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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at Symphony Hall in Boston June 25. (Larry Downing/REUTERS)

Was Obama booed over Youkilis joke? The perils of talking sports on the stump

By / 06.26.12

At a fundraiser in Boston last night, President Obama encountered what sounded like some rare boos when he teasingly told the crowd: "I want to say thank you for Youkilis" – referring to third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who had recently been traded from the Boston Red Sox to Obama's hometown team, the Chicago White Sox.

The crowd responded with what sounded like a ripple of boos (though a Monitor reporter in attendance heard mostly chants of "Youuuuk").

Either way, if the jibe was intended to get a laugh, the resulting response clearly caught the president off guard. He joked: “I didn’t think I was going to get any boos out of here. I should not have brought up baseball. I understand. My mistake.”

It's a sentiment that no doubt reverberates with scores of other politicians who have made regrettable sports references, only to find themselves booed – or worse, mocked.

Talking sports on the stump is an easy way for a politician to connect with crowds and bolster his or her "regular guy" credentials. But, as many have learned, a botched sports reference can seriously backfire.

Remember Sen. John Kerry's cringe-inducing reference to "Lambert Field," in an attempt to relate to Packers fans in Wisconsin during the 2004 campaign? During that same campaign, Senator Kerry also told a Michigan crowd "I go for Buckeye football," unintentionally promoting a fierce rival.

More recently, Vice President Joe Biden got some jeers for telling a San Francisco crowd that the Giants were "on their way to the Super Bowl," when in fact, the hometown 49ers were about to face the New York Giants in the playoffs (he later said he mixed up the city's baseball and football teams). Nor do flubs have to be team-specific: Newt Gingrich was mocked during the GOP primary campaign for answering a debate question about where he'd be if not at the debate with "watching college championship basketball" (which was not actually on that night).    

But the most perilous terrain of all for a politician may be references to the Red Sox.

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren – who introduced the president at last night's fundraiser – was given a hard time earlier in the year when she flubbed a debate question about which years Boston won the World Series. (In April, Warren's opponent, incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown, actually began running radio ads about the Red Sox that didn't even mention the campaign, essentially assuming that listeners would remember Warren's mistake.) 

And of course, Senator Brown's previous Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, was widely seen as having lost her race in large part because of two Red Sox-related flubs – dismissing the idea of shaking hands with voters outside Fenway Park, and incorrectly identifying former Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as a "Yankee fan."

Given all that, Obama may have gotten off relatively easily (of course, he didn't make any factual errors). But we bet he steers clear of Red Sox references in the future. 

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People protest against the Arizona immigration law in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington June 25. (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

What Supreme Court decision will have most political impact? Not health care

By Correspondent / 06.26.12

Washington may be in a state of frenzied anticipation over the upcoming US Supreme Court decision on President Obama's health-care reform. But the judicial ruling that could have the bigger impact on the presidential election may have already happened.

We're referring to the court's decision on the Arizona immigration law, which came Monday morning and served as a kind of capstone to an eventful week and a half dominated largely by the politics of immigration – a period that was actually pretty good for the president (health-care predictions notwithstanding) and pretty uncomfortable for Mitt Romney

Let's review. Over the past 10 days:

  • Mr. Obama unexpectedly moved to allow young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain in the country to work and study – in effect, instituting a policy similar to the DREAM Act, which had stalled in Congress. (Obama's version, however, does not include a path to citizenship.) Mr. Romney, who had vowed during the primary campaign to veto the DREAM Act, would not say whether he would overturn Obama's decision as president.
  • ABC News broke a story saying that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – one of the GOP's most prominent Hispanic officeholders and a frequently mentioned vice-presidential contender – was not even being vetted by the Romney campaign. Romney allowed the story to percolate for nearly a full day before coming out and telling reporters "of course" Senator Rubio was being vetted.
  • Obama and Romney both gave speeches at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, where they exchanged biting barbs – Romney reminding the audience that Obama had failed to tackle immigration reform; Obama reminding them that Romney had promised to veto the DREAM Act. Obama received an enthusiastic response, while Romney's reception was widely characterized as "polite."
  • And then on Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision throwing out most of the Arizona immigration law – while upholding its controversial "show me your papers" element, requiring police officers to check the immigration status of those they stop or detain if the officers have reason to believe they are in the country illegally. Romney, who had called the Arizona law "a model" during the campaign, issued a statement criticizing the president for failing to lead on immigration reform, but notably avoiding taking a position on the court's ruling. Later, he told supporters at a fundraiser that he wished the court would give states "more latitude" to enforce immigration laws. Obama directly praised the court's decision but said he was "concerned" about the provision it upheld, saying "no American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like."

