Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

We Never Liked You, Anyway

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As often as not, parties nominate candidates for president that pretty much all their own partisans acknowledge are less than inspiring. Democrats were so excited about Barack Obama in 2008 partly because their previous two nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore, rode to the nomination on a stirring sentiment of "Well, OK, I guess." The same happened to Republicans, who adored the easygoing George W. Bush after the grim candidacies of Bob Dole and Bush's father.

Mon, Sep. 24 Electoral Vote Predictor

Can Romney Duplicate Bush's 2004 Path on the Electoral College?

In 2004, George Bush won 31 states and 286 electoral votes. An obvious question is: "Can Romney follow Bush's path?" The answer appears to be no. If Romney were to win all the Bush states, he would have 292 electoral votes due to changes from the 2010 census. For starters, New Mexico looks hopeless and Iowa not much better bringing Romney from 292 to 281, still enough to win though. Increasingly, Ohio looks tough for him. Without its 18 electoral votes, he is down to 263 and a loss. Furthermore, Virginia is looking ever more Democratic. Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina are tossups now. Unless something changes quickly, the Bush path is not going to work for Romney.

Republicans Advise Romney to Be Himself in Debates

Mitt Romney has changed his positions so many times that nobody knows who he is and what he stands for. Republican operatives are advising him to just be himself in the debates. He should claim to be a successful businessman and governor and just talk about himself and his vision for the country. So far that has proved quite difficult for him, however. But to win, he has to come off as a sincere, credible leader. Just attacking Obama day and night over the economy won't get him where he needs to be.

Democrats are already trying to raise the debate stakes for Romney by pointing out the fact that Romney is a very experienced debater, having participated in 20 primary debates this year, while Obama hasn't debated since 2008 and is a bit rusty. But it is true that Romney needs a clear win, not a tie, in the first debate to start getting momentum.

Romney Taking the Bus this Week

While Mitt Romney's normal mode of transportation is the chartered aircraft, this week he is taking the bus. In particular, he is planning to barnstorm through Ohio, a state he absolutely must win and in which he now appears to trail in. He will travel around the state for three days, stopping in Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, and Toledo. He hopes to be able to connect with the voters after spending the weekend in Southern California at high-dollar fundraisers with wealthy donors.

It's Triage Time for the National Committees

For many congressional candidates, especially ones running for the first time, the lifeblood of their campaign is financing from the parties' national committees, the DCCC and NRCC, respectively. Now that the national conventions and Labor Day have come and gone, the national committees are taking stock. Those candidates deemed able to win on their own won't get any money. Those expected to lose no matter what won't, either. Only those whose victory depends on national money will get financing. It won't be pretty for the people cut off but the parties are pretty hard headed about this. In some cases, superPACs and others may disagree with the parties' judgment and come to the aid of the candidates cut off, but it is up to the candidates to arrange this. The chairman of the DCCC is Rep. Steve Israels (D-NY). The NRCC is run by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX). Neither of these is in any danger, so both can devote all their time to helping other candidates in need.

The parties also have Senate committees, the DSCC, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and the NRSC, chaired by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). They perform similar roles but are not as critical as senators and senatorial candidates are much better known than ones running for the House and are often better at scrounging up money, so they are not as dependent on the national committees as House candidates. This is also true for first-time candidates since nobody gets to be a Senate nominee in a competitive state without a bruising primary and winning that means the candidate is capable of fundraising.

Congress May Let the Voters Decide What To Do about the Fiscal Cliff

If Congress does the one thing it is really good at--nothing--the Bush tax cuts will expire at midnight Dec. 31, 2012. In addition, automatic budget cuts will take effect for both social programs and defense as a result of Congress kicking the can down the road on the budget. Nobody wants to go over the fiscal cliff but Democrats and Republicans have totally different visions of what should be done to avert the crisis. More and more voices in Congress are saying: let the voters decide. What this means in practice is that if President Obama is reelected and the Democrats keep control of the Senate, mainstream Republicans in the House will side with the Democrats and approve some tax increases. The tea party Republicans will howl at the moon, but assuming the Democrats pick up some seats, they plus the mainstream Republicans will have enough votes to move the bill. Senate Republicans will understand they have to go along with the deal. If Romney is elected President and the Republicans capture the Senate, then Democrats will understand that they have to accept tax cuts for the rich.

If the verdict is mixed, it gets dicier. With Obama as President and Republican control of Congress, Obama could play hardball and just go over the cliff. Then in early January he could announce that he is willing to sign a bill with tax cuts for the middle class but not for incomes over $250,000. If the Republicans refuse the deal, then all taxes will stay at the levels they were during the Clinton administration, something the Republicans desperately want to avoid. It could get messy. Both sides hope the voters will give them a clear mandate and the other side will be forced to concede.

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The Republicans' Foreign Policy Problem


Pop quiz: if you had to describe the Obama foreign policy in one sentence, what would you say? Not easy, is it? Back in 2008, it was pretty simple: "Not Bush." Now back then, there was something called the "Bush doctrine," which may have had a subtle meaning to those working in the administration, but as far as the public was concerned mostly meant "invading lots of countries and making everyone in the world hate us." So it was easy to imagine Obama as a breath of foreign policy fresh air. He'd use a less-bumbling combination of diplomacy, "soft power," and carefully restrained force. He'd get us out of Iraq. Things would change for the better.

