All happy presidential campaigns are alike; each unhappy presidential campaign is unhappy in its own way. For the Mitt Romney campaign, the problem today is that it appears to be an unhappy effort whose particular divisions are on full display in the media with the election now only a few weeks away.
In this case, a lengthy piece in Politico by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei about unrest among Mr. Romney aides has served as a floodgate-opener. It depicts Romney’s top strategist, Stuart Stevens, as mercurial, skewers Mr. Stevens’s efforts to draft Romney’s convention speech as disorganized, and in general allows unnamed staffers and outside advisers lots of room to complain about one another.
Now, Republicans have long asserted that the mainstream media are biased against them and will do whatever they can to keep President Obama in office. They’ve also complained specifically about Politico, saying it’s full of former Democratic operatives. But for all that, the pushback on Monday’s piece from the right has been half-hearted. Some conservatives are using it as an opening to air their own worries about Romney’s effort.
Thus Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, a vocal Romney partisan, on Sunday outlined things Romney's campaign is doing that drive the right nuts, from using poor surrogates on the stump, to delaying major policy statements, to too little policy explanation and not enough talk about leadership.
"Things like this do not happen when the staff [is] focused on getting the candidate elected. Things like this happen when staff is focused on themselves,” Mr. Erickson wrote Monday.
What do we think? In general, day-to-day campaign stories don’t matter. They’re the standing army of the media doing something to keep themselves occupied until real events occur. But this feels different. The story may reflect a reality that could change the campaign.
For one thing, we agree with Erickson – this means important people in the campaign aren’t all working together. Somebody is upset their speech draft did not get used at the Republican National Convention and is using the media to make that clear, for instance. Their underlying message is: “Don’t blame me when we lose."
But, in fact, Romney is close. That’s our second point: This story overshadows the fact that the ex-Massachusetts governor is only three percentage points or so behind Barack Obama. That’s not much of a gap, though the stability of the polls this year makes it seem like a chasm.
Mr. Obama gained a bit coming out of the conventions, so the media storyline has been that Romney is desperate. Well, staff backbiting sure makes that look true.
Third, Romney needs unity to change the narrative. Now he will have a much tougher time getting it. The campaign will pull together, issue statements that everybody’s in sync, and so forth. Maybe they even are or have been. But the fact that a story such as this has appeared feeds mistrust among staff factions. One way to stop this, of course, is for someone to quit, or Romney to fire somebody. Is it possible a staff shake-up is in the works?
A message shake-up seems already apparent. On Monday the Romney campaign launched a new series of ads designed to showcase policy proposals, with hardly a mention of opponent Obama's name.
Should we just call this thing for President Obama now?
We’re kidding, of course (hold your outraged comments, Romney supporters!). But as the old saying goes, there’s some truth in every jest. It now appears safe to say that Mr. Obama did, in fact, get a real bounce out of the Democratic convention – and, even more important, that bounce is showing up in key swing states. According to a new set of NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls, Obama is now leading Mitt Romney by 7 points in Ohio and 5 points in Florida and Virginia.
True, that’s just one set of polls. But even the aggregate polling out there is in Obama’s favor. The RealClearPolitics polling average right now has Obama up by 4.2 percentage points in Ohio, 1.3 points in Florida, and 0.4 points in Virginia. The last is an admittedly scant edge, but the Virginia average incorporates more outdated data, since there have been fewer recent polls to draw on.
At the very least, Mr. Romney needs to win two of the three states. And while Obama’s lead in those states is no one’s definition of insurmountable, it is getting harder and harder to see how Romney can turn things around.
According to the NBC/WSJ/Marist polls, the number of undecided voters in the swing states at this point is downright tiny. In Ohio, for example, just 6 percent were undecided – which means that if Romney were to wind up winning every one of those undecided voters, he would still fall short.
And as MSNBC’s First Read points out, a lot of those undecided voters probably aren’t going to bother casting ballots in the end. They write: “These are voters who simply aren’t paying attention…. they seem disengaged from the campaign, and they don’t call themselves enthusiastic about the election. They are probably NOT voters.”
