Will the loser in next week’s presidential election blame his fate on hurricane Sandy? “First Read” over at NBC News raised that question Wednesday, and we think it’s interesting. That’s because it gets at the fine line between actual effects and magical thinking, which is part of so many expert narratives about political campaigns.
As the First Read gang notes, “Given how close this election is, it won’t be surprising if the losing side ends up blaming Sandy, whether it’s fair or not.”
If President Obama fails in his bid for a second term, his staff may turn around and point at the three days of campaigning he’s lost to Sandy-related activities.
IN PICTURES: Sandy – chronicle of an unrelenting storm
If Mitt Romney falls short in his bid to unseat Mr. Obama, his campaign could ascribe the loss to the perception that Sandy “elevated the president and stopped the momentum narrative for Romney,” First Read writes.
There are ways Sandy could really affect voting outcomes next Tuesday, of course. Pennsylvania got hammered; if flooding and lack of power depresses turnout in heavily Democratic Philadelphia, it is possible the Keystone State could swing to Mr. Romney, providing him a path to 270 electoral votes. If New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie continues to praise Obama for his storm response, it is possible some swing voters in, say, Virginia will be impressed.
Single events have already appeared to sway the course of the 2012 campaign. Romney rose substantially in the polls following his strong performance in the first presidential debate.
But “elevated the president and stopped the momentum narrative for Romney”? Please. Saying that wouldn’t be punditry. It would be soothsaying.
We’re not picking on First Read here: They’re not saying they believe that stuff themselves. They’re saying other people might say it in the face of defeat, and they’re right about that. Romney, Obama, it wouldn’t matter. Both sides have officials/surrogates/partisans who could utter that kind of thing with a completely straight face.
Which brings us to our main point: We’ve come to political punditry at a relatively advanced point in our journalistic career, and we’re constantly surprised by its imprecision. It’s like sportswriting (which we’ve also done) without the intellectual discipline imposed by the feedback loop of player stats and game scores.
“Shaping the narrative” is one of our favorite phrases. When you hear somebody say that on one of the shouting-pundit cable shows, your internal horse-patty detector should go off. “Defining expectations” is another. “Momentum” is in general a suspect subject, though it’s a bit more solid since you can always check actual polls. And so on. If you’ve made it this far, we’re sure you can provide plenty of your own examples.
So beware folks spouting off about the “Sandy effect” as if they’re sure what it is. Losers need scapegoats, and it’s easier to point the finger at a 500-mile-wide storm than at their candidate or his campaign.
Auto manufacturing is a big part of the Buckeye State economy, and Mr. Romney’s chances there may have been damaged by President Obama’s assertion that Romney opposed the federal bailout of the auto industry. The new Jeep spot is likely Romney’s attempt to reclaim some votes on this issue.
First, let’s look at the ad itself. Titled “Who Will Do More?,” the 30-second spot opens with the general charge that Barack Obama won’t do as much as Romney will to help car firms in the future. It says Romney has a plan for this, though it doesn’t go into specifics, and then notes that the former Massachusetts governor is backed by ex-Chrysler chief Lee Iacocca and the editorial page of The Detroit News.
Then it reaches the crux of the matter. “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
Here’s the clever aspect of this: Taken apart, each clause in those two sentences is true, or at least defensible. But put together, they’re implying that Mr. Obama’s actions have led to Jeep jobs jumping to Beijing. That’s not true. It’s an assertion that the fact-checking website Politifact says “throws reality into reverse.”
We’ll run through the paragraph piece by piece. Yes, Obama did take GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy in early 2009, as Romney had earlier suggested in an opinion piece in The New York Times. But the Obama administration arranged for government debtor-in-place financing to take the firms through bankruptcy court, while Romney envisioned the private marketplace providing that money. Given the extent the world’s financial woes at the time, Romney’s expectation might have been unrealistic.
Yes, Italians did buy Chrysler. Cerberus Capital, Chrysler’s previous owner, had been talking to Fiat about a deal; the Obama administration’s auto task force quickly told the parties they had to reach a merger agreement or Chrysler would lose the government loans keeping it afloat. After Chrysler's bankruptcy, Fiat emerged with a 20 percent stake in the firm and operational control.
