Ugly, dirty presidential campaigns have been part of the American scene since the middle of the 19th Century at the latest and it appears that this year’s campaign may rival some of the worst, although it is likely to be wrapped up in a more genteel veneer than in some recent years. It also seems that except for the extraordinary financial edge that Romney is building up, Obama has developed a much more effective response scheme which even David Brooks in today’s New York Times admits is sticking.
Ironically, it is both fortunate and brilliant on the part of the Obama team how they appear to have grabbed the public’s attention—whoever is listening in the middle of the summer—while the Romney forces have been wallowing about in ineptitude that rivals Jimmy Breslin’s Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. If Obama wins this election it will be largely because the Republican candidate and the elements of the Party could not get it together, except to raise wheelbarrows full of money. Even when Romney is given a chance to strike out at the Democrats he gets trapped in technicalities or vagueness. He can’t seem to deal with press attacks and his staff gets piqued or falls apart when they try to bail him out.
The Romney campaign has several more chances to regain the lead but he needs to truly score some winners. First will be his vice-presidential selection, then his acceptance speech, and, most importantly, his first direct debate with Obama. After that everything—including what the public will make of the economic/job situation, foreign policy, and the unexpected–will be out of his hands. He also needs to hope that the GOP Congress does not create too many confrontations so that they begin to alienate even further Republican leaning independents.
In terms of handling the Obama message, Romney needs to personally and as a team develop a more systematic strategy. Obama has blown them totally off and they have become a campaign that operates in a reactive mode. Even when they demanded an apology for the latest Obama attack on Bain, Romney was just blown off when the President said no. They need to consider something dramatic such as releasing Romney’s tax returns or laying the entire Bain story on the table. Travelling to the Olympics, to Israel, and some European stops—which Obama himself did in 2008—will probably not do it for Romney. The stiffness which he exhibits in formal, public situations, his body language, works against winning independent voters.
Obama seems to have found his 2012 message and cadences. He believes his acceptance speech will be fine and his debate mode should be good. The Democrats’ problem will be continuing to raise money, with clearly the embarrassing reality of an incumbent being dramatically outspent by a challenger. Obama’s greatest challenge will be to mobilize the huge base that he reached in 2008—many of whom feel let-down and disappointed– and bring out their vote. This will be a fundamental challenge throughout the campaign, especially in the swing states. For Obama, a second term may well rest on whether the Latino vote in the crucial swing states like Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio register and vote.