In other words, we’ve now reached the point in the campaign when opinions have become fairly set. Most people who are actually going to vote already know who they’re voting for – and barring some big, unexpected event, they’re not going to change their minds.
Adding to the cake-is-baked dynamic is the fact that early voting is actually about to begin in many swing states. In Ohio, for example, early voting begins Oct. 2 – and roughly a quarter of the NBC/WSJ/Marist poll respondents in Ohio said they planned to vote before Election Day. In North Carolina, absentee ballots are already available, and they will become available next week in Virginia and Wisconsin.
But what about the debates? Can’t Romney turn things around with a surprisingly strong performance – or maybe some well-timed zingers?
The short answer: probably not. As a piece by John Sides in the Washington Monthly notes, history shows that debates tend to have very little effect on the trajectory of a presidential race. At most, they have appeared to move the needle a point or two. Significantly, all those famous debate “moments” – Gerald Ford saying there is “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe”; Michael Dukakis saying he would still oppose the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered; George H. W. Bush looking at his watch – had almost no impact whatsoever on the polls.
As Mr. Sides writes: “Scholars who have looked most carefully at the data have found that, when it comes to shifting enough votes to decide the outcome of the election, presidential debates have rarely, if ever, mattered.”
Obama's advisers have actually been trying to lower expectations for the debates, saying they expect Romney will do well, and may even get a bounce. And going in as an underdog – and one who, as we saw during the GOP primaries, is capable of very strong debate performances – may give Romney an advantage.
But for Romney to catapult into the lead in the polls based on the debates alone would be a historical anomaly. Sure, being perceived as the "winner" of the debates might help, a bit. Among other things, it would give the Romney campaign – and its supporters – a psychological lift.
What kind of diplomacy would President Romney conduct? That’s a question the D.C. punditocracy is debating in the wake of GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s criticism of the way President Obama has handled attacks on US embassies in the Middle East.
Leaving aside the argument over the accuracy of Mr. Romney’s criticism and the propriety of its timing, his basic charge is that the current administration has been weak and passive in response to recent events. That’s a theme that’s run through all his statements on foreign policy. Romney insists that in the White House he’d speak up more forcefully for US interests around the world, and that the world would respond differently as a result.
Mr. Obama, in this view, is Jimmy Carter redux, a president who has ceded America’s primary role in global events to other nations. Romney says he’d take that back.
“The world needs American leadership. The Middle East ... needs American leadership, and I intend to be a president that provides the leadership that America respects and will keep us admired throughout the world,” Romney said Thursday in a campaign appearance in Fairfax, Va.
Of course, it’s easy to say sweeping stuff like that. But specifically, what does this mean?
If there’s one foreign issue Romney has talked of most, it’s probably China. He’s long criticized China as a country that steals American technology and unfairly steals American jobs by manipulating its currency, ensuring that its goods remain cheap in the US.
As it happens, the Romney campaign just released an ad on China and manufacturing jobs, charging that Obama hasn’t stood up to Beijing’s “cheating.”
Romney has long said he’d label China a currency manipulator on Day 1 of his presidency. But beyond that, it’s unclear what he’d do. Like George Bush before him, Obama has declined to label China a currency cheat in the Treasury Department’s semiannual report on international exchange-rate policies. Doing so would only anger China without changing anything, they say.
As to the Middle East, this week’s flap has led to Romney advisers providing a bit more detail about his prospective foreign policy. In interviews with The New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets, they’ve said he would:
- Tell Iran it can’t have nuclear weapons, and set a “red line” for nuclear technology development beyond which Tehran can’t go without risking unspecified consequences.
- Tell Egypt it has to do a better job protecting Americans if they want the US to follow through with $1 billion in debt forgiveness.
- Provide more help to the Syrian opposition, perhaps by facilitating the transfer of arms from other neighboring Arab states.
Again, in practice all these issues involve complications that may make these flat statements difficult to live up to. On Iran, Romney definitely sounds more hawkish than Obama. Obama has said Iran can’t get a nuclear weapon, but beyond that he’s laid out few specifics. The problem is the stakes. If Iran truly believes its security lies in developing nuclear weapons, will only war stop it? Is the US public prepared to support another Middle East conflict? A president that makes explicit threats in this area may face having to live up to them.