It’s also possible that the Italians who own Chrysler are going to build Jeeps – perhaps Chrysler’s most valuable auto brand – in China. In an e-mail to employees Tuesday, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne repeated a previous announcement that the firm is thinking of restarting a Jeep assembly line in China closed in 2009 to supply the local market.
In the e-mail, Mr. Marchionne adds that the Chinese market would be inaccessible otherwise. Beijing keeps tight control of the nation’s car marketplace; tariffs and other regulations render it off limits to foreign-made mass market models.
“I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position. Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China. North American production is critical to achieving our goal of selling 800,000 Jeep vehicles by 2014. In fact, US production of our Jeep models has nearly tripled ... since 2009 in order to keep up with global demand,” wrote Marchionne in the e-mail, posted online by the Detroit Free Press.
As Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, “This was completely wrong.” A Bloomberg story had reported accurately on Jeep’s China intentions. Some conservative blogs then misinterpreted the story to mean that the departure of Jeep jobs was imminent. Romney may have received his false information from them.
The Romney ad drops the part about “moving all production to China.” But it’s implying the same thing – otherwise, why mention “Jeep” and “China” in the same sentence at all?
“The series of statements in the ad individually may be technically correct, but the overall message of the ad is clearly misleading – especially since it appears to have been designed to piggyback off of Romney’s gross misstatement that Chrysler was moving Ohio factory jobs to China,” concludes Mr. Kessler.
Election polling is among the many American activities hurricane Sandy is disrupting. At least two major tracking polls – the Gallup poll and the Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP survey – have suspended operations as the gigantic storm sweeps across much of the US Northeast. Other pollsters might find their jobs more complicated if millions of households in the region lose power and become unreachable by phone.
That said, now might be a good time to sit back and look at overall polling measures of the presidential race. It could be the last time prior to Election Day that we get to see numbers that haven’t been swung one way or another by falling wires and flooded roads.
For major compendiums of polls – which crunch together lots of surveys to try to mitigate the errors and chance inherent in the business – the bottom line remains as it has for some time now: Republican Mitt Romney retains a narrow edge, so narrow that it falls within the margin of error of the enterprise.
The Huffington Post statistical model, which combines state and local polls, in contrast showed Romney up by a mere two-tenths of a percentage point, 47.4 percent to 47.2 percent.
Both these measures have been generally stable over the past week. (Both also take into account Monday’s Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll, which shows Mr. Obama up by one percentage point, and the daily Gallup tracking poll, which had Romney back up by five among likely voters. So, partisans, please don’t e-mail us saying we’re ignoring the polls most favorable to your candidate.)
But in the race to 270 Electoral College votes and actual victory, Obama appears to maintain the small lead he’s had for weeks. The Huffington Post state-by-state model judges Obama likely to collect 277 Electoral College votes, according to how things stand at the moment, with Romney at 206.
This apparent split in the state and national results stems from Obama’s continued leads in the many of the most important battleground states, such as Ohio, where the RealClearPolitics rolling average puts him in front by a slim 1.9 percentage points. Obama’s also up in New Hampshire and Iowa, by around 2 percentage points in each case, while he’s tied with Romney in Colorado and Virginia, according to RCP.
Again, this reflects a situation that has seemed stable over the past week to 10 days. Even with only a week left in the race, there’s still time for that to change, of course, given that the margins between the candidates are so slim. But hurricane Sandy’s effects may in essence throw lots of noise into poll results, meaning surveys might not reflect any movement one way or another until Election Day is almost upon us.
Is it time to start talking openly about race in the 2012 campaign?
Make no mistake: The topic has been a steady undercurrent throughout much of this election cycle. Unfortunately, for the most part, the discussion has been largely confined to ugly insinuations and counter-insinuations. Democrats have repeatedly accused the Romney campaign of using racial “dog whistles” to try to peel off support from working-class whites, while Republicans have complained about what they see as unfair accusations of racism.
