Editorial note: Due to travel, postings may be somewhat erratic for the next 2 weeks.
When Mitt Romney started his 2012 campaign, he basically assumed that all he had to do to win was point out to people that the economy was in the toilet and the keys to the White House would be turned over to him. As it turns out, the voters already knew that and before giving him the keys, they want to know how he is going to fix the economy. Since he doesn't want to discuss his economic plan in any detail other than "tax cuts" and he seems to be falling farther and farther behind, he is now considering broadening his attacks, hitting President Obama on energy, health care, taxes, and spending. Note that what he is talking about doing is more attacking. He is not planning to tell people why they should vote for him, just why they should not vote for Obama. For whatever reason, he can't get out of attack mode. The problem with that approach so far is that although he may convince people that Obama is far from perfect, he hasn't even tried to make the case that he is better.
Traditionally, reelection campaigns are about giving the incumbent either a passing or failing grade and Romney still seems convinced that if people judge Obama a failure they will vote for him by default. What he seems to have missed is that he is viewed in a very unfavorable light with an approve/disapprove rating under water. Relentless attacks on Obama without explaining why he is a better alternative don't seem to be doing the job for him, but he keeps trying.
A new poll shows that 53% of the voters expect President Obama to be elected to a second term while only 41% think challenger Mitt Romney will be moving into the White House on Jan. 20. In the previous poll, taken just before the Democratic convention, the voters were evenly split about who was going to win. The poll was taken by Pulse Opinion Research, a subsidiary of Rasmussen Reports.
Politico has an interesting piece about the split in the Republican ranks between campaign strategists and conservative pundits and media figures. The strategists know Romney is substantially behind and are trying to figure out how to deal with it and its consequences downticket. After all, their jobs depend on actually winning. Media figures (like Dick Morris) are claiming that Romney is ahead by 4 or 5 points and will win Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Their incentives are different from that of the strategists. They want to build audiences and mailing lists and telling the base what it wants to hear is a way to do that. That the predictions may turn out to be completely wrong doesn't matter to them.
Conservative pundits have even attacked polls run by Fox News and long-time Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who pooh-poohed the criticism with: "The Prime Directive of pollster survival is to make sure you get it right." McInturff works with Democrat Peter Hart and does polling for the Wall Street Journal among other media outlets.
While the Republicans have raised an enormous furor over in-person voter fraud, nobody has said a word about another illegal practice: vote buying. The price of a vote is thought to vary from state to state. In West Virginia $10 gets you a vote. In Arkansas, a $2 half-pint of vodka does the job. In court cases, it has been revealed how cheaply some people will sell their votes, especially in the heart of vote-buying country: Appalachia.
A recent study of voter fraud by a consortium of journalism schools found only 867 cases since 2000 where someone had admitted guilt or been convicted of fraud--out of 146 million registered voters. From the vote buyer's perspective, the safest way to buy a vote is to get the voter to request an absentee ballot, sign the envelope, and give the ballot and signed envelope to him. The buyer then fills it in and sends it back to the designated address. Occasionally someone gets caught, but it is rare. In one case in Tennessee, a candidate for the state legislature won his primary by eight votes, taking 85% of the absentee ballots but a much smaller fraction of the in-person votes. It is this kind of situation that raises a red flag but it is still hard to prove. Absentee-ballot fraud is the preferred method because if someone promises to vote a certain way in return for a certain quantity of a selected beverage, the buyer has no proof that the voter did what he was supposed to do. When the buyer gets an absentee ballot in his hands, proof is so much easier. None of the voter ID laws deal with this problem. As an aside, a great deal of computer science research has gone into devising electronic voting systems that (1) guarantee voter privacy while (2) at the same time deterring vote buying as much as possible, often by making it possible for the voter to fool the purchaser. For the technically savvy, Google "Tanenbaum Paul trustworthy voting".
Of the many people involved in a political campaign, one of the least known, but most important, is the media buyer. This person is told what demographic groups the candidate wants to reach and then the buyer decides which shows to advertise on. This information is generally public and opponents study it carefully. The trick for the buyer is to get the most bang for the buck, taking into account audiences, prices, and what the other side is doing.
Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) has become a pariah to the Republican establishment on account of his statement that rape victims don't become pregnant. Consequently, they have cut off his funding. Nevertheless, he stayed in the race and is getting some funding from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and antiabortion groups. Most observers expect Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to hang onto her seat, but what would happen if Akin were to somehow win?
There are not many examples of anything like this to base a guess on. The closest thing is the 2010 Senate race in Alaska, in which Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) lost a primary to a tea partier, then ran as an independent and won the general election. She was allowed to keep her committee assignments but has voted the party line much less (71% vs. 83%) since winning as a write-in candidate. She figures that since the party didn't support her write-in effort, she doesn't owe them much. With Akin, it would be much worse. The party is completely washing its hands of him. Many Republicans have called for him to drop out. Were he to win, he would probably be torn between taking positions he believed in and trying to annoy the leadership as much as possible. Given the power individual senators have to gum up the works, he could become a real loose cannon, frustrating Mitch McConnell at every turn.
Here is the schedule for in-person early voting. Swing states are marked in purple.
|State||In-person voting starts|
|South Dakota||Sept. 21|
|North Carolina||Oct. 18|
|New Mexico||Oct. 20|
|North Dakota||Oct. 22|
|West Virginia||Oct. 24|
|Massachusetts||60%||32%||Sep 26||Sep 28||MassINC|
|North Carolina||46%||50%||Sep 28||Sep 30||ARG|
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||I||I %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Hawaii||Maizie Hirono||55%||Linda Lingle||39%||Sep 26||Sep 28||Merriman River Group|
|Massachusetts||Elizabeth Warren||49%||Scott Brown*||45%||Sep 26||Sep 28||MassINC|
|Maine||Cynthia Dill||14%||Charlie Summers||33%||Angus King||45%||Sep 25||Sep 25||Rasmussen|
|New Mexico||Martin Heinrich||52%||Heather Wilson||39%||Sep 27||Sep 27||Rasmussen|
|Ohio||Sherrod Brown*||49%||Josh Mandel||39%||Sep 19||Sep 29||Columbus Dispatch|