Romney foreign policy adviser Eliot Cohen told The New York Times that President Romney would “not be content with an Iran one screwdriver’s turn away from a nuclear weapon.” Beyond that he was not definite as to where Romney’s red line might be.
Egypt has definitely become a difficult issue for the US. New Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the formerly-banned Muslim Brotherhood, appears as interested in appeasing domestic anti-Americanism as in working with the US on broader issues. That’s led some in Congress to agitate for a cutoff of US aid.
But is that the answer? Foreign policy expert Robert Kagan, long associated with neoconservative doctrine, argues that it isn’t.
Obama has been right to reach out to the new Egyptian government, according to Mr. Kagan. It’s been wrong in that it has not said clearly enough what it expects from the new regime.
“This is not the time for a ‘who lost Egypt’ debate,” writes Kagan.
Finally, as to providing more aid to the Syrian opposition, the Western world has been reluctant to become overtly involved in Syria, as it did in Libya, precisely because the stakes are so high. A misstep could draw in Iran and spark wider regional conflict.
That said, we would be surprised if the US was not already facilitating arms for the opposition delivered via regional allies as a covert operation.
In sum, Romney’s criticism of Obama is that on foreign affairs, he’s following instead of leading.
“As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we’re at the mercy of events instead of shaping events. And a strong America’s essential to shape events,” said Romney in Virginia on Thursday.
Of course, it’s easy to vow you’ll drive the world when you’re out of office. Many candidates have found that once they sit in the West Wing, globe has a nasty habit of erupting at any time in ways they haven't predicted, and that shaping the behavior of other nations is harder than it looked from a campaign podium.
Will Mitt Romney’s comments on the Middle East matter to voters when they go to the polls on Nov. 6? That’s a question roiling the US political world in the wake of the tragic killing of the US ambassador to Libya and continued riots outside American embassies in the region.
Democrats say Mr. Romney has hurt himself with hasty and inaccurate remarks about a situation he doesn’t appear to understand. Republicans reply that their standard-bearer is forcefully highlighting the fecklessness of President Obama’s foreign policy.
Our view is this: This uproar probably won’t make any more difference in the end than previous media obsessions over shiny baubles such as Romney’s (nonpublic) tax returns. Except ... foreign policy is a serious matter. In that sense, the electoral outcome of this incident is less predictable than that of purely domestic flaps.
As the estimable University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato notes, it’s still seven weeks until Nov. 6, which is plenty of time for this to disappear completely from voters’ minds. But what if the crisis deepens? On Thursday, riots spread to Yemen. In that context, it is possible that a rally-around-the-flag effect will help Mr. Obama. It is also possible that the situation will appear to spin out of the incumbent’s control, giving an advantage to Romney.
“Int’l chaos favors incumbent POTUS short term,” tweeted Mr. Sabato on Thursday morning. “Yet events can spin in many different directions. Best bet: Unsettled calm, campaign moves on.”
To recap, on the evening of Sept. 11, Romney issued a statement condemning what he characterized as the Obama administration’s “sympathy” for the rioters storming the walls of the US Embassy in Cairo. He based this on a tweet from the Embassy itself – sent prior to the breach of security – that reaffirmed US support for religious tolerance in light of the crude anti-Muslim film that had inflamed the mob.
The Embassy tweet had not been cleared by the White House. Minutes before Romney’s statement, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued her own release condemning the violence and saying there was no justification for the Middle East attacks.
Subsequent events showed the situation in Libya in particular was more serious than it first appeared. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in an assault that US officials now suspect was planned by organized, armed militants, and perhaps by Al Qaeda itself.
Then at a press conference on the morning of Sept. 12, GOP nominee Romney doubled down on his critique.
“The administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values,” said Romney.
OK, so that was the spark that got this whole thing started. Since then, the pushback from Democrats has been ferocious. They accuse Romney of knowingly making inaccurate statements framed for political advantage at a time of national crisis. Obama himself, in an interview with CBS's “60 Minutes," said, “Governor Romney has a tendency to shoot first and aim later."