One of the most frequent offenders along those lines from Democrats’ point of view, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, stirred the pot again Thursday night. Appearing on CNN, the national co-chair for the Romney campaign told host Piers Morgan that he believed Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama was essentially based on race.
Mr. Sununu said: “I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States – I applaud Colin for standing with him.”
He later walked back his comments, issuing a statement saying he believed Mr. Powell’s endorsement was based on “his support of the president’s policies.” But Sununu has previously come under fire for other remarks perceived as having racial implications, such as calling the president “lazy,” and saying he wished he would “learn how to be an American.”
It all raises a larger point, however – that perhaps the time has come (some might say it's way past time) to have a serious discussion about the role race is playing in the campaign.
According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, the 2012 election is, as The Post put it Friday, “shaping up to be more polarized along racial lines than any presidential contest since 1988.” The poll found Mr. Obama is currently losing whites to Mitt Romney by 60 to 37 percent, putting Obama dangerously below the 40-percent mark that most analysts believe he needs to hit among whites in order to win reelection.
By contrast, in 2008, Obama won 43 percent of the white vote (a slightly better performance, it should be noted, than that of John Kerry and Al Gore, who took 41 and 42 percent of whites, respectively). Among nonwhites, Obama appears to be performing at the same level he did in 2008, winning 80 percent.
While the loss in support among whites puts Obama’s reelection chances in obvious jeopardy, it still may not ultimately be fatal, since he currently appears to be doing somewhat better among whites in some of the states that matter most, such as Ohio. (To put it another way, Obama could be on his way to losing the white vote by historic margins in the South, but that wouldn’t necessarily affect his electoral vote total at all.)
In addition, as many analysts have noted, the white vote has become a steadily smaller share of the electorate, and no one knows exactly what portion of the total it will be this year. If minority turnout is higher than expected, that would obviously help Obama overcome his growing deficit among whites.
Still, in the face of what appears to be an obvious and growing racial divide, in an election featuring the nation’s first black president, it's striking that open discussions of race – and its impact on voting behavior – have been largely missing from the campaign.
On Friday morning, reacting to the new ABC/Post poll, National Journal’s Ron Fournier made exactly this point when he tweeted: “WaPost and others find Obama’s support among white voters eroding. How much of this, if any, related to racial prejudice? Discuss.”
We’d wager nearly everyone agrees that an electorate split more sharply along racial lines than at any time in a generation is probably not a healthy state of affairs for the country. Yet it seems almost impossible to talk about the role of race in politics without immediately raising hackles on both sides. That’s a shame.
Does President Obama have a plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years? That’s an assertion he makes constantly on the stump. It’s one of the bullet points in the economic manifesto his campaign issued this week, too. The slim blue booklet calls the plan a “balanced approach” to reducing Uncle Sam’s flow of red ink, with $2.50 of spending cuts for every $1 in additional tax revenue from wealthy families and corporations.
Are these figures solid or notional, meat and potatoes or pie in the sky? Let’s unpack them a bit so we can gain some understanding of where Mr. Obama might steer the ship USS Federal Budget if he wins reelection on Nov. 6.
We’ll start by making a point obvious to those of us who consider Congressional Budget Office reports bedtime reading. When Obama says he’ll cut the deficit by $4 trillion over a decade, he’s not saying the US will be $4 trillion in the black over that period. What he’s insisting is that the US will accumulate $4 trillion less in red ink than it would have otherwise if it follows his outline.
So the debt, which is the accumulation of annual deficits, would still go up. Just not so fast. (Yes, the debt would go up under President Romney as well. He talks about putting the US on a “pathway” to balanced budgets, as opposed to balancing the budget right away.)
This raises a question: So Obama is saving $4 trillion compared to what? That’s a lot harder to answer than you might think. It involves budget baselines, and current law, and potential future changes, and what happens to the Bush tax cuts, and all sorts of trend lines that can change faster than a teenager’s phone bill. We won’t get into it.
