Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who Won the Week? (June 17-23)

Last week was a mixed bag for each of the campaigns.  The media seemed to focus on only two issues: immigration and Fast and Furious.  Let’s begin with the former. 

In what had become a painful week for Mr. Romney on the topic, the back-to-back candidate speeches at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) conference didn’t help the candidate.  During his speech on Thursday, Mitt Romney stopped short of endorsing the President’s immigration policy, only to tell the Hispanic crowd that he would replace the policy with his own.  However, he failed to outline even the skeleton of such a plan, and his speech was generally poorly received. 

On Friday, President Obama greeted the same community (and more) and cast himself as one of them: as a fighter for their rights and values against an obstructionist Congress.  Played back to back, there is no doubt of whom the Latino community is supporting. 

To back up this assertion, polls came out at the end of the week showing the President has an even larger lead among Latinos than he did in 2008.  With a growing lead like that, it will be hard for Romney to win in key swing states that will decide the election.

On the second issue of the week, a Republican-controlled House of Representatives panel voted to hold Attorney General in contempt over him (and the administration) not providing some documentation sought by the committee.  The Obama administration claimed executive privilege on the specific documents. 

Up until then, the Fast and Furious issue, as it is called, had not really reached the mainstream media.  However, it is now front and center. 

Oddly enough, the Obama administration and Democrats seem to be happy to see the GOP-led House focus on the issue, and the Republican leadership has been reluctant to make the issue a big deal.  Perhaps Boehner sees it as a distraction from talking about the economy or the Democrats see it as a prime way to display how radical the Tea Party has become.  

I’m personally not convinced this is a win for the administration, as it tints Obama with scandal in an election year, even though perhaps there is no scandal at all.

Polling:  This past week brought a poll by Bloomberg putting the President 13 points above Mitt Romney in a hypothetical matchup.  That single poll, which is likely an outlier, has increased Mr. Obama’s lead in RealClearPolitics’ average to 2.6% from 0.7% last week.  However, if we were to not include that poll, the President would only lead Mr. Romney by 1.4%, making the race still a statistical tie. 

Who Won the Week?  Tie

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Upside of Losing and the Downside of Winning

Since the New Deal era, the party that has controlled the White House has shifted quite regularly, and with the shifts has come a somewhat predictable pattern.   For the most part, as shown below, a party will retain the White House for two terms, after which it will shift to the other party.  The two obvious exceptions are in 1980 and 1988. 

Bush I
Bush II
Bush II

It is still unclear as to if the pattern will hold, giving President Obama a second term, or if 2012 will be an exception.  However, the winner of the 2012 election will surely give some evidence as to who will win in 2016, and possibly claim the White House for eight years.  Further, the party in power typically loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections.  Let’s examine the two scenarios:

Obama Wins

This is the scenario conservatives have nightmares about.  But should it be?  Firstly, if President Obama wins a second term, he will very likely have either one or both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans, meaning nothing that passes is going to be overwhelmingly progressive.  If anything, because he won’t have another election in four years, Obama may feel freer to compromise more with the GOP in order to get big things done.  After all, as I noted in an earlier post, Presidents want legacies. 

Further, if President Obama wins a second term, Republicans will likely have a much greater chance of winning in 2016; possibly with control of both houses of Congress.  The GOP Presidential candidates in 2016 are expected to be much better than 2012’s Tea Party crop and could include such rising stars as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Bob McDonnell. 

Even though the Democrats would probably have a very strong candidate in Mrs. Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Andrew Cuomo, or Elizabeth Warren, they would each be tethered to Obama’s popularity, which by 2016 may not still be holding up in the high 40’s.  The situation could very much resemble President Bush’s in 2008 when Barack Obama was able to tie his opponent to the unpopular President. 

Finally, if President Obama’s popularity were to continue to wane after the election, as most second term Presidents’ approval does, the U.S. Congress could see an even larger share of its seats filled with Republicans.  This likelihood would prevent President Obama from making any headway on issues progressives care about. 

Romney Wins

Let’s start with this simple fact: Romney is an extremely weak nominee.  He is about as exciting as Bob Dole and has enough political and personal baggage to keep TSA agents busy for a long time.  However, despite all this, Romney is tied with or very close behind the President in most national polls due to the slow economic recovery.  In short, Romney could win, but it won’t be because people really want him to be President. 

Therefore, in four years when Romney is running for re-election, the public likely won’t change their minds much and will be ready for someone new.  In this scenario, Hillary Clinton will almost assuredly run and will probably be the Democratic nominee.  Her current approval ratings are in the high 60s.  That, and the possibility of electing the first woman President will give Democrats the White House yet again.