Few prominent Republicans initially defended Romney. GOP leaders on Capitol Hill issued general statements expressing sympathy for the families of the fallen diplomats and general support for the United States. Since then, however, some have begun to speak out on what they feel to be legitimate questions regarding the administration’s Middle East policies.
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Romney’s predecessor as GOP nominee, knew Ambassador Stevens and has publicly mourned the loss of a great US ambassador. But in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday, Senator McCain added that “the fact is the United States in the Middle East is weak. We are seen as withdrawing, and we are paying a price for that weakness.... I hope that Mitt Romney will be looking at the big picture."
But wasn’t this election supposed to turn entirely on the economy? Any time Romney spends talking about US relations with Egypt, Iran, and Israel is time he does not spend highlighting American unemployment.
Of course, it’s possible that theory is no longer operable, and that Romney is looking to raise noneconomic subjects. Liberal blogger Greg Sargent Thursday in his Plum Line column in the Washington Post highlights four polls that show Obama and Romney tied on the question of whom voters think is best to handle the economy.
“This again raises the question of whether Romney’s basic theory of this race – that it’s inevitable that Obama will lose, because voters will conclude that he failed on the economy and will opt for an alternative that clears the most basic threshold of acceptability – is fundamentally flawed,” Mr. Sargent writes.
National polls may show that the presidential race remains close – though lately, President Obama appears to have opened up a slight lead.
But when it comes to which candidate Americans think will win, the results are far more lopsided. A strong majority of voters believe Mr. Obama will win reelection – and that includes many who aren’t planning to vote for him themselves.
According to a new Yahoo/Esquire poll, 57 percent of Americans believe Obama will be the winner, versus just 30 percent who think Romney will win. (The same poll also found that 58 percent believe Obama would beat Romney “in a fistfight,” but that’s fodder for another time…)
That’s similar to what Gallup found in late August – when 58 percent of Americans said they thought Obama would win the election, versus 36 percent who thought Romney would. And that was just a slight increase from May, when Gallup found that 56 percent of Americans thought Obama would win, to 36 percent for Romney.
The expectation that Obama will win appears even stronger on Intrade, the online predictions market, where Obama’s odds of winning reelection are now hovering around 65 percent.
The interesting question, of course, is what impact these expectations have on the race itself. Do they make Romney supporters more determined to turn out for their candidate, while making Obama supporters more complacent? Or do they become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
According to Gallup, Americans tend to be pretty accurate with their predictions (at least, when it comes to picking the eventual winner, if not the margin of victory). In June of 2008, by 52 to 41 percent, they thought Obama would defeat Sen. John McCain. By October of that year, that expectation had become overwhelming, with 71 percent saying Obama would win versus just 23 percent saying Senator McCain would.
Likewise, back in 2004, Americans were almost always more likely to predict President Bush would be the winner than Sen. John Kerry. (The closest Senator Kerry came to winning that question was one poll where expectations were evenly split, immediately following the Democratic convention).
Our sense is that when expectations are this consistent – when one candidate is viewed as far more likely to win throughout an entire campaign – it creates a real challenge for the underdog. One of the biggest hurdles Romney has faced throughout this campaign is that he doesn’t seem like a winner, not to many in his own party, and not to members of the media who are covering him. And that can have a deadly effect.
As we’ve seen in recent days, Romney’s bad decisions are often magnified as acts of desperation, his good ones discounted as too little too late. During the GOP convention, some speakers seemed to be thinking more about 2016 than 2012, and numerous so-called “allies” have been freely offering public advice that sounds more like criticism. In other words, Romney is being treated like a losing candidate. That doesn't mean he can't win. But when a candidate is predominantly viewed through that lens, it creates a dynamic that seems to make winning even harder.
It’s been widely noted that, although national polls show the presidential race remains a virtual tie, the electoral college map clearly seems to favor President Obama.
As The Washington Post’s blog The Fix pointed out Wednesday morning, of the eight true tossup states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin), Mr. Obama holds a lead in seven, based on the RealClearPolitics averages of available polling.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, leads in just Virginia – and that’s by just 1 point. As The Fix notes, if Obama were to win all seven of those states, he would wind up with a total of 319 electoral votes, well beyond the 270 he needs to secure reelection.