Polls have shown that most independent voters approve of the Arizona law (as well as a strong majority of Republicans), so it's possible Romney will win some supporters for his stance. But it seems more likely that the decision will galvanize Hispanics, who were strongly opposed to the law. 

And if that's the case, we may be about to see Obama's lead among Hispanic voters go from "strong" to "utterly devastating." 

According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday – but conducted before any of the above events – the president was leading Romney among Hispanics by 66 to 25 percent. That puts Obama almost exactly where he was in 2008, when he won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. But given all that has recently unfolded – and that a Gallup survey conducted last week found 8 out of 10 Hispanics approve of Obama's move to protect children of illegal immigrants from deportation – it's entirely possible Obama's lead in the polls will widen.

Notably, the USA Today/Gallup poll found Romney running six points behind Sen. John McCain's 2008 performance (Senator McCain won 31 percent of Hispanics). If the 6 percent who supported McCain but are not currently backing Romney wind up choosing Obama instead, that would put the president above 70 percent among Hispanics.

More important, it could shift the electoral map – making Western states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado far tougher climbs for Romney and making Arizona a genuine tossup. If the West starts to shift strongly toward Obama, that leaves Romney with a much, much narrower path to the White House.  

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President Barack Obama speaks at Oyster River High School, on June 25, in Durham, N.H. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

How much can a president alter the economy? New poll results.

By Staff writer / 06.25.12

For all their concerns about the economy as a top election issue, American voters don't have huge expectations of what the occupant of the Oval Office can do to steer a better course on things like jobs and GDP.

That's a central message from a new Associated Press/GfK poll that's in the news Monday.

In reporting its survey of US adults, the AP encapsulated the story in this headline: "Poll: Half doubt next president will alter economy." The story has been picked up by various news organizations Monday, and there have been blogs about it, under similar headlines.

So, wait a minute. Is this poll really telling us that the 2012 presidential election – billed as an epic battle between President Obama and Mitt Romney over the nation's economic soul – is essentially meaningless?

Far from it, really.

The grain of truth in the AP headline is that fewer than half of Americans (48 percent) say the election outcome will have "a great deal" or "a lot" of impact on the economy. And history suggests some justification for that view. A president is just one part of the federal government, after all, and the federal government is just one influence on the vast web of consumers and suppliers known as the economy. Most citizens know that.

But here's the important caveat:

Federal policies do matter for the economy, and citizens know that, too. Where the AP story played up the fact that "only" 48 percent of respondents see the election having a significant influence on the economy, the number of people in the poll who said the election won't make any difference was much smaller: just 7 percent.

Here's the way the answers broke down in the poll, which was taken June 14-18.

When asked about the election's expected impact on the economy, 7 percent said they expect none at all, 17 percent said "a little," 26 percent said "just some," 18 percent said "a lot," and 29 percent said "a great deal." So the largest cluster of responses actually came on the end of the spectrum viewing the election as very consequential.

When the poll diced the question into smaller parts – on health care, unemployment, and the federal budget deficit – the responses ran along much the same lines. The next president will influence health care a bit more than he will influence the overall economy, they predict, and he will influence unemployment and deficits a bit less.

Again, AP staked out one valid point: Many Americans are rightly skeptical of how much one person can do, even someone sitting in the Oval Office.

Consider another recent poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for the financial firm Bankrate.com. The survey found that 21 percent of Americans think an Obama victory would be best for their personal pocketbooks, an equal percentage favors Mr. Romney, while fully 50 percent "don’t think it will make much difference either way," Bankrate reported.

At the same time, all signs point toward the economy remaining a vital campaign issue – with the two main candidates staking out considerable contrasts on how they would approach economic policy. Mr. Obama hopes to tax the rich more, while Romney says he wants them to pay about the share of overall US income taxes that they do now, to give just one example.

