Saturday, October 27, 2012

Race for the White House

10 Days Until Election Day

I did something this week that I had been waiting a long time to do. Nearly six years to be exact.

This past Thursday, I voted for Mitt Romney to be President of the United States of America. While I typically wait until Election Day to vote in Presidential elections, I just wanted to get my vote in as soon as possible. For the sake of the country, it will probably be the best and most important vote I will ever cast. While I have voted for Mitt Romney twice before in Illinois Presidential primaries (not sure what that would equate to if Lena Dunham made another incredibly creepy and inappropriate campaign ad on behalf of Obama), I was very happy to finally get a chance to vote in a general election for the Mittster. Also motivating me was the fact that my Thursday early vote would come at virtually the same time that Barack Obama was casting his vote elsewhere in Cook County. So, the Incredible Shrinking President's vote was cancelled by my own.

The election is really close and I do not have a lot of time this week to write much. Likely many grassroots political activists, I am engaged in trying to turn out the vote for candidates, from the top of the ballot to Congressional races to those for local office. As all states have some form of early voting, this has become more and more of a focus as the word "propensity" has entered the American lexicon this past week. Democrats are pushing to get their high propensity voters to lock in early votes, while Republicans have been working more in getting low propensity voters (those who do not typically vote) to take that step before they can change their minds or find excuses. We believe our own high propensity voters will be there on Election Day, as they usually. Thus, if Republicans are correct about this disparity, it could very much render moot any advantage that Democrats claim to have in their early voting claims. While it might make some sense to assume that more Democrats are voting earlier than Republicans (though that certainly did not seem to be my personal impression among the folks I was standing in line with this week to vote), all sorts of empirical data from the swing states (with the possible exception of Nevada) seem to be indicating that early turnout among registered Republican voters (or those who live in Republican areas) are significantly up from 2008 while the early turnout numbers among Democrats are down  from the same time.

If one were to attempt to gauge online sentiment, it would be clear that partisans of both parties and both candidates are claiming that victory is within reach. Democrats will point to the statistical models being produced by Nate Silver of the very liberal New York Times and the fact that the internationally based gambling site InTrade still skews heavily towards bets in favor of Obama winning. Polls out of the pivotal state of Ohio seem to be stubbornly avoiding a tip towards Romney, as they show either a tie or a very narrow Obama lead. Republicans will claim that those Ohio polls (as well as others that Democrats are pointing to, primarily from Public Policy Polling, on behalf of the liberal organizations who are paying them to poll states), have sampled that include more Democrats than are expected to make up a percentage of the electorate.

Republicans online will claim that Romney continues to have all the momentum in the race and is now clearly ahead nationally, as evidenced by the fact that he has been at or above 50 percent for a week now in both the Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking polls of likely voters. In the past week, (even after a debate I will briefly touch on later), Romney's national standing has only solidified since last week. Gallup saw some reduction in the Romney lead towards the middle of this week, and Democrats were quick to jump on that, but now it is back to a five point spread as of today. Some tracking polls are showing a virtual dead heat race, but once again, if the numbers being presented by Gallup and Rasmussen are correct, it will be impossible for Obama to capture the popular vote. Of course, the Electoral College is what really matters, but if there is a two point or more spread between Romney and Obama nationwide, it is hard to see how the person who gets that many more votes does not also get to 270 electoral votes. Democrats almost seem to  be hanging their hat on the possibility that Obama will lose the popular vote to Romney but still win the election. It is entirely possible in my view that such an ultimate result can ultimately happen, but if it does, the national numbers would need to be close to a statistical tie. Otherwise, Democrats would need to assume Republicans will win red states by margins that are not anticipated and will come far closer than expected in many blue states.

In looking at the polls, nationally and in the swing states, I am struck by a couple of trends. For one thing, Romney leads by wider margins in those that have the larger sample sizes, while Obama does better in smaller polls. Also, Romney does better in the polls that show less voters being undecided, while Obama is more likely to be tied or ahead in national or state polls with larger numbers of undecided voters. At this point, I think there are only relatively few undecided voters left and many of them will ultimately not even vote. Some polls push "leaners" while others do not. When "leaners" are taken into account, there is more reason to assume that Romney is in a stronger position than some polls are still indicating.

While some of my fellow Republicans are convinced that this thing is breaking like 1980 in the final days and that Mitt Romney is headed for a mini-landslide, I remain more cautious. I am certainly cautiously optimistic about my candidate's chances, by virtue of what my brain tells me, but as somebody deeply invested in all of this, my heart is still kind of scared of course. If the indications coming from Gallup and Rasmussen, showing a four or five point GOP lead are correct, than I am very confident that Romney will take the national vote by at least two percentage points, which I have to assume would come along with at least a narrow Electoral College win. If those two particular polls suddenly close significantly in the next week (I expect some closure in favor of Obama), or if they are simply wrong, and underestimating the number of Democrats, especially minorities and young voters, or if the vaunted Obama "ground game" is just so overwhelmingly powerful, then the incumbent can still be reelected.