Of course, public polling isn’t always as accurate or plentiful as the private (and closely guarded) polls conducted by campaigns and "super political-action committees." So another way to gauge the competitiveness of states is by looking not just at polls but at campaign activity.
That's why, despite the Romney campaign's claims that Michigan and Pennsylvania are still swing states, it's probably more meaningful to note that they are not actually advertising in either one, and the Republican super PACs have also stopped running ads in those two states.
Conversely, when the Obama campaign revealed Tuesday that it was set to begin advertising in Wisconsin – a state Obama won by 14 points in 2008, and which no Republican presidential candidate has won since 1984 – it seemed to confirm that the Badger State will be one of the most fiercely contested battlegrounds this election. According to The New York Times, the Obama ads will begin running on Thursday.
The Romney campaign is also advertising in Wisconsin – along with all of the other tossup states listed above, plus North Carolina, which seems to be leaning more toward Mr. Romney of late, but which he probably cannot afford to lose.
The RealClearPolitics average currently has Obama up by just 1.4 points in Wisconsin. But perhaps even more to the point, Wisconsin has shown itself to be one of the most volatile and unpredictable states in the nation of late – as well as bitterly divided.
The rancorous recall election of Gov. Scott Walker, which Mr. Walker wound up surviving with relative ease, may reflect more enthusiasm (or better organization) on the Republican side. In addition, of course, it’s the home state of the Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. Coincidentally, Mr. Ryan has begun running ads in the Badger State for his own reelection campaign to Congress, giving perhaps an added boost to Team Romney, without costing the Romney campaign a dime.
If Romney could shift Wisconsin into the Republican column, it would give him a tiny bit more breathing room when it comes to getting to 270. Of course, he still needs to win nearly all the other tossups. But at least it’s a start.
On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks both President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney stood down their attack ads, at least for 24 hours. Both marked the occasion with solemn, national security-themed appearances – Obama at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., and Romney at a National Guard convention in Reno, Nev. Both tweeted about their patriotic feelings and heartfelt reactions to that now-distant, terrible day.
Does that mean that campaign 2012 ground to a halt for a welcome respite? Nope, it doesn’t mean that, not really. The battle for the White House continued almost apace.
Those attack ads might not have aired in Ohio and Florida, for instance, but that doesn’t mean the campaigns pulled them off the Web. Targeted Internet political advertising – an increasingly important part of campaigning – kept right on going. We received both an invitation to sign President Obama’s birthday card and to donate $25 to Mitt Romney while flipping through web sites in advance of writing this article.
The candidates’ own campaign home pages were pretty much business as usual. Obama’s site featured a fund-raising appeal from First Lady Michelle Obama and some photos from the just-concluded Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Mitt Romney’s page led with a big photo of the candidate and his VP pick, Paul Ryan, smiling and waving to a crowd, along with a video about the national debt that’s accumulated under Obama. Romney, at least, had his tweets about the day displayed in a corner.
The Obama team continued with their practice of giving interviews to media figures that aren’t members of the Washington press corps. On Sept. 11, the president appeared on the morning Miami radio show of Cuban-American rapper DJ Laz, where he razzed the host about the football Dolphin’s pitiful pre-season record before launching into a more traditional campaign defense of his Medicare policies.
The conservative news site Breitbart.com was quick to point out that another of DJ Laz’s nicknames is “pimp with a limp," and that Obama had time to talk football during the appearance but made no mention of 9/11 itself.
Meanwhile, the candidates traded veiled, long-distance shots at each other’s positions. In his speech in Reno, Romney said it was not the time or place to detail differences with his opponent, but continued on to criticize defense cuts scheduled to take place next year as part of the automatic budget “sequester," while saying the current end game for the war in Afghanistan lacks a clear mission.
In his own remarks at the Pentagon Memorial, Obama noted that “Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again." That’s an obvious point to mention in such a speech, but it also got mentioned quite a bit from the podium at the DNC in Charlotte.
Why the continued, sub-rosa campaigning? Well, modern presidential campaigns engage in ferocious political combat, and it’s hard to turn that off. Much political advocacy now occurs in small bites now anyway, via targeted e-mails, segmented Internet ads, direct mail appeals to specific groups, and so forth. It’s not all about ad buys in Colorado and whistle-stop speeches to hundreds of supporters.