Let’s just say that CBO judges the $4 trillion number to be within reason. Compared with CBO’s best guess as to where fiscal policy really stands otherwise, the Obama fiscal outline cuts the deficit over 10 years by $4.3 trillion, according to a March analysis of the president’s 2013 budget submission.
However, this doesn’t mean that the $4 trillion is not ... well, “squishy” might be too strong a word. “Flexible,” maybe, or “creative.” Let’s just say it’s not as solid as Miguel Cabrera’s bat.
First of all, it includes about $1 trillion in cuts that have already occurred, pursuant to last year’s budget deal with Congress. The administration doesn’t hide this – the new campaign economic booklet notes that “The President has already signed $1 trillion in spending cuts into law.” But “signed into law” does not equal “due only to me.” Congress, specifically congressional Republicans, had something to do with those reductions as well.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler judges this to be “phantom savings,” akin to claiming credit for a tuition-size reduction in your household budget the year after your child graduates from college. Other experts aren’t so sure, noting that Obama campaigned in 2008 on winding down US military forces in the Middle East. You can judge this yourself, keeping in mind that Obama (and a President Romney) would have left at least a token force in Iraq if the Iraqi government had signed a status of forces agreement.
Third, another large portion of savings comes from interest savings. The administration calculates that its reductions in other areas would result in the government paying about $800 billion less in interest on the debt over the decade. While this may be accurate, it does not exactly reflect a tough budget choice per se.
The administration figures that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthy would raise $1.4 trillion over the decade. That’s the biggest change the president’s budget plan posits on the revenue side of the equation. If you subtract the war savings and predicted lower interest costs, the ratio of proposed budget cuts to tax increases is not $2.50 for every $1. It’s about 54 cents in cuts for every 46 cents in new revenue, according to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Ten years is a long time in terms of government policy, and Congress changes to the federal budget every year. The chance that Obama’s $4 trillion deficit reduction plan as currently outlined would survive over a decade is vanishingly small. Think back 10 years – how would a Bush-era 2002 fiscal projection look today, given all the fiscal turmoil that has struck the nation?
Obama’s plans, like Mitt Romney’s, are thus not so much blueprints as expressions of values. They reflect how the candidates want the voters to see them. Voters should weigh the numbers both men submit to the public in that light.
Throughout this election cycle, campaign 2012 has been compared most often to that of 2004.
The similarities are striking: Both years featured a controversial incumbent whose tenure was weighed down a by serious challenge (war, the economy). Both years also featured a richer-than-rich challenger from Massachusetts who struggled to connect with average voters and seemed to lack a clear ideological core, making him vulnerable to charges of political opportunism.
To some extent, the Obama and Romney campaigns even seem to be cribbing from the 2004 playbooks. The Obama campaign has been pursuing a microtargeting strategy, making narrow appeals to specific demographic groups, just as George W. Bush’s campaign did. The Romney campaign, like Sen. John Kerry’s, has been focusing its efforts more on the big issue of the day.
And just as today’s race seems headed for a photo finish, 2004 wound up being exceedingly close: President Bush managed to eke out a win in the crucial state of Ohio, which was just enough to send him back to the White House.
Of course, 2012 is not 2004 – the issues are different, and the electoral map has changed a bit, as have the demographics of many key states. And while the national polling looks remarkably similar (showing a very close race) there are also some key differences which, not surprisingly, partisans on both sides have been highlighting in ways that would seem to favor their guy.
Writing in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, former Bush strategist Karl Rove made a direct comparison between the two cycles, and concluded Mitt Romney is currently in a much better position than Senator Kerry was.
At this point in the race in 2004, he noted, the composite average of national polls showed Bush narrowly leading Kerry, 48.9 to 45.8. By contrast, today’s composite average shows Mr. Romney leading President Obama, 48.9 to 46.7. (The current Real Clear Politics average of polls shows less of a difference, with Mr. Obama and Romney currently tied at exactly 47.1, while in 2004, the RCP average had Bush at 48.8 and Kerry at 46.)
Earlier this week, however, the liberal blog Daily Kos made the opposite case. It compared the Oct. 20 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed Obama and Romney tied at 47 percent among likely voters, with the Oct. 20, 2004 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed Bush and Kerry tied among likely voters at 48 percent – an almost identical result. But among registered voters, the 2012 poll showed Obama up by 5 points, while the 2004 poll showed Bush up by just 2 points, which led the site to argue Obama is actually in a slightly better position than Bush.
A more important difference than variations in the national polls, however, may be differences in individual states – since, in order to win the White House, a candidate must get to 270 electoral votes.
The RCP poll average for Ohio right now has Obama up by 2.1 – which happens to be exactly the same margin Bush held in the RCP average for the final week of the campaign in 2004 (and his actual margin of victory in the state).
But the trend line is different: looking back at all the Ohio polls of 2004, Kerry actually held a lead in roughly half of them, whereas this time around, very few have shown Romney ahead. Obama has been ahead in more than 80 percent of Ohio polls taken during the past year.
Since Romney is essentially trying to replicate Bush’s electoral map (with one or two states swapped out), it's worth looking at where he stands in those battleground states, vis a vis Bush at this point in the 2004 race. And there it appears Romney may face a steeper climb.
He’s already almost certain to lose at least one state Bush won (New Mexico), though he has a shot at winning two states Bush lost (New Hampshire, and to a lesser extent, Wisconsin). More to the point, a comparison of the 2012 and 2004 polls shows Romney is behind where Bush was at this point in the race in Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina – all states Bush won, and most of which Romney needs in his column. The only battleground state Bush won where Romney is currently running slightly ahead of Bush is Florida.
That could change, of course. But right now, it means his odds of winning appear slimmer than Bush’s were eight years ago.
Picture this scene: You’ve got Mitt making a final, earnest appeal to voters concerned about the economy. Then The Donald comes bursting through the door like Kramer into Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment, shouting about college records and charities and $5 million. Will the wavering voters stay put? Or will they flee down the hall while saying “we’ll think about it” over their shoulders?
OK, let’s back up a bit and explain. If you’ve read this far you’ve surely heard of Mr. Trump’s stupendous, world-changing, election-settling (to him) offer that he’ll give $5 million to a charity of President Obama’s choice if Mr. Obama will release his college applications and passport records. Trump hyped this for days. The reaction, in general, has been less than kind.
Barbara Walters opined that he was making a fool of himself. Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin brought up his past donations to Democrats and called him a “tea party pretender.” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California offered him $50 if he would stop trying to make the election about himself.
“If at any point you seriously considered Donald Trump for president, please study the error of your ways in quiet, private contemplation,” tweeted Jim Geraghty of the National Review.
The reasons for Democratic animus are obvious. Trump’s bringing up the discredited “birther” argument all over again, implying that there’s stuff in Obama’s past that discredits him from holding the Oval Office. But why the negative reaction now from the right? Trump led GOP polls way back at the beginning of primary season, if you remember. He’s long questioned the circumstances of Obama’s birth.
Yes, but now the election is only days away. At this point, everyone who truly believes in the birther stuff is already going to vote against Obama. Bringing it up all over again can’t help Mr. Romney make any gains on that score.
Romney’s final arguments instead seem calibrated to woo voters who went for Obama in 2008 and still like him but are disappointed in the job he’s done. They are unhappy that the economy’s still sluggish, that partisanship still rules D.C., and so on. The Romney campaign has been saying in essence that it’s OK to feel that way: You can like Obama and yet still vote against him.
The discredited birther stuff and further insinuations about Obama’s character are not calculated to appeal to this slice of the electorate. If anything, it will drive them away. That would be Politics 101, and we’re pretty sure Trump is shrewd enough to know that. That’s why we’re asking whether he’s actually trying to sabotage Romney’s chances.
Other theories: He’s just trying to get more attention for “Celebrity Apprentice,” and he doesn’t really care about politics; he’s a secret Obama supporter angling to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State in a second term; or “Donald Trump” is actually a performance artist working in character, like Stephen Colbert.
