The respected Gallup poll sent stirrings through the political world this week with a poll showing that Mitt Romney is seven points ahead of Barack Obama in the national vote. If Gallup—the longest-running poll in existence is right—then forget the state-by-state calculations. It means the Republican candidate’s momentum will carry him to a solid win the Electoral College.
Whether or not the poll is accurate—or at least more accurate than every other major poll which shows a virtual dead heat—is anyone’s guess. What’s at least as noteworthy is the actions of the respective campaigns themselves.
The Republicans sent Paul Ryan to campaign in Pittsburgh this past week, amid reports that Pennsylvania was shifting from solid Obama territory to toss-up. Other reports indicate that the Romney campaign has become so sure of victory in places like North Carolina and Indiana, that they are pulling resources out to shift into more contested states.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign, as noted by Phillip Klein of The Washington Examiner, is increasingly grasping at straws. Klein notes that emphasis the president is putting on Romney’s “binders of women”. The silliness of the topic aside, the fact President Obama is making this his current campaign thrust suggests he feels the need to reach out to independent female voters—and a Democratic campaign that’s secure would normally have that vote sewn up by this point.
None of this to suggest that the election is over. Prior to the first debate, Obama’s minions stupidly made that assumption when all available polling suggested a race that was very much competitive. Now the media spin and momentum is moving the other direction, but unless you think Gallup is the poll above all other polls—and I don’t—you have to assume this one is also a nail-biter.
But the actual actions of each campaign—as opposed to their talking points—tell us loud and clear that the game has changed. The Obama team hoped this would be re-run of the 2008 electoral map, when they won in red states like Indiana and North Carolina. That hope is by the boards.
In reality, it’s looking more like 2004 all over again, when the Bush-Kerry election essentially came down to a 2-of-3 battle in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In that cycle, the Democrats won Pennsylvania, but it became more competitive than expected and likely cost the Kerry campaign resources that could have been used in the other two states, which tipped the election to Bush.
The comparison to 2004 is striking in several regards. In both cases you had an incumbent president whom voters—without completely turning on—were more than ready to replace. In each case you had a challenger from Massachusetts who gave off a patrician air.
In each case, the incumbent went on the attack early—in ’04 it was the hitting of Kerry with the Swiftboat vet ads in August. This time around it was nailing Romney on Bain Capital. Both times the challenger was put on the defensive. Both times the challenger rallied with a strong showing in the first debate that put the campaign back into a toss-up scenario.
Both times the campaign strategy of the incumbent boiled down to essentially acknowledging that the voters didn’t want them anymore, but that the alternative was worse. The fact Barack Obama adopted this strategy doesn’t make him any worse than any other politician whose tried the same thing. But the Obama campaign’s latent appeal was always that he was different, somehow above it all.
Anyone not drinking the Kool-Aid served at the White House press office, Moveon.org or The Daily Kos has long known that the 2008 election map wouldn’t hold again. Now the actual actions of each campaign are at last telling us the same thing. And if Obama is just another politician, and decidedly acting like it, is that going to move any undecided voter in his direction in the next sixteen days?
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com