To further complicate Romney’s chances of winning a second term, it’s quite possible he will have a serious primary challenger.  There are a lot of Republicans, including elected officials, who just feel kind of ‘meh’ about Romney.  Unless he were to prove to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan, he will likely be challenged in a primary.  Historically, Presidents who have faced serious intra-party challenges have gone on to lose in the general election.

Finally, with regards to Congress, the public will most likely keep the trend of voting for the party out of power in the midterm election.  It’s possible Democrats could take control over both houses.  Romney would then be forced to work with a Democratic Congress, and would therefore be signing more progressive laws than if he had a GOP controlled Congress. 


I do not have a crystal ball, nor are all of these scenarios set in stone.  There are various factors that could change things.  For example, Obama or Romney could preside over a strong economic recovery over the next four years, making it much more likely that the Democrats or Mr. Romney, respectively, will win the White House in 2016.  

Additionally, one should not look at these predictions and forget about all of the positives of winning and negatives of losing.  Supreme Court judges will be appointed, laws will be passed, and wars could be started.  Elections have consequences.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Who Won the Week? (June 10-16)

There seems to be a pattern emerging week by week.  Ever since the primaries effectively ended, Mitt Romney has generally not been the one making news.  After months of repeated gaffes like “I like to fire people” and the “NASCAR” line, Mr. Romney has finally learned to keep his mouth shut, or at least to stick to the script.

Instead, the candidate usually driving the news cycle (for better or for worse) has been President Obama.  This week was no different.  However, this week, unlike the past couple, Mr. Obama and his team finally seemed to find their footing.

On Thursday, President Obama sought to lay out his economic message in Ohio.  While Obama offered no new policy plans or initiatives, he framed his message to appeal to those who still believe President Bush is most to blame for the country’s economic conditions.  Thankfully for President Obama, 68% of the country still believes that, according to a new poll. 

Mr. Romney also gave a speech in Ohio not far from the President.  However, Mr. Romney’s message seemed to be overshadowed by the Obama campaign’s large event.  This alone would not have constituted a bad week for Mitt Romney: cue the immigration announcement.

The next day, President Obama announced that his administration would allow children of illegal immigrants who were under 30 years old to apply to stay in the country for another two years.  Mr. Obama stated that his hope was there could be a more permanent solution legislated within that time frame.

This announcement made a bad problem worse for Romney.  There was no question the GOP nominee would begin with a deficit of support among Hispanics, especially after the strict immigration laws that have been passed in states like Arizona and Alabama. 

However, this move by the Obama administration will almost assuredly grow his margin among the Latino populations, provided Mr. Romney doesn’t split with his base and support the President’s decision.  Even more importantly, the Hispanic vote is key to winning some swing states such as Nevada, Colorado, and Florida. 

Since Friday, Mr. Romney has been on the defensive when asked if he supported the President’s decision or if he would continue the policy if he were to become President.  He has yet to offer a clear answer, except to claim that President Obama is playing politics with policy. 

Polling:  This is a bright spot for Mitt.  Both Gallop and Rasmussen have consistently had polls showing Romney beating the President in a head-to-head matchup, while other polling agencies give Obama only a slight lead.  Essentially, the race is a statistical tie with Mr. Obama leading Mr. Romney by only 0.7%.  Obviously, polls from individual states matter more than national polls, and Obama is doing better on the state level, at least in those that matter most.

In the end, Obama reversed the bad news cycle that had been giving his campaign headaches for the past two weeks, and he has now put Mitt in a tough position.  It will be interesting to see how Mr. Romney deals with the immigration announcement.  If anything, this could mean a better shot for Marco Rubio in the VEEP contest…

Who Won the Week?  President Obama 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Who Won the Week? (June 3-9)

This past week has been brutal for President Obama and his re-election team.  In fact, there was very little good news to counter the negative storylines breaking through. 

To begin, the dismal jobs report that was released on June 1 was still the focus of all the talk on the Sunday shows and drove the overall storyline of a weakening economic recovery throughout the week.  To make things worse, news out of Europe has continued to be poor as Greece and now Spain are grappling with how to solve their debt problems.  For Mr. Obama, there is potentially nothing worse for his re-election, as well as the U.S. economy, than the collapse of one or multiple countries in Europe. 

However, not all was bad on the economic front; the Dow had it’s largest weekly increase of the year, and finance ministers in Europe decided to let Spain borrow 100 billion euros. 

Further, President Obama’s campaign had believed it was coming out with very solid fundraising numbers on Thursday, touting a $60 M haul from May.  That total was a 37.6% increase from April’s total of $43.6 M. 