It’s also possible he’s tired of all the attention and he’s trying to stop Trump coverage the only way he knows how. As Lloyd Grove writes in The Daily Beast, it’s been fun to cover Trump, but in light of the latest developments, it’s best to stop writing about him. At least until after Election Day.
“We at The Daily Beast offer out own announcement [to Trump]: effective immediately ... we will ignore you and your hot air for the foreseeable future,” wrote Mr. Grove.
Is the US Navy now smaller than at any time since 1917? That’s what Mitt Romney charged during the final presidential debate on Monday night. The former Massachusetts governor vowed that if elected president he’d rebuild America’s declining maritime power.
“The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285.... I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy,” Mr. Romney said.
President Obama replied with sarcasm, saying the comparison wasn’t apt because the US has ships called submarines, which sail underwater, and aircraft carriers, upon which planes can land. We’ll get to this qualitative judgment in a moment, but first let’s look at the numbers. Is Romney right?
Yes, partly. In December 1916 the US Navy consisted of 245 ships, according to Naval History and Heritage Command data. That’s certainly fewer than it has today. But that year also saw the passage of the Naval Act of 1916, meant to help counter Germany’s strength afloat. By the middle of 1917, the US had 342 active warships. By 1918, it had 774.
But Romney didn’t just say the Navy was smaller now than in 1916. He implied that it was at a historical nadir – his exact words were “smaller now than any time since 1917." That further implication isn’t correct.
In 2007, during the administration of George W. Bush, the Navy bottomed out at 278 total active warships. The Naval History and Heritage Command chart notes that this number represents the service’s low since the 19th century.
It’s crept up a bit since then to the current 285 level.
What about strength, though? That’s a calculation that involves more than just numbers. It’s true that today’s warships are far more powerful than those of 1916, as Obama pointed out, but so are those of America's adversaries. How does the US stand in regards to the naval forces of the rest of the world, and how has that changed over the years?
That’s a question that Florida State political scientists Brian Crisher and Mark Souva have attempted to answer. Their methodology involves toting up the number of each nation’s actual warships, figuring out their firepower, and comparing that to the total firepower of the rest of the world.
According to their calculations, in 1916 the US ranked third in naval power in the world. That sounds impressive, but it still placed the US behind Germany, which had roughly 19 percent of international naval strength, and Britain, which then had 34 percent.
The picture is much different today. The US controls about 50 percent of world naval power, according to Professors Crisher and Souva. No other nation even comes close. Russia is in second place, with a comparable figure of 11 percent.
There is the further question of coverage – the world is large, and projecting power around the world requires sheer fleet numbers, no matter the capabilities of each ship. The Romney campaign has accused the president of undermining the US in this regard by proposing the premature retirement of the carrier USS Enterprise and six Ticonderoga-class cruisers to save money.
Thus the Romney campaign’s national security white paper says that the former Massachusetts governor, if elected, “will put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year.”
Is Donald Trump a secret Obama supporter?
That may be the only logical explanation for Mr. Trump’s snooze-worthy, instantly irrelevant “announcement” concerning the president, which he’d nevertheless hyped for several days as really, really big and certain to change the entire course of the campaign.
Turns out, we were correct in surmising that it would have something to do with the “birther” conspiracy theory claiming President Obama may not have been born in the United States. But even we underestimated how totally news-less and uninteresting Trump’s “big reveal” would actually be.
In case you missed it (and, trust us, don’t worry if you did), the announcement amounted to nothing more than Trump offering to give $5 million to the charity of Mr. Obama’s choice – inner-city children in Chicago, Trump helpfully suggested – in return for the president releasing all of his college records and applications and passport records and applications.
It was so utterly banal that it actually felt almost like a joke – we wondered, briefly, if it could be a piece of performance art. As if Trump was really telling reporters: The joke’s on you for being willing to chase even the remote possibility of a scandal here! But that would probably be giving Trump too much credit.
It did, however, lead us to wonder: When did October surprises get so, well, pathetic? And how, exactly, did we get to this point – where the final weeks of the campaign inevitably seem to bring out a host of ridiculous non-scandal “scandals,” in the search for something new and game-changing to talk about?
