Well, the 2012 Presidential Election is less than two months away. Polling is a dead heat tie. (Check RealClearPolitics’ polling average between now and election for the aggregation of the most recent polls to let you know where the race currently stands.) The conventions are now over. (Check out my breakdowns of RNC Night #1 & RNC Night #2 if you missed them!) The final sprint to the finish has begun. However, the current state of the race and the strategies of both candidates and parties down the stretch are highly influenced by the campaign strategies of the last few months and the conventions the past two weeks. Only one thing is certain (as long as you don’t believe the pomp and circumstance on Facebook and Twitter from the cheerleaders on both sides): this race is far from over, either ticket could win, and it will likely come down to the wire. Buckle up! Here’s everything you need to know about the conventions, debates, and strategies moving forward…
Wrapping up the RNC
Jeb Bush: I’ve long argued that Jeb Bush (brother of George W. and son of George H.W.) is one of the best and strongest leaders in the Republican Party today. Due to Vanderbilt’s home opener last Thursday, I just recently got around to watching Gov. Bush’s speech from last week. Jeb Bush is such a strong voice in the party because he prioritizes and leads on many issues the GOP far too often cedes to the other side. Jeb Bush constantly talks about using conservative principles to shape pragmatic policy to solve some of our country’s most broken systems and problems, chiefly among them immigration and public education. Look no further than his remarks at the RNC to see what I mean! Bravo!
Marco Rubio: Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida had the honor of introducing Gov. Romney. He proceeded to show exactly why he is one of the GOP’s rising stars and why his life story, communication abilities, and outlook make him one of the most powerful men in Washington, D.C. today. He gets “it”, and almost more importantly, he is a master at communicating it. As a conservative pundit wishfully tweeted after the speech, “So in 2020 when Rubio and Ryan run for the nomination, the universe is going to implode, right?”
Mitt Romney Convention Video
Mitt Romney: Gov. Romney delivered in this speech. By this point in time, Gov. Romney has established himself as a solid communicator, but rarely stellar. But (see commentary below re: DNC speeches) haven’t we had enough of soaring rhetoric and “inspiring” speeches? Isn’t it about time we had someone who has the experience and skill set to sit down and actually tackle our country’s biggest problems? Sure, but communication is a BIG part of being a successful President. (See: Reagan, Ronald a.k.a. “The Great Communicator” and Clinton, Bill every time he speaks at the DNC for the last 18 decades). So the stakes were still high for Romney. And, in my biased mind, he knocked it out of the park. He surpassed all expectations. He delivered a much better speech than anyone expected him to. He clearly articulated his life story and how it has shaped his worldview, and why it’s what is best to turn the American economy around. Best line? “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise … is to help you and your family.” Perhaps he didn’t go as policy wonk-ish as many expected or would have liked, but who needs to do that when Paul Ryan is on the ticket.
Everything You Need to know About the DNC
Jon Stewart and The Daily Show team set out at the DNC to see just how open-minded, inclusive, and loving the Democratic base is. Just listen. They’ll tell you!
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Hope and Change 2 – The Party of Inclusion|
Overall Thoughts about 2012 Democratic National Convention: Well, if there was ever any question as to which side of the political spectrum is most vocal and active in my world of Twitter and Facebook friends, the first night of the DNC quickly answered that question. To listen to it, the only people who could possibly beat Barack Obama in November are: (a) Michelle Obama or (b) Bill Clinton. The DNC and President Obama are ready to move our country forward. I’m still unsure what that means, but it seems to imply that Romney-Ryan only want us to go backwards. Subtle messaging.
In all honesty, I was most surprised by how openly the Democratic Party embraced abortion rights, Obama’s health care reform, and the stimulus. (Well, until his speech last night, in which he skirted around these issues quite a bit.) The Democrats seemed to have one goal on night one: close the enthusiasm gap among the base constituency. According to my Facebook news feed, it seemed to work.
