Mitt Romney is using a campaign strategy of running out the clock, something appropriate for an incumbent who is ahead but not for a challenger who is behind. Numerous Republicans are pleading with him to break out and do something bold. Suggestions include going to the site of Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama has put on hold and talk to unemployed workers who want to build it or even just going to diners and talking to voters. But Romney just refuses to do these things, possibly because his handlers are afraid he will make a gaffe that becomes the news for a day or more. So he sticks to reciting his prepared remarks in carefully staged settings and avoids all retail politics.
While there had been endless discussion about whether Romney is conservative enough or too conservative or too rich or too secretive or too whatever, one aspect of the choice of him as nominee hasn't gotten much attention: he is not a good campaigner. While almost no one can match Bill Clinton when it comes to kissing babies and eating ethnic foods, candidates have to be able to communicate with voters somehow. Clinton was the master of retail politics and Obama can fill large arenas and give soaring speeches, but Romney is not really good at any of this and it is starting to hurt him. One can envision him sitting around a board room table with his advisors carefully planning out his strategy in a businesslike way. Step 1: collect vast amounts of money from wealthy donors. Step 2: bludgeon the opposition to death with a deluge of negative television ads. Step 3: avoid all spontaneous contact with the voters and just travel around giving a memorized speech. Only politics isn't business and techniques that work in one don't always work in the other.
When Mitt Romney was young, his father gave him the advice that he shouldn't go into politics if he needed to win an election to pay the mortgage. So he earned a fortune and then went into politics. Unfortunately, it is precisely this fortune that may be his undoing, as millions of voters think he cannot relate to their world and their problems.
Despite all his money, Romney is allegedly very frugal about some things. He downloads only free apps to his iPad and compacts his garbage before throwing it out because the garbage hauler charges by the bag. It is not clear if these allegations are true (for example, leaks from his staff) or plants from the campaign to show he is "everyman." If they were planted and are true, letting the world know that he revised his speeches by editing emails because he was too cheap to buy Apple's $9.99 word-processing program while at the same time applying for a permit to triple the size of one of his houses and install elevators for his cars makes an odd impression that speaks to his tone deafness.
The numerous lawsuits attacking the laws that were designed to reduce voter turnout are still ongoing. For example, tomorrow a U.S. Court of Appeals will hear arguments about a law that deals with counting or not counting provisional ballots filed in the wrong precinct due to poll-worker error. In 2008, there were 14,355 of these in Ohio alone. Also at issue in Ohio is the state's law shutting down early voting the three days before the election except for military voters. Democrats are arguing that since the polls will be open to allow soldiers to vote, there is no reason not to let civilians vote as well. There are about a dozen other suits pending in various states. Unless decisions come down quickly, there could be chaos on election day.
A piece in the Washington Post points out the obvious fact that everyone misses: the formal presidential debates aren't debates at all. They are two job interviews that occur on the same stage at the same time. Real debates--as practiced by college debating teams--have the opposing sides address each other and directly attack each other's positions. The presidential debates are actually more like 8th-grade spelling bees, in which the winner is the one who has memorized the most answers to likely questions. Nevertheless, for all their faults, the debates do present the voters with the opportunity to see the candidates in a setting other than (1) a carefully rehearsed television ad or (2) a memorized stump speech.
This year, the first debate will be even less spontaneous than ever since the moderator, Jim Lehrer, has announced the topics in advance: the economy, health care, the role of government, and governing. On the other hand, even if he hadn't announced them, both candidates probably figured those topics might come up and prepared answers, just in case.
The second presidential debate will use a town hall format, which is a bit more spontaneous than the moderator-centric ones because ordinary citizens sometimes think of questions quite different than what professional journalists think of. For example, in 1992 a questioner asked the candidates how the national debt affected them personally. The questioner probably meant the federal deficit rather than the national debt but George H.W. Bush answered the question literally, which was not a good answer. Bill Clinton realized what the questioner meant and gave a much better answer. Many pundits saw this as a key moment in the campaign.
No doubt each candidate will be looking for ways to put his opponent off balance. For example, how do you address the person? Will Obama refer to Romney as "governor," as "Mr. Romney," as "Mitt," or try to get under his skin by calling him "Willard." If he uses the latter and Romney blurts out "My name is Mitt" Obama could shoot back "I want to see your birth certificate" (His legal name is Willard Mitt Romney). Romney could say "Mr. President" but he could also say "Barack" or even "Barry," Obama's childhood nickname.
Scott Brown is the Republican senator from Massachusetts. Sometimes he is proud of his party and sometimes he is not. On his Website and in other direct communications, he tries to get money from out-of-state Republicans by holding out the carrot of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as majority leader. But when talking to voters in person, he rarely mentions that he is a Republican, because Massachusetts is such a blue state. It's a bit tricky when you have different messages for different audiences and it is important to keep the message for donors and the message for voters separate. His opponent, Elizabeth Warren, doesn't have this problem. She is unambiguously a Democrat to one and all.
Even though election day is more than 5 weeks away, some Democrats are starting to compile wish lists for Obama's second term. They apparently didn't get the memo pointing out that Obama hasn't won yet and even if he does win, the Republicans might control both chambers of Congress and decide their best strategy is to block everything he wants and wait for 2016. Nevertheless, some members of Congress are already announcing what they want him to work on, for example:
The reality depends entirely on the election results. If the Democrats score big and capture both chambers of Congress, they could try to abolish the filibuster by adopting new rules on the first day the Senate meets. In that case, they will be able to do a lot. In the more realistic scenario that they don't win back the House (or do win the House but don't abolish the filibuster), probably little of consequence will happen during Obama's second term because the Republicans will continue blocking everything. If the reverse situation happens and the Republicans win all the marbles, the Democrats probably won't filibuster every Romney initiative. They didn't do that when they were in the minority during George W. Bush's administration, after all.
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