The other “surprise” getting attention Wednesday is the effort to unseal the 1991 testimony given by Mitt Romney in the divorce of Tom and Maureen Stemberg. Mr. Stemberg is the founder of Staples, a company Mr. Romney has often touted as one of Bain Capital’s big success stories. The Boston Globe has been seeking access to Romney’s testimony, and Mrs. Stemberg appeared in court Wednesday with high-profile attorney Gloria Allred to say she supported unsealing the documents.
It’s less clear what will emerge from this particular storyline, but we still feel relatively confident in saying that it would have to be something pretty huge – reflecting directly on Romney himself – to actually affect the presidential race. Right now, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that it will rise to that level.
Of course, in a very close race, even small things can matter. The uncovering of George W. Bush’s 1976 DUI in the final days of the 2000 campaign did not affect how most voters felt about the candidates, according to polls, with just seven percent saying it raised serious questions about Mr. Bush’s qualifications for the presidency (and most of those voters were already supporting Al Gore, anyway). But in a race that wound up being a virtual tie, it’s possible that news may well have handed Mr. Gore the popular vote.
Still, that was a relatively serious, albeit decades-old, revelation about the candidate himself. Which made it far more relevant – and worth covering – than this year’s crop of gossipy October distractions.
Has Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock just become a big problem for Mitt Romney and the national GOP? That question arises because of a controversial comment on abortion that Mr. Mourdock made in a debate Tuesday night with his Democratic opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly.
Asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, Mourdock said, “I struggled with myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something God intended to happen.”
After the debate, Mourdock clarified his remark, saying that rape is a horrible thing that he does not believe is itself part of a divine plan.
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“God creates life, and that was my point,” Mourdock said in a statement. “God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does.”
But Democrats seized on his comment and portrayed it as insensitive and evidence of an extreme view on abortion and women’s rights. They also pointed out that Mr. Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, had cut an ad in support of Mourdock this week.
“Richard Mourdock’s rape comments are outrageous and demeaning to women. Unfortunately, they’ve become part and parcel of the modern Republican Party’s platform toward women’s health, as Congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan have worked to outlaw all abortions and even narrow the definition of rape,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement following the debate.
The Romney campaign immediately distanced itself from Mourdock’s words, saying they did not reflect its candidate’s views. Romney is antiabortion but does support an exception for cases of rape and incest. His running mate, Representative Ryan, in the past has rejected such an exception.
But Romney aides did not comment as to whether the former Massachusetts governor would still support Mourdock’s Senate bid.
When Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin said in an interview that women’s bodies have ways of suppressing pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape,” the GOP quickly pressured him to withdraw from the race. He refused and remains on the ballot.
With the race between Romney and President Obama so close, it’s a sure thing that Democrats will try to make use of Mourdock’s words. It’s possible they could have some marginal effect on women voters who remain undecided in swing states – a key target for the Obama campaign.
In a survey of swing-state voters, women placed “abortion” and “equal rights” among their top five issues, while men did not, according to a new Gallup analysis of polling data. This helps explain America’s persistent gender gap. If the electorate were purely female, Mr. Obama would lead by eight percentage points, according to Gallup. If it were all male, Romney would lead by 14.
Could Obama attract even more women voters? His strength among females has declined by three percentage points relative to 2008, according to Gallup’s numbers, so it’s possible he could win back women who supported him in the past. But his biggest gender problem is among men: He’s down by seven percentage points among male voters since 2008.
In that context, it’s possible that Mourdock’s words will have more effect on tight Senate races. In states such as Massachusetts, where Democrat Elizabeth Warren is battling incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R), Democrats undoubtedly will run ads saying a vote for the GOP is a vote for a chamber controlled by politicians such as Mourdock.
As for Mourdock himself, the current state treasurer is locked in a surprisingly close race with Representative Donnelly in a GOP-leaning state. Donnelly also opposes abortion, but he supports an exemption for rape and incest victims. Mourdock, supported by tea party groups, ousted longtime Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary. He leads Donnelly by five percentage points in a recent Rasmussen poll.
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