Before getting to the big three speeches, I’ll share just one final thought on the DNC. The biggest question I walked away with was this: how much do independent swing voters in the swing states that matter buy into the emotional feel-good speeches that cast Obama and the Democrats as the party understanding the everyman problems in America and Romney as the heartless robber baron? In these voters’ minds, does the inspiration make up for Obama’s failures in his first four years – outsourcing the stimulus to Pelosi/Reid; prioritizing health care reform to the detriment of the economic recovery; and paying lip service to deficit reduction and tax reform while only proposing to let the Bush tax cuts expire on the rich, something that ALL economists agree will do nothing to solve our entitlement programs’ insolvency problems? Will the voters that decide the 2012 election risk electing Obama again with just more of the same rhetoric? Only time will tell… more on this in my final breakdown below!
Michelle Obama: Condi’s speech was significantly more substantive on the issues facing America, but Michelle knocked her speech out of the park with her delivery, emotion, and command of the audience. There’s very little that needs to be said other than simply suggesting you watch it. She mastered the art of saying lots of things Americans can rally around with subtext jabbing at Romney and Republicans. She was a glowing reminder of something President Obama is wonderful at – being a great husband, father, and family man. Her speech epitomized the Democratic strategy – be inspirational, invoke emotion, discredit Romney, and trust that voters will forget that all of this didn’t help our economy much the first time around.
President Bill Clinton: Ol’ Slick Willy did it again! He showed why he’s one of the best Presidential communicators of the past half-century, and maybe beyond. He balances perfectly the straight-talk with the political trickery. As Peggy Noonan pointed out today, Bill Clinton is The Master, and he brought his partisan A-game to the DNC. But as good as his speech was, he’s a better politician and statesman than that. Of course, this is the Democratic Party that Bill saved and he’s coming back to try to save it once again when the 2008 version turned out to be all-too-human. Reagan’s former speechwriter, Ms. Noonan, said it best: “All great partisan speeches include some hard and uncomfortable truths, but Mr. Clinton offered none. He knows better than so much of what he said. In real life he makes insightful statements on the debt, the deficit and the real threat they pose. He knows more about the need for and impediments to public-school reform than half the reformers do. He knows exactly why both parties can’t reach agreement in Washington, and what each has done wrong along the way. But Wednesday night he stuck to fluid fictions and clever cases.” But it’s still probably the most clever and presidential speech of the past two weeks. They don’t call him Slick Willy for nothing…
President Obama’s Speech: I’ll be quite honest. After Michelle and Bill rallied the troops, I felt like President Obama’s speech could have been a decisive blow, opening up a huge lead in the polls heading into the final 60 days of this election. I thought maybe he would give a big, risky speech – moving to the middle and proposing big, pragmatic solutions to our country’s biggest problems like entitlement reform, tax code reform, etc. I feared that, after Romney went light on specific policy proposals, Obama would go big.
But he didn’t. Unless you were on MSNBC last night, you probably found the speech quite underwhelming. Reports from the parties in Charlotte had people baffled he didn’t lift his game for the big moment. Time and time again, even Democratic pundits commented on how it was overshadowed by Michelle and Clinton’s speeches. It sounded stale and familiar… because it was. It was a recycling of his stump speeches and State of the Unions. There was nothing new there that wasn’t there before. It rallied the base, but it did very little to connect to the uncertain, swing voters that will decide this election. He didn’t talk about health care reform or the stimulus – which are apparently his two biggest domestic policy accomplishments. It was an anticlimactic speech. It wasn’t what I expected… which means the final 60 days of this election will be as close as ever.
First Presidential Debate – October 3, 2012 - 8:00 to 9:30 CST – Domestic Policy
Location: University of Denver in Denver, CO
Moderator: Jim Lehrer (Host of NewsHour on PBS)
“The debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on topics to be selected by the moderator and announced several weeks before the debate.
The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the topic.”
Vice-Presidential Debate – October 11, 2012 - 8:00 to 9:30 CST – Foreign & Domestic Policy
Location: Centre College in Danville, KY
Moderator: Martha Raddatz (ABC News Chief Foreign Correspondent)
“The debate will cover both foreign and domestic topics and be divided into nine time segments of approximately 10 minutes each. The moderator will ask an opening question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the question.”
