Saturday, August 11, 2012

Race for the White House

87 Days Until Election Day

In thinking ahead this week, I pretty much knew what kind of topics regarding the Presidential race I planned to cover today and had quite a bit I wanted to say. That changed for me (as well as my sleeping schedule) at about 11:15 last night when I heard that Mitt Romney was going to be announcing his choice for Vice President this morning in Norfolk, Virginia. Soon, it became clear that the number two Republican on the ticket would be Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a seven term Congressman and the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Since that time, I have made several comments elsewhere on the internet, so much of what I am going to be saying in this post, I have already said. I just want to be able to get as many thoughts out as possible in a reasonable length, so once again, this may seem to be a bit disjointed.

My first thought when I heard about this selection was mild surprise that he would be the one to actually get it. Paul Ryan would not have been my first choice for political reasons, and the political junkie in me always jumps to potential downsides, but I had little doubt from the beginning that Mitt Romney and his team (unlike past candidates) would give this big decision the appropriate thought and consideration it demanded. I knew that all candidates would be thoroughly vetted and that Governor Romney, the candidate and person I have believed in for so long now, would make the right decision for him, for the party, and most importantly for the country. I believe in him, and thus, I believe in the pick of Paul Ryan. After all the events of today, I believe in it more strongly than ever and needless to say, I am greatly enthused about the Romney/Ryan ticket, the cause of their election, and what they can mean for America and the world if given the opportunity to serve. The one big downside to me has to be that Paul Ryan is a Green Bay Packers fan, but I have to get over that.

Perhaps the two main things from my perspective-

1. Mitt Romney is thinking about governing, above all else, and has decided that Paul Ryan is the person he most wants to be at his side as his #2 and believes he has what it takes to be the best President, if anything should happen to him.

2. When all is said and done, the selection of Paul Ryan will neither win nor lose the election for Mitt Romney. I suppose there is a possibility that Wisconsin can go Republican by a very small margin, and that will make the difference (or another state like Florida, Ohio, or Virginia could be lost by literally less than 1,000 votes and maybe it could be said that someone else would have allowed the GOP to get to 270), but ultimately, after the rollout tour, and a convention speech, and one big Vice Presidential debate, the running mates are not close to being the focus.

This race will come down to a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, most specifically about the economy and Obama's stewardship over it. The relatively small group of truly undecided voters, will decide fairly late in the game, and when they do so, they will not be thinking much about either Joe Biden or Paul Ryan.

While this was more of a "governing pick" and a "national pick", it is certainly possible than Ryan can help potentially turn his own native Wisconsin red and maybe even a neighboring state like Iowa additionally, where Republicans have seemed to be running surprisingly strong. Ryan's home district (which is not far at all from where I live) is diverse and competitive, though Democrats have won it in Presidential elections. It has several factory towns with a large union presence, such as Ryan's hometown of Janesville, but the conservative has been able to be very popular there and has won regularly with over 60 percent of the vote. He has succeeded in winning Democrat votes before and could do so again.

The new GOP ticket, which is quite pleasing to conservatives, and I believe has already energized rank and file Republicans indicates that Mitt Romney wants this campaign to be a serious, high-minded discussion of differences and issues. There should be and probably will now be much talk about budgets, and numbers, and entitlements, and reform, and very different plans (putting aside the fact that Democrats really do not have a plan for change and reform.) In that regard, it will do a great service to the country if this campaign can be about big and bold things, and not trading insults like "Romneyhood" and "Obamaloney" back and forth, as we saw earlier in the week.

I have little doubt that partisan Democrats are also happy about this selection, and will try to overemphasize that in discussing it in the days ahead. They have already been too overconfident about the election and feel they will be able to use scare tactics enough to frighten people, especially senior citizens in a state like Florida, and that will make it much more difficult for the Romney/Ryan ticket to win.

There was never a doubt in my mind that a state like Florida, and several others, would come down to the wire, as it has in the past, and of course Democrats are going to be more anxious than ever to use the "Mediscare tactic" right out of their central playbook. They may even get it to work for a while, but as this campaign progresses, the more I think it will grow tired, wear thin, and ultimately fail.

Paul Ryan is just not a scary guy. He is not the most amazingly charismatic politician the world has ever seen, but he comes across as sincere, earnest, highly intelligent, and well-meaning. I think people will really be impressed by him the more they learn about his life story and what he has gone through, and will also come to like his attractive wife and three young children.

While midterm elections are certainly different in many ways from those that occur in Presidential races, it is worth noting that Democrats made the "Ryan Budget" the central point of their 2010 campaign and that did not turn out well for them at all. In a state like Wisconsin, we saw Governor Scott Walker stand on principle over the past couple of years, tell the truth about the fiscal matters, and easily win a recall election, when so much was allayed against him. I think there are parallels that can be drawn.