And all signs suggest that when the election is over, the White House occupant will influence important choices the nation faces on matters including taxes, federal spending, entitlement programs, and the regulation of health insurance.

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Chairman Darrell Issa (R) of California, right, considers Wednesday whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the panel, speaks at left. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

'Fast and Furious' probe: Obama's Watergate, or a waste of time? (+video)

By Staff writer / 06.21.12

The struggle between House Republicans and the Obama administration over the former’s investigation into the latter’s failed “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation escalated dramatically this week. Will the House probe uncover an Obama administration scandal as profound as Watergate, as some in the GOP believe? Or is it an election-oriented fishing expedition, as White House spokesman Jay Carney contends?

In a Washington, D.C., long riven by partisanship, the split over this issue is now as deep and bitter as they come.

“This is about getting to the truth for the American people,” said the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner on Thursday.

“This is an attempt to score political points,” replied the Democratic administration’s Mr. Carney later in the day.

Two moves on Wednesday helped power this new polarization. President Obama asserted executive privilege to withhold from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested documents dealing with the “Fast and Furious” operation. The House panel then voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

Mr. Obama’s move to try to cloak documents with his executive privilege power infuriated many on the right. The administration has already turned over to Congress some 7,600 documents dealing with “Fast and Furious” – an operation in which federal agents based in Arizona lost track of guns they had allowed criminals to obtain in an attempt to trace them back to gang leaders. But Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, chairman of the House Oversight panel, in particular is trying to figure out why the Justice Department sent him a letter in February saying the operation hadn’t used such a “gun-walking” technique – then withdrew that same letter, saying it was inaccurate.

Republicans suspect that the documents the White House is withholding show that administration higher-ups knew what was happening all along. That’s where some draw parallels with Watergate.

Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa, in a Wednesday appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, noted that the original Watergate break-in occurred 40 years ago this week. Eventually, President Nixon asserted executive privilege in a (failed) attempt to prevent the White House tapes from becoming public.

“The president has mirrored that now,” said Representative King. “That means that implies very strongly ... that this information that Darrell Issa is searching for and trying to subpoena links inside the White House itself, most likely that the information was prepared for the president’s eyes and perhaps it was seen by the president.”

The administration, for its part, replies that it has made available to Issa’s committee virtually all documents dealing with “Fast and Furious” per se. What Issa wants now, according to White House spokesman Carney, are “after the fact documents” that don’t bear on the failed sting operation itself.

Mr. Holder has offered to share much of the information in those after-the-fact papers with the committee, say Democrats. Yet Issa turned that offer down – meaning he’s not really after facts, in the Democratic view.

“Instead of creating jobs or helping the middle class, congressional Republicans are focused on this politically motivated, taxpayer-funded, election-year fishing expedition,” said Carney at his Thursday briefing.

For their part, Republicans complain that Holder’s sharing offer rested on the assumption that the administration would get to pick the documents and information shared, and that in return the House would have to drop contempt proceedings against Holder.

“This is not hardly a rational basis for negotiation,” said Speaker Boehner on Thursday at his weekly press conference.

Then House minority leader Nancy Pelosi doubled down on Democrats' criticism of the House process, saying on Thursday that the real aim of the GOP’s “Fast and Furious” investigation is to get rid of an attorney general who has fought state efforts to introduce more stringent identification requirements for voters. Democrats have long charged that such requirements are actually attempts to keep their supporters away from the polls.

“These very same people who are holding him in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote,” charged Representative Pelosi.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney applauds after addressing a crowd of supporters with his wife Ann and their sons Matt, Josh, Craig and Tagg behind him during a Romney for President Iowa Caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 3. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Mitt Romney's sons on 'Conan': Why so much focus on pranks? (+video)

By Staff writer / 06.21.12

Mitt Romney’s five sons were on “Conan” Wednesday night. That’s kind of an unusual grouping for a late-night talk show – five guests can’t fit on the requisite couch, so two sons (Ben and Matt) had to stand behind the others. But enough about the logistics. How did it go? Did Team Mittster fare OK with Team Coco?

Well, Conan O’Brien himself was fairly gentle. There weren’t any jokes about "RomneyCare," dressage horses, car elevators, or family dogs strapped to the roof of a car. In that sense, we think Romney campaign officials should be pleased.