Second Presidential Debate – October 16, 2012 - 8:00 to 9:30 CST – Town Hall Forum
Location: Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY
Moderator: Candy Crowley (CNN Chief Political Correspondent)
“The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates on foreign and domestic issues. Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion. The town meeting participants will be undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization.”
Third & Final Presidential Debate – October 22, 2012 - 8:00 to 9:30 CST – Foreign Policy
Location: Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL
Moderator: Bob Schieffer (Host of Face the Nation on CBS)
“The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate and will focus on foreign policy.”
And down the stretch they come…
So the conventions have been wrapped up. The debates are marked on the calendar. You see the polls are tied. So what’s going to tip this election one way or another? What are the “keys to the game,” if you will? What factors do I think will most likely influence this election in these final months?
- Debates will matter as much as ever – As the GOP primary showed, debates matter A LOT! Why? I think it’s the same reasons why sporting events and awards shows are getting record ratings. People love being a part of the online, social media-driven conversation about current events. They see a Facebook status or tweet, change the channel, and join in on the conversation. I’m not saying this makes the thinking, analysis, and discourse more civil, educated, or productive. But in the news cycle that spins ever faster, it makes every debate moment a potential make-or-break moment for both Obama and Romney. People will be watching. So if Romney comes off as the adult in the room who knows what needs to be done and can do it in order to make our economy stronger, he’ll win. If Obama comes across as the only one who “feels the pain” of everyday Americans, big advantage to him. I don’t see either candidate having a Rick Perry-esque meltdown on stage. But the debates will swing the polls quite a bit, just like in the primary.
- Which campaign’s spending/advertising strategy will pay off? – As many analysts and pundits have commented, the two sides have made quite the wager on their fundraising/spending/advertising game plans. For Team Obama, it has been to spend as much as possible over the past several months to define Romney as an out-of-touch rich man who doesn’t understand what America and its citizens actually need. They’re banking that, even though their campaign war chest and SuperPAC bank accounts are smaller than Romney’s in the final two months, by the time Romney counters, it will be too little, too late. With polls currently tied, it’s tough to see that their strategy has succeeded. HOWEVER, on favorability and how relatable he is, Romney has taken hits. If it’s a dead heat down the stretch, Obama’s likability could tip the scales as the default incumbent. But the Romney campaign has gambled differently. They’ve been consistently raising more than Obama and holding off, planning to implement a similar strategy as the primary – wait until the last moment and blitz the target demographics/areas with ads right before the votes are cast. This election may come down to which strategy turns out to be right.
- Any October surprises? – In presidential campaigns, October surprises are those unpredictable things that could happen right before votes are cast that tip the scales. It could be anything (otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise!), but the top possibilities would be Iran/Israel military conflict or a European economic meltdown.
- Whose message will resonate strongest in the ten days before the election:
Obama’s “You can’t trust him as the out-of-touch rich man” message?
Or Romney’s “He’s had four years to fix it and he hasn’t, so it’s time to bring in Mr. Successful to do the tough work” message?
If the debates are a wash, there are no October surprises, and each campaign blitzes the airwaves, then the race will come down to which message resonates strongest. Obama needs his to, due to the enthusiasm gap that has existed since 2010 in which conservatives/Republicans are more passionate about turning out the vote. However, if independent swing voters in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and several other states believe that Romney is needed to finally jumpstart the economy in the ways Obama has failed to do so AND can be trusted (enough) to do that, he will win. If Obama’s scare tactics about Romney-Ryan being out of touch and wanting to move America backwards catch on more, we may just have four more years.
Both sides will look at their Facebook news feeds and Twitter timelines, assuming their guy has it locked up. But the voters who will decide this election aren’t posting about the latest ad, speech, or gaffe online. They’re sitting back, shaking their heads, waiting until the last minute to decide whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is the best option to lead our country in solving the problems that need to be solved that will help families sitting at their kitchen tables.
As Ronald Reagan said, “And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.”