In regards to Florida, I think Sarah Palin scared senior citizens there a lot more than Paul Ryan will, and Barack Obama only won the state in 2008 by two points, when he had a whole heck of a lot more going for him at that time. When the state votes, they will decide between Romney and Obama. I doubt very many people are out there who really were planning to vote for Mitt Romney, but now will not. I also do not think there are a whole lot of people who are only going to vote for Romney now because he picked Paul Ryan, but that there are a lot of people who are probably more enthusiastic and energized about the GOP ticket at this point. The narratives that Romney is "not bold" or "too cautious" or "does not have a plan for the future besides criticizing Obama" now have to be considered null and void once and for all. This was a bold pick, but I do not think it was an overly risky one.

To be honest, I feel much better about this than I did about the John McCain selection of Sarah Palin four years ago. I was horrified when that first was reported, but to be honest, I did completely get sucked in by a strong rollout, amazingly generated enthusiasm in the GOP and a downright awesome speech by Palin at the GOP convention. However, that was not able to last beyond that initial burst and Palin became a damaging narrative on the campaign trail. I certainly do not think she cost McCain the election, and if anything might have even got him more votes than she lost him, but everything we now know about that selection and how it was done, indicate it was a really, really bad idea. I have no doubt that this was thought about and considered in a far more worthy manner. We seem to know now that Romney made up his mind about taking Ryan at the beginning of the month, and that the job was accepted around that time. It appears to be a well-executed secret, although the Romney campaign also seems to have shrewdly coordinated a positive case for Ryan with conservative publications, who had been hinting this pick as a real and positive possibility all week.

If John McCain picking Sarah Palin was a Hail Mary pass to the endzone, Romney picking Ryan is perhaps a 30 yard down the field. Some might make the case that Romney, like McCain feels he needed a "game changer" in order to avoid an election that he might think was slipping away, but I really think it was more a pick of comfort than anything else, and has so much to do with who Romney wants in the Oval Office with him. If Romney were truly scared about the election, it might have made more sense to try to shore up Ohio or Virginia or Florida with somebody from those states, as they are likely to be more crucial to victory than Wisconsin, which would have been a great bonus.

Romney had many strong options to look to before picking Ryan. As much as I might have loved to seen Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia (who is a great team player for being right there today with the ticket in his state), picking him would have made social issues and concerns about the female vote too much of a story when the focus needs to be on the economy. As much as I would have loved to have seen Senator Rob Portman, his connections to the Bush Family and service as George W. Bush's Budget Director, would have made the "change" message harder to advance. As much as parts of me would have loved to see an historic selection such as Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal, they were probably just not ready yet for this and might have been seen as picks that bordered on pandering. Paul Ryan, like any other contender for national office has his political "cons", but it just may be that everyone else had more. Perhaps a Tim Pawlenty would have been the least "risky", but that choice just would not have excited the GOP electorate the way this did, and frankly, I would have been a bit worried about Pawlenty in a big national debate. I believe I will enjoy watching Ryan debate Biden.

While Ryan is pretty young (thought not as young as past winning GOP VP candidates Richard Nixon and Dan Quayle), I do not think there can be serious questions about his credentials and experience, even though he has never even run a statewide race before. I do not think there are any logical concerns about his character or his background or his intelligence. I think he will come across as well-spoken and on message in any sort of interview situation (unlike what we may have seen in 2008) on all sorts of issues including foreign policy. It is probably to his benefit that he is not a "rich guy" either, running on a ticket with Romney. Personally, I love the fact that he is a Jack Kemp and William Bennett protege, who was inspired by and came of age professionally working for them. They inspired me as well a great deal in those days.

Let us now briefly take a look at some of the more interesting aspects of this race, now that we know who the two tickets compose. There is not a southerner on them, nor anyone who has ever served in the military. That is quite a change from our political tradition. Also, of the four principals, there is not one white Protestant, as the only Protestant is (the Jeremiah Wright inspired) Barack Obama, whose ticket is likely to fare extremely poorly among white Protestants. I have mentioned in the past that the only non Protestant to ever be on a national ticket was William Miller, the 1964 Vice Presidential candidate. Still, I just do not see much reason to be concerned about Protestants or Evangelicals deciding to protest or shortchange the Mormon/Catholic ticket that now exists. I just think that almost all of those people who would have fretted about such a thing in the past have decided, there are a lot more important things on the line this year. The Irish-Catholic Ryan, the product of a working class Midwestern background can only help though in appealing to the type of white ethnic Catholics who had made up such a big part of the Reagan Coalition in the past.