However, in a section devoted to true/false questions, Conan did ask if their dad’s hair “is chiseled out of imported mahogany.”

“That is true,” said a son. We think it was Josh. They all look alike, which is why Conan had them wear name tags.

But we do have a question about this attempt to humanize the presumptive GOP presidential nominee via family appearance. Why the emphasis on pranks? On Father’s Day the Romney camp put out a video that emphasized Romney père’s alleged penchant for playing fun on folks. That was a big theme on "Conan," as well. Tagg told a story about his dad painting letters on a friend’s shoe heels at that friend’s wedding. When the friend in question kneeled for a blessing (that would make it a Roman Catholic wedding, not a Mormon one), the letters spelled “HELP” to the audience.

“I’m not sure they’re still friends,” said Tagg. Or was it Ben?

It’s possible that the prank emphasis was Conan’s idea, but we don’t think so. It seemed like something his staff had discussed with the Romney clan in the pre-interview. The Romney sons even had tape of an incident in which they had imitated ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a phone call to their dad, who at the time was trying to land a Schwarzenegger endorsement.

Then they talked about the senior Romney’s fondness for holding up, say, butter, and asking victims to smell it to see if it had turned. Then he smashes it into their faces.

“Is he going to be doing that kind of thing if he’s elected president?” said Conan. “’Mr. Bernanke, I’m worried about these figures.’ Then, mush!”

We’re not sure talking about pranks really works for Romney, image-wise. First of all, he’s been accused of taking them too far when he was a youth, and shaving off the hair of an unwilling fellow student at Detroit’s Crankbrook School.

Second, as Conan implicitly noted, is prankstering a presidential quality? (OK, it is probably just as presidential as the ability to “slow jam” the news. Which still doesn’t fully answer the question.)

Just the appearance of the obviously hearty Romney sons was perhaps a more humanizing touch for their father. No slouchers, gum-chewers, or obvious malcontents among them. Of course, they all have families of their own, so in a sense they’re past that stage. They’re not boys, as Conan noted. They’re a posse.

Holding up a photo of the entire Romney extended family, which is big enough to fill an Applebee’s, Conan noted that the one touch of rebellion was Ben’s shirt, which was striped.

“When you guys get together there’s a global khaki shortage,” quipped Conan.

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Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California (r), adjourns a meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, after a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress on Wednesday. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland (l), the top Democrat on the panel, opposed the measure, which passed on a party-line vote. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

House panel cites Eric Holder for contempt. Will he go to jail?

By Staff writer / 06.20.12

A House committee has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents related to the failed “Fast and Furious” gun law enforcement operation. Does that mean he now risks going to jail unless he complies with the document request?

Technically speaking, it’s possible he could end up in the slammer. But don’t hold your breath – it almost certainly isn’t going to happen. In the modern era, citing an administration official for contempt is often just a tactical maneuver in a larger Congress-White House dispute. It can put some added pressure on the administration, sure. But the executive branch has lots of ways to delay the resulting legal proceedings.

“Efforts to punish an executive branch official for non-compliance with a subpoena through criminal contempt will likely prove unavailing in many, if not most circumstances,” concludes a newly issued Congressional Research Service report on Congress’s contempt power.

Just ask Nancy Pelosi. She was Speaker of the House in 2007 when the chamber issued a contempt citation against ex-White House counsel Harriet Miers. A lawsuit aimed at compelling Ms. Miers to produce documents pertaining to the mass firing of US attorneys by the Bush White House lasted past the end of the Bush administration itself.

Eventually the House received much of the information it wanted, and it agreed to dismiss the Miers suit. But by then,19 months had gone by, and a Democrat had won the Oval Office.

“The change in administrations and the passage of time could be said to have diminished the [House’s] ability to utilize the provided information to engage in effective oversight,” says the CRS report.

As for Attorney General Holder, he is not yet in contempt of the House. Yes, on Wednesday the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines to hold Holder in contempt. That’s a necessary step in the contempt procedure, but the citation can’t take effect until it is approved by the full House. House Speaker John Boehner indicated Wednesday that’s a step that may take place soon.

“While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the Attorney General reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week,” said Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia in a joint statement.