As of today, I think Romney is more likely to win than lose, but I am nowhere close to being certain. I really hope that the Ohio polls showing Obama ahead by two to four points are bit off the mark. The stuff I have been reading indicate that those polls may very well be over-counting early voters in number and their preferences in a way that has artificially inflated the Democrat's numbers. I also still think that Ohio is crucial to victory, and while the Romney/Ryan campaign is likely to fight it out in the Buckeye State until the last hour, some voices on the right are now starting to speculate whether a combination of New Hampshire and Wisconsin is more feasible in order to render Ohio moot and still get to 270. Romney may very will win all three of those states (and perhaps Iowa as well) to go along with what are now expected to be (but not yet locked in from my perspective) pickups in Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, but all things considered, the Ohio model sounds more realistic to me still. 

With some much occurring over the past week, last Monday's foreign policy debate in Florida seems to have occurred ages ago,and thus, there is really not much to say about it other than the basics. Democrats had once again hoped that a strong Obama debate performance would immediately start turning the polls around and putting the incumbent back in the driver's seat. While some PPP polls do show good numbers for Obama, most other polls have not shown much of an impact from that debate. It is clear that the first debate, back on October 3, was the ultimate turning point in the race, and win or lose, will have done wonders for Romney's campaign trajectory. With that in mind, the "winner" of the entire debate season was Romney-Ryan.

As for the debate itself, I had called the first two Presidential (and the Vice Presidential) debates for the Romney/Ryan ticket. To be perfectly honest, I would be somewhat more willing to give this final debate to Obama on points, as almost everyone in the media, and the flash polls did. However, Presidential debates are not about winning the debate nearly as much as it is about winning an election, and thus the strategy of the evening conducted by Mitt Romney might have carried the day nonetheless.

Being an ardent Republican who cares very much about foreign policy issues, there were times when I was watching the debate and was a bit frustrated by the way that Romney left so much on the table in regards to criticizing Obama and allowed his opponent to launch attacks against him that largely went unanswered. However, I was quickly able to understand what the strategy was and I was more than willing to accept it, if it got us closer to a victory on Election Day.

On the foreign policy substance stuff, I am willing to admit that Obama gave a very good debate performance and was well prepared and executed his short-term strategy as planned. Obviously, that was going to and should please his base. However, I think he once again came across as arrogant and petulant and that hurts him in the long-term. He may have "won" the debate, but he probably did not win many votes he did not already have.

Mitt Romney did what he wanted to do in the debate, even as he talked about various agreements he had with the Obama Administration policy on some (certainly not all) aspects of foreign policy, and was usually restrained in how he went on the offensive against his opponent. He did not make any major gaffes, and he crossed the threshold of being informed, knowledgeable, and capable of being Commander in Chief, when on the stage with the person who currently holds that job. Simply put, Romney was trying to not come across as a "warmonger" towards undecided female voters, and he succeeded in not falling into any traps the Obama campaign had of painting him that way. The GOP nominee spoke of "peace" throughout the debate and likely impressed many with his demeanor. I absolutely think that this sort of "prevent defense" was a bit risky, but I trust that the people running the Romney campaign know what they are doing. They have certainly earned my credit to be in the position they are today. It was clear watching the debate, that both campaigns seemed be acting as if they totally believed the Gallup polls showing a solid Romney national lead and were reacting as such.

It is worth noting that while the Democrats got at least slightly more speaking time in all four of this campaign's debates, Republicans won every coin toss when it came for closing statements (which occurred in three out of the four debates) and thus, luck and fate really may be on our side. There were of course flaps in this last debate, such as Obama's rehearsed line about "horses and bayonets" in reaction to Romney's criticism over the Administration's defense cuts and the loss of Navy ships. At the time, it seemed to me to be a bit of a minor debate moment victory for Obama, but later on, I realized that what Obama said and the tone he used probably came across pretty poorly to undecided voters, as well as the dismissive way he seemed to be treating ship building probably hurt in the swing states of Florida and Virginia.

Romney's debate strategy (which included "hugging" the incumbent on some matters) seems to have surprised and frustrated Team Obama. They wanted a more contentious debate and they did not seem to get much political momentum in the days and weeks after what many thought was a good debate performance. Obama continues to talk about "Romnesia" and was quoted as describing his opponent as a "bullshi*ter" in a magazine interview. I think any honest observer of the campaign can tell which campaign is looking more confident and which is looking more worried. On the stump these days, the Romney campaign is talking about how Obama is now only speaking of "small things" while they focus on larger issues, and they have been hammering over and over again about "shrinkage." It all reminds me a bit of a Seinfeld episode.

So, the Final Countdown to Election Day continues and the race is still up in the air. A big part of the upcoming week might be Hurricane Sandy, which some believe could be a monster storm that will wreak havoc on the East Coast. Already, the Romney campaign has cancelled all of their schedule tomorrow in Virginia and will instead join Paul Ryan in Ohio (which could be wiser at this point to begin with). Hopefully this storm will not be as serious as some fear and that people and their property will be safe, but it is pretty unprecedented for something like this to be at risk of happening so close to Election Day and with early voting well underway. Nobody really knows or can predict just what exactly may happen and how it may impact the end stages of this race.

This is the penultimate edition of Race to the White House and as a Romney supporter I certainly hope that the final full week of the campaign is a strong one for my candidate and that I will be able to express optimism, of the honest variety, next Saturday when I intend to offer at least my prediction of how all the Electoral Votes will fall into place and who will be the person to lead America for the next four years.