By Elvin Lim
The Obama campaign, by fortune or by wit, has peaked at the right moment. Early voting has already started in Virginia, and starts in Iowa and Ohio next week. This means that the polls telling a uniform story of an Obama surge in crucial swing states aren’t just snap-shots; they are predictive of how voters — about 35 percent of total voters — are actually starting to vote as we speak.
Republicans like Karl Rove are saying that the CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac polls are wrong because they are using the turnout model of 2008. But Gallup found similar results. So did Bloomberg. So did the Washington Post. Obama’s numbers are moving up, and it is intellectually dishonest and ultimately self-defeating for some Republicans to spin a story about over-sampling Democrats to deny the plausible reality that a triangulation of polls are pointing to. (And by the way, the over-sampling spin is rather more complicated even than what its wonkish advocates say on TV, if only because no one knows what turnout is going to be.)
So right now, it is not looking good for Romney, who has to wait until October 5th to stand toe-to-toe with Obama, and demonstrate his presidential stature. It may be too late by then, which is why the Romney campaign has finally shifted from a national strategy to a state-by-state strategy, starting in Ohio. Whether or not it was wise to wait this late to start the ground game, we will know in six weeks. The Obama campaign has 96 offices in Ohio, nearly three times as many as Romney does — a strategic bet by the Democrats that the ground game matters more than the battle over the airwaves. The Republicans are expecting, in the post-Citizens United world, that the superPACS will step up to seal the deal for Romney.
Every fumbling campaign has at least one correctable problem — the candidate. Romney and Ryan need to stop complaining about how bad it is, or at least spend as much time telling us how good we could have it in the next four years. Even independent voters don’t want to hire a doomsayer for president, and this is especially important because the alternative, Obama, is a positive, likable guy. Even if Americans don’t feel better off today than they were in 2008, the real question is whether they would be better off in 2016 under Obama or under Romney. It is not just about malaise in America, but also about morning in America. What can Americans look forward to with President Romney? For better or for worse, voters need to be flattered, and they don’t want to to be told that the only reason not to vote for a sitting president is the disaster he will bring. They also need to be inspired by someone who would awaken their better angels and lead them to greener pasture.
Elvin Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears on the OUPblog regularly.
Image credit: President Obama Attends Town Hall Meeting In Indiana (2009). Photo by EdStock, iStockphoto.