The House Oversight panel has been probing who in the US government knew what, when about the botched Fast and Furious gun sting. Firearms linked to the operation have been implicated in the death of a US border agent.

The panel has subpoenaed thousands of Justice Department documents pertinent to the operation. Holder has declined to provide all that information – hence the contempt citation. On Wednesday, President Obama asserted that executive privilege allows the administration to withhold the documents, further complicating the situation.

Congress’s contempt power isn’t in the Constitution. (Neither is executive privilege.) But courts have long found it an implied power derived from the legislative branch's ability to investigate government operations.

If the House does hold Holder in contempt, it has an inherent power to send the sergeant-at-arms to arrest and incarcerate him until he complies. But that’s largely theoretical – it hasn’t been used since the Senate jailed a former Assistant Secretary of Commerce in 1934. It would be so inflammatory as to destroy relations between the two sides.

Under a 19th century statue, the House and Senate can both pursue criminal cases against those held in contempt. But those cases are prosecuted by the Department of Justice. See the problem?  DoJ is unlikely to eagerly pursue itself. In any case, presidents faced with the issue have declared as a matter of policy that they will not proceed with such cases in the face of an administration claim of executive privilege.

That leaves civil proceedings. And civil proceedings take a long time – perhaps too much time to serve as a useful threat to a sitting president. Nor are civil penalties likely as frightening as jail to any administration official held in contempt.  

However, the “contempt” label could have meaning in the court of public opinion, and that may be the source of its modern power. It dramatizes the nature of a congressional-executive branch dispute and can express the real contempt of lawmakers for administration actions.

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Attorney General Eric holder speaks to reporters on June 19, following his meeting on Capitol Hill over a request from a congressional panel for more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe on the border. (Susan Walsh/AP)

On Fast and Furious, Obama invokes 'executive privilege.' What's that?

By Staff writer / 06.20.12

President Obama on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to withhold from a congressional committee some documents dealing with the failed gun enforcement operation “Fast and Furious."

Can he do that? What’s executive privilege, exactly?

Well, executive privilege is not mentioned in the Constitution, per se. But since the founding of the republic, presidents have, on occasion, claimed a right to withhold information from Congress in the name of confidentiality. Their theory is that, without this right, it would be much more difficult for US chief executives to get the unvarnished advice they need to run the nation.

George Washington, for instance, in 1796 refused to let the House of Representatives see presidential papers dealing with negotiations over the controversial Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Some years later, Andrew Jackson said Congress couldn’t have documents detailing negotiations over the shape of Maine.

In the 1950s, President Eisenhower refused to allow his attorney general to testify before the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee. It was at this point that the concept got the name “executive privilege” and expanded to cover more than direct presidential papers.

Watergate gave executive privilege more legal heft. President Nixon asserted that he had broad powers to withhold from Congress executive branch documents, testimony from officials, and (most crucially) his White House tapes. Federal judges ruled that presidents did indeed have a presumption of executive privilege. But they also held that this power isn’t limitless. Executive privilege could be overruled if Congress showed an overriding public need for the information. In Nixon’s case, that’s what happened.

According to an authoritative Congressional Research Service history of executive privilege, at least three important elements must be present for a legally correct assertion of the power. First, the communication the president wishes to withhold must bear on a core power of the presidency, such as the right to grant pardons or conduct law enforcement. Second, the communication must have come from or to the president or a close White House adviser. Third, the communication can’t contain info so unique that investigators can’t figure it out by looking elsewhere.

Since 1980 US presidents have claimed executive privilege 25 times in various circumstances. Ronald Reagan did it three times. Bill Clinton? Fourteen. George W. Bush asserted it six times.

In the 2009-10 “Fast and Furious” case, Arizona-based agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were trying to build a case against smugglers suspected of supplying violent Mexican drug cartels with weapons. The US agents allowed these suspects to purchase upwards of 2,000 guns without intervention. Some of these weapons were later implicated in a 2010 shootout that killed a federal border agent.

In February 2011, the Justice Department sent Congress a letter stating that top officials had only recently learned about the “Fast and Furious” operation. Justice officials later withdrew that letter as inaccurate. GOP members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee now want documents pertaining to the reasons for that withdrawal. It’s this request that the administration is attempting to block with its executive privilege claim.