However, for the first time since 2007, Mr. Obama was beaten by his opponent in fundraising.  Not only was he beaten this month, he was clobbered.   Mitt Romney managed to raise a whopping $76.8 M, which was a 92 % increase from last month! 

Finally, the gaffe of 2012.  As the President was outlining the tumultuous situation in Europe to the press, he answered a question on how the public sector was doing with respect to the private sector.  Obama remarked, “the private sector is doing fine”. 

Anyone who’s ever seen an attack ad will be able to envision this quote being used relentlessly against Mr. Obama throughout the next few months, much like McCain’s “the fundamentals of he economy are strong” quote was used to portray McCain as out of touch.  The President quickly admitted he had misspoken, but by then, it was too late.

To be fair, Romney made a couple of mistakes of his own.  On Friday he seemed to endorse the idea of decreasing (or at least not increasing) the number of teachers, firefighters, and cops.  But that statement paled in comparison to Mr. Obama’s, and the media barely noticed it.

This is the kind of week that gets Democrats really nervous about November.  They were outraised, on the defensive regarding the economy, and gave Republicans a ready-for-TV attack ad that is sure to be potent.  President Obama and his team better step up their game, because they are losing badly.

Who Won the Week?  Mitt Romney

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Gay Marriage Announcement

To preface this post, I meant to write it right after the President announced his support for same sex marriage.  Actually, I originally was planning a piece on the politics of announcing his support and whether or not he should do it.  However, the President beat me to that post, and finals, graduation, and moving have kept me from any posts since. 

Let me also say that I may be a bit biased in this article; I am a gay man who is currently engaged and hoping to be married at some point in the near future.  I will do my best to keep this post as unbiased as possible. 

There has been a lot of speculation about how President Obama’s announcement will affect the outcome of the election and whether it will help or hurt him.  The general consensus has been that we don’t know yet.  However, I’m going to disagree with that conventional wisdom.  Obama’s announcement, though very poorly timed, will help his re-election bid, and here is why.

America’s public opinion of same-sex marriage has shifted dramatically in the past couple decades.  In 1996, when Gallop started tracking the public’s views on gay marriage, only 27% of people supported the idea while a whopping 68% were opposed.  Even in 2008, the last time Barack Obama ran for president, the level of support was at 40% as opposed to 56% opposed. 

While that 16% spread may seem like a dramatic improvement as opposed to 1996’s 41% gap, it seems much less remarkable when looking at the overall trend line.  From 2004 to 2010, the level of support (and opposition) has remained remarkably constant, ranging between 37-46% in favor and 53-59% against. 

However, a notable shift occurred sometime between the polling in 2010 and 2011.  For the first time in its history, the polling found that a majority (53%) of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage while only 45% were opposed.  Similarly, the poll in 2012, which was taken immediately following the President’s announcement, found that 50% were in favor and 48% were opposed. 

While at first glance it may seem as though less people now support gay marriage than in 2011, the change is likely due more to statistical noise.  More importantly, the overall trend line clearly shows an evolving public: one that will soon be strongly in favor of same sex marriage and one that will vastly outnumber opponents. 

Which leads me to my next point: President Obama wants to have a legacy, as all great Presidents do.  In terms of civil rights, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; Harry Truman integrated African Americans into the U.S. military; Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. 

Barack Obama has already done more for the gay community and gay rights movement than any President in history by extending hate crimes to include gays, refusing to uphold the constitutionality of DOMA, and repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law.  By supporting marriage equality, he is became the first President and Presidential nominee to do so.  Even if Mr. Obama is defeated in November, he will still have carved out a lasting legacy for his support of gay rights.

Finally, President Obama’s announcement will help to advance the mobilization strategy his campaign is using this fall.  Just eight years ago, President Bush also used this wedge issue to excite his own base in his own mobilization efforts.  Unfortunately for the GOP, gay marriage is now an issue that has more fervent support among the Democratic base than it has fervent opposition in the Republican base. 

Specifically, support is highest among younger, more educated Democratic voters.  Coincidentally, these are the same voters who need to be highly engaged in the grassroots efforts of the campaign.  Exciting these voters about their candidate gives a jolt of energy to a campaign, making door-to-door canvassing and phone banking seem more worth it to volunteers. 

Further, one of the President’s strongest and most reliable voting blocks is the gay community.  Until his announcement, many wealthy gay donors were holding back from giving to the campaign.  It isn’t clear yet (and won’t be for another week or so when the May financial disclosures come out) if the President’s support for same sex marriage has changed the money dynamic, but I would be surprised if May was not a strong fundraising month for team Obama. 

So will the President be hurt in some swing states by this announcement?  Possibly.  Will the added excitement of his base be a benefit in others?  Probably.  Will President Obama truly give himself a positive in civil rights?  Absolutely.