Thursday, August 23, 2012

State of Play: Fault Lines

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I was disappointed in Politico's current essay: Six Hidden Fault Lines In Obama's Campaign. Here are the "six possible weak points:"

  1. Insiders vs. Outsiders: Obama's campaign is still mostly composed of the 2008 team that was there when he wasn't clearly a winner. There's tension between the old-guard and the young guns.
  2. Washington vs. Chicago. Team Obama is run out of Chicago. That's remote and there are some problems with coordination.
  3. Obama vs. Joe. Joe is ambitious and does his own thing. Sometimes really his own thing. Sure, he's a "team player"--but is he really a team player?
  4. Obama vs. Other Democrats: Obama has distanced himself from other Democrats.
  5. Obama 08 vs 12: Obama has gone more negative and he's under a lot of stress ... Maybe that's bad?
  6. Family vs. Politics: A Santorum dig at Obama's daughter got him riled up. A weak point?
Analyzing these it breaks down into:
  • Internal divisions (and coordination issues). This is, of course, standard for all campaigns. If Team Romney is not having some inside discussions about Fenstrom I'd be shocked. Numbers 1, 2, and 4 count here. In short, yeah: this could kill the campaign but exactly the same issues could kill any campaign.
  • Joe Biden: Number 3 is iffy. I think on the balance Biden is a net small positive: a lot of people in the key swing-state of Ohio really, really like him. I do think he represents a larger opportunity cost if, indeed, he's preventing a Hillary run (which is totally unclear). And he is a loose cannon. But really? Campaign killer? Fault line? No--the bottom of the ticket rarely matters much and Biden is the poster boy for "not mattering much."
  • Politics ain't bean-bag: Number's 5 and 6 are here--and, yeah. It's tough. But I don't think that a Republican assault on the kids is going to get Romney anywhere and he knows it. If Obama is losing it, it's not because of anything Romney is doing. If Mr. No-Drama can't hang anymore, yes: he's done--but that seems unlikely to be the key issue. Every president has been super-stressed and there's no evidence Obama handles it worse than others.
The Real Fault Lines
So if I didn't think much of Politico, what do I think?

Team Obama Real Fault Lines
Here are the things Team Obama actually needs to worry about ...
  1. Base Enthusiasm: This is going to be a "base election" and the Democrats do have an enthusiasm gap of some sort (how bad you think it is varies). They need to really, really motivate their base to make up for the damage the, uh, flagging economy is doing. Obama does not have a lot of time nor a lot of tools to really excite people.
  2. The Glass Jaw (The Economy): If Ryan/Romney (and I'm putting them that way for a reason) can manage to seize the narrative initiative from Obama and make the discussion for the next 75 days about the economy that's going to leave a mark. So far Obama has been deft in keeping Team Romney back on its heels but that may not be the case as we move past labor day.
  3. Voter ID Laws: Both Ohio and Florida were very close in the last few elections (not '08, but they were "close" there--just not razor-thin/recount-thin). Voter ID laws could conceivably cost Team Obama some vote there and that means that Team O will have to spend valuable resources coordinating early voting, fighting legal battles, and so on.
  4. Black Swans: Almost anything unexpected that could happen will hurt Obama more than help him. Team Romney just needs to get lucky. I will note that an Israeli strike on Iran (possible) might actually help Obama with the "rally 'round the flag" effect that such international actions tend to produce ... but I think that's more of a 60/40 thing against Obama than for him.
Team Romney's Real Fault Lines
Where are the weak-points in Romney's battle plans?
  1. Oh My Akin Jaw ...: The last thing Romney needed was Akin's meteoric ( ... as in "leave a crater") 'reentry' into national politics. The issue is actually not the stupid stuff Akin said it's (a) that Akin refused to step down after being "told to" by Romney and Ryan--which is not the kind of PR you want and (b) that everyone has spent the week leading up to the convention talking about abortion instead of the economy. Akin is "not the Republican party" but he is the conversation every conservative blog is having ... and may continue to have. Good job, dude. As he will continue to be news while he stays in (not too much longer, I suspect) this fault line stays open every day that he doesn't drop out. If he passes the Sept 25th last-call date? Earthquake.
  2. David Copperfield Made The Swing-Voters Vanish: Romney is going to have a saturation-level ad blitz from Labor Day to November. The problem is that swing voters are as hard to reach as bigfoot and ... maybe believe in him. If the electorate is as calcified as the data shows Obama, who is ahead in the Electoral Vote, may have a floor. There may be only so much Romney's messaging can move the dial. If that turns out to be true, it'll be a dice-roll in each swing state and the odds are presently against Team Romney.
  3. Voucher-Collapse: The Ryan plan has a lot of support from fiscal hawks. It has been proposed so as not to impact over 55 voters. It claims to make Medicare solvent. These are all good. It, I think, still uses vouchers which are not popular. This has the potential to cost some key votes (each old white guy vote is like 2:1 expensive since that's a demographic the Republicans usually own) across a lot of states. Can Team Obama make this line of attack stick? I don't know--Team Ryan is hitting back pretty hard--but I'd be worried about this.
  4. They Don't Like Me! They Really Don't Like Me! Romney did himself a big favor with Ryan: Ryan has actual charisma. Romney does not (don't ask me--I'm just reporting what seems to be the facts). Team Romney has spent 2.5 million designing a stage to see if they can make him likable. While that is good maneuvering, it is not a good sign. I suspect that Romney has already suffered almost maximal damage from his likability deficit but you never know. And if hurricane Isaac cancels the convention  Owwww....
In This Anything Goes Election Obama Using the HAARP Weather Control Station To Interfere With The Convention Was Not Unexpected. But Deploying Joe Biden To Tampa Was Just Dirty
What Do I Think?
I think that Obama won the summer and the bell is about to ring on the fall round which will be Romney's to win. He will have the cash advantage, a news-making, photogenic VP, and a message that he'd better have honed to a razor's edge. He does have substantial weaknesses but he also has strengths and we'll see how he does coming out into the ring starting Monday.

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