In a letter to Mr. Obama asking that he assert executive privilege in this case, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that releasing the papers in question would “inhibit the candor of executive branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the ability of the executive branch to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight."

Republicans denounced the action. House Speaker John Boehner questioned whether the move means that the White House itself, not just the Department of Justice, was involved in “Fast and Furious” decisions.

“The administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?” said Mr. Boehner’s press secretary Brendan Buck.

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This combination of 2012 and 2011 file photos shows Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the University of Chicago on March 19, left, and President Barack Obama in Osawatomie, Kan. on Dec. 6, 2011. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Obama leads Romney by 13 points in new poll. Can that be right?

By Staff writer / 06.20.12

Wow. A new poll out Wednesday shows President Obama with a big lead over presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The Bloomberg survey has Mr. Obama in front by 13 points among likely voters, 53 percent to 40 percent. Can that possibly be true?

Well, it could be right. Anything can happen in politics. But the preponderance of evidence indicates that this poll is an outlier – a statistical glitch. The latest RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls has Obama up by a much narrower 2.3-point margin. And that average includes the Bloomberg results.

Similarly, Gallup’s daily tracking poll has Mr. Romney up by one point Wednesday morning. Some polling experts suggest that Gallup’s results have leaned Republican this cycle. But even if that’s true, it is unlikely it would account for the big difference with Bloomberg.

“This poll is a clear outlier,” tweeted Ezra Klein, Washington Post Wonkblog policy expert, on Wednesday morning.

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm agreed, saying on its own Twitter feed that it’s unlikely Obama is up by 13 percentage points. The president leads the race, though, and “he’s in far better shape than the conventional wisdom,” according to PPP’s Tom Jenson.

The firm that conducted the Bloomberg survey, Selzer & Co., is well regarded by polling experts. The margin of error for its likely voter results was 3.6 percentage points.

The poll did not include an over-representation of Democrats, or African-Americans – both groups that skew heavily toward the incumbent. One thing that might account for its result, as compared with other surveys, is that it shows Obama doing better among white voters. The Bloomberg survey has him with 43 percent of the white vote, as opposed to 50 percent for Romney.

Despite the poll's overall result, there are some signs of weakness for Obama within the Bloomberg numbers. Only 31 percent of respondents said the US is on the right track. Sixty-two percent said it is on the wrong track.

Only 43 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s handling of the economy. Fifty-three percent disapprove. And Romney has a slight edge among the most enthusiastic voters, 49 to 48 percent.

“You can see in these data how important turnout will be,” pollster J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co. told Bloomberg News. “Those most enthusiastic about the election are more supportive of Romney, but Obama’s voters are more locked into their candidate than Romney’s. Building resolve to vote and making the vote stick is job one, and both candidates face obstacles getting that done.”

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Supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas cheer his speech during a breakout session of the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth earlier this month. Congressman Paul depends on Internet 'money bombs,' backed by supporters, to fund his campaign. (LM Otero/AP/File)

Is Ron Paul's campaign better with money than Mitt Romney's?

By Staff writer / 06.19.12

Ron Paul had a pretty good May, money-wise. According to his just-filed Federal Election Commission financial disclosure form he raised $1.78 million during the month, despite the fact that Mitt Romney is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. And Mr. Paul entered June with no listed debt and $3.28 million in the bank. That’s $800,000 more in cash on hand than he had at the end of April.

So the Texas libertarian is in decent financial shape as he heads into the summer. He’s certainly better off than, say, Newt Gingrich, whose defunct campaign still owed over $4.7 million to various vendors last time we looked.

But what’s Paul’s spending pattern? As it happens, we think where his money goes is as interesting as how much he has, if not more so. Compare Paul’s balance sheet with Mr. Romney’s, and one might come to this conclusion: Paul’s campaign is more efficiently run.

You don’t see this just flipping through the line items in the latest report. (Although we would like to know who in the Paul campaign is spending all that money at Whole Foods. WalMart has groceries, and they’re cheaper.)

In May, Paul’s biggest expenditure was $297,852 in credit card payments. Next was $116,338 in airfare. His campaign spent $104,795 on hotels, then $81,750 on political consultants.

