Hello there. It’s been a while. I’ll tell you about all that later. Let’s talk about the impending presidential election.
In many ways, it’s been a fairly predictable season, though not without its surprises. For example, who could’ve anticipated the colossal non-performance the president turned in at his first debate appearance? The impact — still hard to properly gauge — of Hurricane Sandy? The ongoing forensics of the Benghazi incident? Then there are the jobs reports, an inspiring display of post-storm bipartisanship and an eleventh-hour endorsement of Obama by Michael Bloomberg. Which, or how many, of these developments will shape the election? To paraphrase the Magic 8-Ball, “reply hazy, try again after November 6.”
With a perpetually divided electorate, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the race has tightened in these final weeks. There are other influences at play here, as well — the sheer amount of money poured into increasingly aggressive advertising in swing states as well as legal tomfoolery clearly meant to discourage early voting. Add to that the usual stuff about electronic ballot tampering…
Those of us obsessed with politics are poring over the polls in an attempt to divine next Tuesday’s outcome. Stats nerd and liberal security blanket Nate Silver puts the president’s likelihood of an electoral college victory at around 80 percent. Other pundits dismiss this analysis, based on Silver’s unique system of weighting polls. Whatever rubric you prefer, one thing should be clear: the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Conservatives often complain that polls oversample democrats, which may be the case. But in terms of “likely voters,” Republicans are better represented, as they are historically more motivated voters — particularly when the party is in opposition. Then there are the folks who are hard to capture in general, such as cellphone users (which includes youth and minority demographics). The point is, even the best analysis of polling is bound to miss something essential and potentially significant to election outcomes.
I’d like to take a second to talk about an Obama second term. The president may have missed an opportunity to achieve victory with a clear mandate. For supporters of the current administration, this is unfortunate. Effective governance in a second term will require nothing short of targeted intimidation from the White House to get GOP leaders to enact some basic discipline in their party. I’m thinking particularly of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who isn’t averse to compromise under “the right conditions.” Over in the House, which will no doubt remain under Republican control, there needs to be the clear message that the Tea Party insurrection is in danger of damaging the party’s future viability. This can only be achieved by pointing to the bottom of the Romney ticket — Rep. Paul Ryan — as the poster boy for GOP intransigence and fiscal irresponsibility. A job made much easier by a strong Obama showing next week. An electoral college win and a popular vote defeat will put the president at a clear disadvantage (although I’d stop short of calling it a crippling one) and hasten his lame duck status.
You’ll notice I didn’t get into any heady analysis of what’s happening in the battleground states. Suffice it to say, Obama has a lead almost across the board, albeit a narrow one — in many instances well within the margin of error. Still, it seems reasonable to say that all of the polls would have to be wrong for him to lose. We know that Ohio will play an outsized role in deciding this thing, but we knew that six months ago. The fact remains that the president has far more electoral college paths to victory than his opponent. Therefore, I am comfortable calling this one for Barack Obama.
See you Tuesday night. Let’s hope it’s not a long one…