Plus, the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 may mark a turning point of sorts. Many of the official ceremonies this year, even those at Ground Zero, were smaller than those of 2011’s tenth anniversary, wrote Vivian Yee yesterday in The New York Times.
“Even where the annual ceremonies are continuing largely unchanged, organizers are anticipating the day when the anniversary may be marked more quietly,” wrote Ms. Yee.
After all, as the event becomes more distant, it’s natural that society’s grief will lessen, adds Jen Doll at The Atlantic. But even so, it’s important to remember that’s not true for everyone, especially those who lost loved ones on what was a cruelly beautiful, yet awful day.
“As we talk of moving on and scaling back we should remember that there are plenty of people for whom, since that day in 2001, some things are forever unchanged,” writes Ms. Doll.
With Tuesday's national-security speech commemorating the attacks of 9/11, Mitt Romney has a chance to move beyond a misstep that has ballooned into a real problem for his campaign: his failure to mention the war in Afghanistan or to thank the troops during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
The omission quickly became the biggest take-away from Mr. Romney’s otherwise well-received but unremarkable speech, and the candidate has been fending off questions about it ever since.
It has given Democrats an opening to further exploit a rare national-security edge for their side. Polls have shown President Obama leading Romney on national security and foreign policy throughout the campaign, though those issues are not nearly as important to voters as the economy.
A Politico piece out Tuesday details the “Kerry-ization of Mitt Romney,” referring to a coordinated effort by Democrats to portray Romney as “untrustworthy on national security,” just as Republicans portrayed Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 campaign. Ironically, this time it was Senator Kerry himself who launched the attack, with a scathing speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which he said: “no nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech.”
Kerry also threw in this (also highly ironic) zinger: “It isn’t fair to say that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position.”
But perhaps even more devastating than all the Democratic criticism has been the reaction from many Republicans to Romney’s omission.
Romney has struggled throughout this campaign to placate a chorus of Beltway critics on the right, many of whom were rooting for other candidates (or even would-be candidates) during the primary season. When the GOP nominee put conservative darling Paul Ryan on the ticket, it seemed like a master stroke that would finally win over many of those naysayers – and, for a time, it did.
But the Afghanistan omission quickly put an end to that honeymoon.
Shortly after Romney’s speech, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol issued a biting critique on the paper’s website, in which he questioned “the civic propriety of a presidential nominee failing even to mention, in his acceptance speech, a war we’re fighting and our young men and women who are fighting it.”
On ABC’s “This Week,” George Will essentially stated that Romney’s failure to mention Afghanistan reflected the fact that his policy on it was untenable: “If Mitt Romney’s position is we should fight on in Afghanistan until we defeat the Taliban, whatever that means, he will lose and he should lose.”
For Mitt Romney to still be facing this kind of fire from the right – with just two months left before Election Day – is not a good sign.
Romney’s advisers argued, in their defense, that the candidate had given a speech to the American Legion the day before his convention address, in which he did address Afghanistan. But the choice to leave it out of the convention speech entirely seemed tone-deaf to many conservatives who, from the beginning, have questioned whether Romney shares their worldview. And it gave them an excuse to go back to not liking Romney all over again.
One full week after the speech, in an interview with Fox News, host Bret Baier asked Romney if he regretted “opening up this line of attack, now a recurring attack, by leaving out that issue in the speech?”
Romney tried to respond with a joke, saying: “I only regret you repeating it day in and day out.”
With today's speech, he may be able to turn the page at last. But the damage may have already been done.
Is President Obama’s post-convention bounce upward in the polls beginning to come down? We won’t know the definitive answer to that question for a few days yet, when more polls have published their latest results. But there’s at least one data point that shows Obama’s numbers returning to earth.
“Today’s data suggests that the president’s convention bounce has started to fade,” concludes Rasmussen in Tuesday's analysis.
Again, this is just one survey. Polls are bouncing all over the place at the moment due to the events of the Republican and Democratic conventions. Tuesday's RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys actually has Obama up a tick, to a 3.1 percentage point lead from Sept. 10’s 2.9.
But other individual polls are showing hints that Obama’s momentum is slowing, or that his bounce wasn’t as big as other surveys indicate.
A TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor poll released on Sept. 10 has Obama up by 2 percentage points, 46 to 44, among registered voters. And a new Washington Post/ABC News poll puts the presidential contenders in a virtual dead heat among likely voters, with Obama at 49 percent and Mr. Romney at 48 percent.
When all polls are taken into account, it still seems as if Obama may have received more of a boost from his convention than did Romney. But the gain may not be the game-changer that some early figures indicated.
Given that, Obama’s chance of victory actually declined overnight in Mr. Silver’s election forecasting model at his FiveThirtyEight blog. It is still high, however: The model puts the incumbent US chief executive’s reelection chances at 79.8 percent.
If Obama’s bounce is indeed fading, that would not count as a surprise. There’s a reason the word pollsters use in this context is “bounce,” instead of “gain.” Bounces go up and come down. Monday, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse released a memo that dismissed convention bounces as a “sugar high” that some voters feel in the wake of their party’s quadrennial confab. His analysis here may yet prove right.
It may be next week, or even later, until the numbers calm down and stability returns to polls. (Stability, in this case, means their trends may generally mirror each other, whether the numbers do or not.) Then we can all get ready for the next big campaign event: the first presidential debate, on Oct. 3 at the University of Denver.
At issue is something the GOP nominee said during a discussion with host David Gregory about President Obama’s health-care reform law. Despite pushing similar state-based reforms when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney opposes Obama’s health law, and has vowed to work to repeal it.
Romney told Gregory that he didn’t oppose the law in its entirety. He said there are parts of it that he’d like to duplicate in his own health plan.
“Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health-care reform that I’m going to put in place,” said Romney. “One is to make sure that those with preexisting conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.”
As to the preexisting conditions issue, under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can’t turn away prospective customers who already have health challenges. In return, they get lots of new customers from the law’s mandate that everyone has to have health coverage.
On NBC, Romney implied that he’d keep the first part of that equation while getting rid of the second, since he’s opposed to the individual mandate.
The problem is that isn’t the full story in regards to Romney’s position on preexisting conditions coverage. In fact, Romney is proposing something much different than the blanket preexisting conditions protections of Obama’s ACA.
Later in the day the Romney campaign issued a clarification to National Review.
“Governor Romney will ensure that discrimination against individuals with preexisting conditions who maintain continuous coverage is prohibited,” a campaign aide told National Review’s Katrina Trinko.
By “continuous coverage,” the Romney team means just that – people who already have health insurance can’t be booted off due to preexisting conditions.
“That’s great for an individual who gets a new job. But continuous coverage isn’t so great for the individual who has spent some time without insurance, perhaps because of difficult financial times. Continuous coverage won’t do much for you in that situation,” writes Sarah Kliff on the Washington Posts’ Wonkblog.
Not only that, it’s already the law in most cases, points out Kliff, due to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
As to people without continuous coverage who have preexisting conditions, Romney would expand on current state efforts to cover them via high-risk insurance pools.
The GOP nominee “supports reforms that empower states to make high-risk pools more accessible by using cost reducing methods like risk adjustment and reinsurance,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Huffington Post in June following a Romney speech on health care.
Now, does all this mean Romney was stretching the truth during his Meet the Press appearance? According to Democrats, it does. Current state high-risk pools generally offer poor insurance coverage at high prices, writes liberal Ed Kilgore Monday in the Washington Monthly.
“So once again, Mitt makes a reasonable sounding statement in front of a large audience, knowing he won’t be forced to disclose any details or actually make sense, and only later do we find out that it’s all smoke,” writes Kilgore.
Republicans, however, respond that Romney wasn’t stretching the truth. He does support covering preexisting conditions, and has a plan to do so, whether Democrats approve of it or not.
“This kind of mechanism, using high-risk pools combined with prohibitions on preexisting condition exclusions for the continuously insured, has been part of just about every conservative health-care proposal in recent years, including John McCain’s in 2008, the Ryan-Coburn alternative to Obamacare, and the congressional Republicans’ ‘Pledge to America’ before the 2010 elections,” writes Yuval Levin on the National Review blog The Corner.