The picture becomes clearer when these payments are grouped into larger categories. The experts at the Center for Responsive Politics have done this for the whole 2012 cycle. (For the record, they haven’t yet patched Paul’s May report into their findings.) What they found is that overall 26.7 percent of Paul’s expenditures have gone to campaign administration. The comparable figure for the Romney campaign is a bit better, at 23.8 percent. Twenty-nine percent of Paul’s spending has gone to media – ad production, airtime, and such. That’s almost the same as Romney’s comparable 30 percent.

But what really jumps out is the cost of soliciting all that cash to begin with. Six percent of Ron Paul’s spending goes to fundraising. Romney devotes almost a quarter of his entire budget – 23 percent – to the same thing.

The reason for this is obvious. Romney raises money the old-fashioned way, a meal-based fundraiser at a time. Paul runs online “money bombs” and gets contributions in small contributions via the Web. That’s cheaper and takes much less of the candidate’s time.

Perhaps due to this, Paul is able to devote a significantly larger share of his budget, 37 percent, to campaign expenses. Romney’s comparable figure is 21 percent. Yes, Romney is dealing in bigger sums – through April he raised just under three times as much as Paul. But who is running on their business acumen here – the Bain Capital honcho, or the lawmaker/physician?

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands during a campaign stop on Tuesday in Frankenmuth, Mich. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Three reasons Mitt Romney will win Michigan, and three reasons he won't (+video)

By Staff writer / 06.19.12

Might Mitt Romney win Michigan in November? That question arises because the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is touring Michigan Tuesday and Wednesday at the end of his six-state “Every Town Counts” bus tour. Mr. Romney was born in the Wolverine State, of course, and his father was a popular Michigan governor. He predicts he’ll take the state despite the fact that it has gone Democratic for five presidential elections in a row.

“I’m going to win Michigan with your help!” Romney on Tuesday told a rally in the quaint vacation town of Frankenmuth.

Why the optimism? Well, at this stage in the race all candidates are optimistic about everything – they have to be. But here are three reasons Michigan might be an attainable goal for the Romney campaign.

FAMILY TIES. Michiganders of a certain age remember the state’s George Romney era fondly. A backslapping, genial ex-auto exec, Romney père presided over Michigan’s 1960s-era boom. His status as a moderate Rockefeller Republican could help counterbalance Romney the son’s drift to the right.

REAGAN DEMOCRATS. In the 1980s, Michigan autoworkers defined the term “Reagan Democrat.” The state voted for Reagan twice and for George H.W. Bush once. White working-class voters are a particular problem area for President Obama, and they were a “dominant element” in the state’s electoral equation in 2008, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of Michigan demographics.

DETROIT’S DECLINE. Big urban areas in general are Democratic strongholds, and Detroit is no exception. There’s a reason Democratic candidates often kick off their fall campaigns with a Labor Day rally in the union-centric Motor City. But Detroit isn’t what it used to be, Clint Eastwood Chrysler Super Bowl ads notwithstanding. The city’s population has fallen by 25 percent over the past 10 years, and its Democratic political machine is crumbling.

Still, winning Michigan would be a stretch for a Republican who himself was governor of Massachusetts and maintains homes in New Hampshire and California. Here are three reasons Romney might better concentrate on Florida or other swing states more within his reach.

WHAT FAMILY TIES? Nobody in the state under age 50 remembers George Romney anymore – that was a long time ago. The young Mitt went to Cranbrook, a private school as exclusive as any in the country. The auto industry's lovely car ads are filmed there. They aren’t doing that at public high schools in, say, Flint.

TWO WORDS: “AUTO BAILOUT.” Romney famously opposed Mr. Obama’s auto bailout, although he now argues that bailout followed a pattern he suggested. Whatever the details, this is an issue the Obama campaign will try to exploit throughout Michigan and the industrial upper Midwest. GM is alive, and it’s hard to exaggerate how much that means to Michiganders, even in the nonmean streets of Romney’s hometown of Grosse Pointe.

THE POLLS DON’T LOOK GOOD. The latest RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls puts Romney 5.4 percentage points behind Obama, 42.6 percent to 48 percent. The most recent individual survey wrapped into those numbers, a mid-June poll from Rasmussen Reports, had Romney down by a whopping 8 points. That’s not a fatal deficit, but it’s a fairly deep hole from which Romney will have to extricate himself to win the state.

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