It is worth noting that Ryan is basically the first Generation X cohort to ever be put on a national ticket, 24 years after the first Baby Boomer was put one. This represents the beginning of a generational changing of the guard, as the Boomer Romney has made this happen. Ryan was born in January of 1970 (amazing to think that the next VP could have been born in the same decade as myself) and is the same age as Romney's oldest son. In fact, Ryan sort of looks like he could be a Romney son, but I think he still comes across as appropriately mature. It would be a great thing for the ticket if Ryan, with his young family, could appeal to young professionals and suburbanites in their 30s and 40s to the Republican ticket, as my party has needed to do better among them. Senior citizens appear to currently make up Romney's strongest age-based support group and as mentioned, many feel that Ryan could be a liability there, but I feel that the campaign must be and will be prepared to fight back against the Mediscare tactics and make the case why those voters can feel secure about their safety nets, while also realizing the necessity of making reforms possible for their children and grandchildren to one day also be able to be just as secure.

Two years ago, Democrats ran ads showing a Ryan lookalike pushing an old lady in a wheelchair off a cliff. While that failed to prevent them from taking a midterm shellacking at the polls, we can expect to see more of that this year. After all, this is the party and the Administration and the campaign that has of late embraced shameful McCarthyesque tactics to attack Mitt Romney and is embracing a disgraceful and and overwhelmingly factually dubious ad in which Romney was basically accused of causing a woman's death from cancer. Before yesterday's start of this big campaign event, there was much talk about how the White House had been caught in a huge lie about what they knew about the claims made in the ad. That had been what I had planned to focus most about in this post, but the events of the past day have pushed aside all that from the headlines, along with any narratives about Romney slipping behind beyond the margin of error in national polling, despite the two daily tracking polls, showing a status quo, and basically tied race.

It seems clear that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and their party are desperate to hold on to power and despite all the talk about "Hope and Change" and a "new style of politics" four years, will take the lowest road possible over the rest of this campaign season, if it leads them back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The thing about negative politics is that it often works, even when the attacks are baseless and unfair. It could work this time as well. Democrats are hopeful it will, as they have a tough record to defend and too many anxious and upset people out there to win over in a positive manner.

The new Romney/Ryan ticket is a call to get this campaign on a track to talking about issues, both as a referendum on the Democrats' job performance and offering an alternative philosophy that is very different in how the role of government is contrasted with the role and freedom of the individual. If the American people are in the mood for a stark, choice election, regarding concrete differences, as opposed to a mud-slinging contest, they can now have it, if they want it.

Democrats will continue to say that they are thrilled that Romney picked Ryan, but I believe today is primarily a good day for the GOP. The campaign events of today were strong, substantively and visually, although Mitt Romney did commit a gaffe (before correcting himself a moment later) by accidentally referring to Ryan as the "next President of the United States." That slip of the tongue soundbite will make all the news programs, but it happens to also be the exact same slip of the tongue that Obama had when introducing Biden at his announcement four years ago. Go figure.

A VP rollout announcement early on a Saturday morning, two weeks before a convention, and while the Olympics were still going on is a bit unusual, but it seems as if Romney and his team wanted to change the narrative away from the attacks against him as soon as possible, and wanted the ticket together in the big bus tour that kicked off today in Virginia and will go through a handful of swing states, which will now include a stop tomorrow at Wisconsin. For a fast moving event like we saw today, the GOP crowds I saw on television looked fairly large and very fired up. By his third stop, Mitt Romney seemed incredibly jazzed up by the support and gave a fiery and forceful stump speech. Republicans will love the passion and the enthusiasm if it can get be sustained all the way to the convention and beyond.

Godspeed to Paul Davis Ryan and his family. In saying yes to Mitt Romney, I hope he knows what they are all going to have to endure for the next 87 days and potentially for the rest of his life. Amazing avenues to the future are now open to him, but his main job is to now do whatever he can to support Mitt Romney and help push the campaign message that ultimately only the top of the ticket can win on.

Media conventional wisdom is that Obama is favored to win. After two months of an overwhelmingly non-stop and largely unanswered to this point negative barrage against Mitt Romney on the airwaves, perhaps he has succeeded in harming his opponent. Romney has more than enough opportunities though to change those perceptions and today was the first chance to do so.

In spite of everything and all the polls we have seen over the past week, both national tracking polls today have Obama's job approval rating down to just 43 percent. I am willing to theorize that there is at least a couple negative points of a backlash there due to the completely over the top and out of lines attacks against Romney, so the incumbent and his team would be wise to tread carefully. It is going to be very hard to win reelection when just 43% of the people think you are doing a good job, especially when there is so much to criticize him for on his record.

America's Comeback Team: