they could see themselves and their aspirations.

The 2008 Obama campaign was ideally suited for the electorate to which it presented itself. This time around, things are different and more is expected.

To start, the President has a record in office that he needs to defend/promote. In this regard, I think his campaign is doing reasonably well. Building on the Clinton DNC narrative, the campaign has done a good job of defining the scope of the challenges they encountered and the impact of the measures taken in response.

What they haven't done as well is describe what the next four years would look like.

The Obama campaign has thus far not really defined what they would do in response to an historically high unemployment rate. They have not defined how they plan to address the deficit. We know what their goals are, but don't have as much visibility on the "how we get there" side of the equation.

This criticism can equally be directed at the Romney campaign, but there is a difference. After four years in office, President Obama should have a better sense as to the plans ahead. He should have more to offer. And in fairness, I suspect he does.

The problem is that they are not sharing it. They are playing it safe during the campaign because everyone knows that there are still difficult times ahead, with difficult choices to made. Romney is doing the same, but as the challenger he will get more of a free pass.

The thing is, people expect more of a President who promised so much. In 2008, Mr. Obama eloquently captured and articulated people's hopes. This time around, I think that while most voters appreciate the scope of the challenges he faced upon taking office, they nevertheless want to see more of a plan.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Long and Winding the White House (part 3)

Welcome to part 3 of The Long and Winding the White House.  Follow the links if you would like to read part 1 or part 2.

Last night brought us the latest milestone in what is becoming a fascinating campaign to watch - the second Presidential debate. President Obama and Governor Romney squared off in a town hall-style debate, each with their own goals.

For President Obama the objective was to put in a stronger performance than the widely criticized one in Denver. A strong performance was seen as crucial given the momentum Romney had been enjoying since the first debate; momentum which had eaten considerably into Obama's lead and in the process was making the race extremely close.

For Governor Romney, the objective was to hold onto the initiative and continue to make progress on selling himself to voters. He needed to build on the success of Denver and enable people to credibly see him as President.

In many respects, both men accomplished their objectives in a debate which the President appeared to win. Obama delivered a performance which should re-energize his base (and ideally support ongoing fundraising) and which more succinctly drew sharp distinctions between the two candidates.

Romney, although considered by many to be the loser, gave a competent performance (with a few exceptions - see below). He was at his best when laying out his argument as to why Americans were worse off - an argument which could prove decisive in those states hardest hit by the recession.

Polling over the next several days will tell us more about how Americans feel heading into the final debate on Monday and then the homestretch. But as you anxiously await those polls, here are some things on my mind after last night:

1. What did women think? The debate has put women front and centre as the demographic that could hold the keys to the White House.

After last night, I am not sure whether to wonder if Romney will get women voters, or whether to wonder does this guy actually get women voters? Some of his comments last night - binders, planned parenthood, and reminiscing about his female chief of staff leaving work to cook for her family in response to a question on pay equity - felt like they were from left field. Or 1950.

2. Bipartisanship and the Romney record in Massachusetts.  See, if his record was so stellar why: (a) did he veto over 800 bills as Governor - hardly an example of bipartisanship; (b) does he not have a hope of winning in the state? The ironic thing is that the one area in which he demonstrated a real openness to bipartisanship is on the one accomplishment he avoids talking about - Romneycare.

3. Libya. On a subject on which Obama should have been on the ropes, Romney conspired to drop the ball (albeit aided by the moderator). But rest assured, this issue is not going away and it could well be what Romney leads with on Monday in the foreign policy debate.

It will be interesting to see to what extent foreign policy has an impact in what should be almost exclusively an economy-driven election.

4. Which Obama is the real Obama - last night's version or that fellow who was on stage in Denver? And which one will we see in Florida on Monday? The juxtaposition between the two debates was actually striking. There was a sharpness, where in Denver we saw rambling. There were clear, thoughtful messages.  And importantly, the President was engaged and (particularly through the last half) engaging.

5. The Clinton narrative is now the Obama narrative. I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The Obama campaign is essentially now a road-show of the Clinton speech from the DNC in September. And I mean that in a good way.

I recently read an article on the relationship between the Clintons and Obama, including the preparation of that speech. This was not an Obama campaign speech delivered by the former President. This was Clinton looking to set the terms of the election and frame the voting booth question.

And now you hear those lines he and his advisors crafted being spoken by the President on the hustings, on that stage last night and by a host of supporters in spin rooms and in the media.


So, what next? My thinking is that last night essentially re-set the campaign and effectively put us on course for a roller-coaster, 3-week election for the Presidency.  I think Romney's momentum has been blunted such that we are left with a campaign which either could win.

Governor Romney has shown us over the past two weeks that he can win. President Obama showed us last night that he can fight. We have one more debate before we enter the homestretch. This will be interesting.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Long and Winding the White House (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of The Long and Winding the White House. You can read part one here.

The U.S. Presidential campaign is about to enter an important phase. With only three full weeks to go, the race has tightened considerably. This week will feature the second Presidential debate - a debate many see as critical to President Obama's chances of recapturing the momentum.

While we will be watching, tweeting and writing about the debate here at A Guy Watching Politics (@PoliticWatcher on Twitter), we would be remiss to view this week, or the remaining ones solely through the lens of the debates. As always there is a lot going on.

One aspect of the race that I want to talk about focuses on the role of the running mates. Last week we had the Biden-Ryan debate; a debate which arguably did more than the first Obama-Romney did to lay out the actual choice Americans are being asked to make.

Moving out of that debate and back onto the hustings, the role of the running mate will start to become more important. This is particularly the case for Paul Ryan.


The Romney campaign is essentially one, long tight-rope walk. It is a walk that needs to be simultaneously mindful of the base it needs to energize and the moderate, swing voters it needs to get onside.  As such, the potential for missteps is great, as evidenced here.

Cue Paul Ryan.

Over the coming weeks his job is to keep the base engaged. He is there to remind them what a danger Obama poses to their views of government and society; to show that the Romney-Ryan ticket is one that is sensitive to the more socially-conservative values that the Republican / Tea Party base considers their own.

Doing so allows Mr. Romney to focus on the real prize - the moderates and those who consider themselves to be neither Republican or Democrat. This is a slice of the electorate which more closely resembles the voters that elected him Governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney simply cannot get these voters onside if he embraces a more right-wing or Tea Party tone. But given the closeness of the race he cannot afford to alienate either them or the Republican base. Mr. Ryan offers him the ability to speak to both simultaneously. It's like political tag-team wrestling.

Over the remaining three weeks, I suspect we will see more of the moderate Mitt Romney, while his running mate rouses the base. Yes there are risks, not the least of which is the potential for unscripted or particularly partisan rhetoric by Mr. Ryan that can become a story and detract from the Romney message.  

But overall these are risks worth taking. Between Ryan and the Super PACs, Mr. Romney has the chance to effectively campaign on multiple fronts - with multiple messages - at the same time. If this is done successfully, it could prove decisive.

All to say, there is a lot to look at between now and November 6th...

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Long and Winding the White House (part 1)

Like many politics watchers here in Canada, I have found my attention being drawn with greater frequency towards the U.S. Presidential election. With a little less than four weeks to go, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are locked in an extremely close race for the White House.

As we enter the final weeks of the campaign, I wanted to give my take on what I have seen so far and what I will be watching for between now and election day. But before I do, I would strongly encourage those interested in the campaign to check out the following writers/bloggers:

- Nate Silver at the New York Times;

- Dave Weigel at Slate; and

- Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post.

All three are regular posters and twitterers - @fivethirtyeight, @daveweigel, @TheFix - and are definitely worth a look.

Now, in terms of the race we have seen a lot happen in the weeks since the Republican and Democratic conventions (I am not going to delve into the pre-convention campaign or I will be writing all night). Let's try break the race into three phases:  post-conventions; the debates; and home-stretch.

1. Post-Conventions

This year the Republicans held their convention first, followed quite quickly by the Democrats. While the latter is remembered for some excellent oratory (Bill Clinton being the highlight), the former is remembered for Clint Eastwood's conversation with an empty chair.

So we'll chalk that one up to the Democrats, then.

Kidding aside, what the Republicans tried to do was "introduce" Romney to the electorate on their terms. In this regard, they did not succeed. The Democrats had already framed a narrative on Romney as an out-of-touch ally of the super wealthy.  

The Republicans did not do enough to counter this, and instead gave us a convention that featured speeches than ranged from the lacklustre, to the odd/personally self-serving (looking at you Governor Christie from NJ and Senator Rubio of Florida), to the surreal (*sigh* Clint). 

In contrast, the Democrats crafted a convention that energized their base and, particularly through Clinton's speech, set out the broad strokes of the election narrative on which they would campaign. It is a narrative that looks to make the case that while there is still work to do, America is on the right track following such an unprecedented financial and economic crisis.

They focused on the middle class, veterans and seniors, and in so doing established a link between their message and the swing states that will ultimately decide this election (looking at you Ohio, Florida, Virginia). The result was a strong post-convention bounce.

At this point, allow me to borrow from the wonderful world of infomercials...But Wait, There's More!

Shortly after the conventions came the release of the infamous 47% video. I won't go into details, but you can read my earlier post here.

The video release built off of the convention bounce to such an extent that the polls - again, particularly those in the swing states - moved President Obama's numbers up quite significantly. In the days leading up to the first debate, there were many who felt that the outcome of the election was set and that the Romney campaign had dropped the ball.

But politics is a funny thing...

2. The Debates

As of today, we have had two debates: the first of three Presidential debates and the only Vice-Presidential debate. In the run-up to the first Obama-Romney debate we were all told that debates do little to change things; that it would take something quite significant to move numbers that appeared so heavily in favour of Obama.

Of course what no one considered was that Obama would perform so poorly (no errors, but nothing to energize anyone -  he was flat), and that Romney would perform so strongly (engaged, on message, relaxed and clearly enjoying himself).

Of the two, Romney's case for change was widely considered to be more effective than Obama's case for a second term. The immediate polls declared Romney a clear winner, but more importantly the media narrative started to shift.

In the days following the debate we saw what I often consider to be a very chicken-egg reaction playing out. Commentary which described momentum shift in favour of Romney and polls which evidenced this shift. The former was influenced by the latter and vice versa.

The result was a significant tightening of the race, essentially bringing us back to where we were late summer, pre-convention.

Today, we are a day removed from the Biden-Ryan VP debate which most consider a tie. Biden did what he needed to bring back some energy, get the Democrats back on message and do what many hoped Obama would do - attack. Ryan did what he needed, which was look a suitable running mate and up to the job.

In essence what they did was set us all up for Tuesday when the top of the ticket candidates meet again. Cue more late nights for a certain Guy Watching Politics.


Of our three phases (post-conventions, debates and home-stretch), we are part way through the second and are set up for what promises to be a very interesting three and a half weeks. Here are some things I will be looking for:

Momentum is something that is very difficult to grab back, particularly if the media narrative starts to be built around the one who has it. This is where Obama was last week, and he needs to have a much more effective performance on Tuesday if he wants to avoid further slippage.

Importantly, the way in which a candidate tries to seize it back needs to be measured and thought out or it can backfire. The candidate who starts to look or is portrayed as being desperate will lose, so care needs to be put into the arguments, tone, manner, ads - basically everything.

Who's spending where is a great predictor for campaigns. It is an indicator that shows where candidates feel they need to spend. If Obama has to start directing funds to those states which only a few weeks ago seemed solidly blue, that is a problem. If either candidate starts pulling out of states, that also tells you something.

Look at the advertising and the time the candidates spend in: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin. If you are a Democrat, be concerned if you see more of Obama, Biden or Clinton in Michigan or Pennsylvania. Everyone on both sides will be in Ohio. Be sure to say hi.  

Polling, both nationally and at the state-level, will tell us a lot. Now is probably a good time to pay more attention to the state polls. Building on the point above remember that states elect Presidents. This election will come down to a few swing states. Notwithstanding his post-debate challenges, President Obama still has more ways to 270 than Mitt Romney. State polling will tell us more in the coming weeks.

Voter enthusiasm is critical. The ability to engage, rally and mobilize your base is one of the keys to success. When we look at Obama's poor debate, while this may have "moved" some voters towards Romney it also energized/deflated identified Republican/Democrat voters.  

Put another way, the swings we saw post-debate probably had more to do with base-engagement than they did about moving un-decideds. An energized base propelled Obama in 2008. Who will benefit in 2012?

The Economy and that all-important jobs number is critical.  Dropping below 8% was good for Obama.  There is one more report before voting day.  Just sayin'.

Wild Cards such as Libya, voter suppression tactics, Super PAC spending, the EU, Iran - any and all of this could conspire to knock the wind out of either candidate's campaign.


I would make one last point on the polls and where things are today. Viewed through the lens of the last 2-3 weeks, the Democrats are rightly disappointed and dispirited. They were soaring post-convention/47 per cent video, and are now engaged in a very close race.

The thing is, given the economy and the divisive views on health care and the deficit, if you offered a Democrat in January or June the kind of numbers they have now (nationally and in swing states) as we head into the final weeks, my gut tells me they would have bitten your hand off.


The race to the White House takes a candidate down a long and winding road.  With over three weeks to go, there are more twists and turns ahead. Let's watch...

*part two to follow post-debate - follow me on Twitter @PoliticWatcher for live commentary on the debate
Canadian Blogosphere