But now that Obama has been president for four years, "Not Bush" has lost its relevance. Obama's actual foreign policy is too complicated to sum up easily, and probably therefore too complicated for most voters to understand. We did get out of Iraq, but things don't seem to be going too well in Afghanistan; Obama has dramatically increased the use of drone strikes, which have solved some problems and created others; though opinions of America are somewhat better, lots of people still don't like us. It's a complex picture, and in the context of an election, the Obama campaign is going to react to most foreign policy questions with, "Remember that guy Osama bin Laden? He's dead."

True enough, but this complexity has left Republicans seemingly unable to critique the Obama foreign policy.

What Will Obama Do about Income Inequality? Not Much.

New data from the Census Bureau shows that the tepid recovery is exacerbating income inequality and pushing ordinary Americans into tougher economic circumstances. Here is the Los Angeles Times with more detail:

The median household income, after adjusting for inflation, dropped 1.5% in 2011 from the previous year to $50,054. That is now 8.1% lower than in 2007, when the recession began late that year. […]

Romney's Wrong Right Move

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Once it became clear that President Barack Obama received a significant bounce from the Democratic National Convention, the next question was whether this bounce would translate to an enduring advantage for his campaign.

On Friday, polls from National Journal and Reason magazine gave Obama a 7-point lead over Mitt Romney, 50–43 and 52–45, respectively. Saturday was a quiet day for national polling, but Sunday saw the release of two tracking polls by Rasmussen and Gallup. Rasmussen was unchanged from the last few days; Romney and Obama remain tied with 46 percent support, though Obama’s job approval has ticked down: 48 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove.

Today in Anti-China Rhetoric

Mitt Romney’s dwindling chances depends on outsized support from working-class whites in industrial states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. Which is why, in recent weeks, he’s taken a harder line against Chinese economic practices. But his latest ad, “Stand Up to China,” crosses the hard line and moves into straight-up xenophobia.

What? There's a Nonpartisan Way to Run Elections!?

(AP/Eric Schultz)

Ask any kid who's played Monopoly—if the banker isn't a fair one, the whole outcome of the game can change. That can lead to two different conclusions: either the kids come up with a fair set of rules or everyone fights to be banker the next game.

When it comes to elections, partisans have long struggled with a similar problem: Who should set the rules governing elections? Rather than investing in a nonpartisan solution, for the most part, the parties have fought to be the banker—or in this case, the secretary of state. In 33 states, an elected, partisan secretary of state is responsible for running elections. In eight others, the chief election official is appointed by a partisan elected official. 

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

She's getting a bit displeased. (Flickr/Josh Janssen)

Seven months ago, I wrote a column explaining that my increasing irritation with Mitt Romney had made me understand how Republicans probably felt about Al Gore twelve years ago. The politician with the "authenticity" problem whose goals you share just seems awkward—undesirable from a strategic perspective, but hardly morally blameworthy—while the one from the other party seems irredeemably phony and dishonest. But I'm guessing lots of liberals, maybe most, feel the way I do, which is that is seems I like this guy less and less every day.

This has happened before. Before John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, he seemed like a fairly reasonable person for a Republican, extremely conservative to be sure, but with an admirable willingness to buck his party every now and again and a refreshing honesty. But by the end of the race, I couldn't stand him, and I'm sure most liberals felt the same way. He had revealed himself to be unprincipled, petty, mean, and a whole bunch of other things. I concluded, with the help of copious evidence, that whatever positive feelings I had about him before were terribly mistaken. These days when I see him pop up on TV, my visceral reaction is, "Why do we care what you think, jerk?" So did John McCain change during the campaign? Or was it just that we got a better look at him? And is that what's happening with Romney?

Puncturing Myths about the White Working Class

A new survey and report from the Public Religion and Research Institute—entitled “Beyond God and Guns”—is a valuable corrective to so many stereotypes of the white working class.  Particularly noteworthy in this report are the large and important differences within the white working class—by age, region, gender, and party, to name a few. For example, consider this:

Sun, Sep. 23 Electoral Vote Predictor

Polls Aren't Moving, Both Sides Worried

The bounce President Obama got from the Democratic convention shows no sign of fading and both sides are worried. One reason the polls are not moving is that people have made up their minds and there are hardly any voters left to swing. A large fraction are not really strongly for either candidate but are strongly against one of them. One voter said he'd vote for Saddam Hussein before he'd vote for Barack Hussein but another called Romney the devil. Not much motion is likely there.

Romney's team can read the handwriting on the wall and the pixels on the monitor and is trying to put on a brave face, saying: "We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president [of] the United States." The team knows that in the national polls, it is fairly close, but in this graph of the electoral college Romney has been behind all year and is now down 122 electoral votes. They feel that some fundamentals (such as the poor jobs situation) put them in a strong position, while at the same time ignoring other economic indicators (such as a booming stock market) that favor Obama. They say they have a plan to right their ship and will roll it out this week.

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Sat, Sep. 22 Electoral Vote Predictor

Obama Leads in Poll of Swing States

A new Purple Strategies poll of 12 swing states shows President Obama with a lead of 49% to 44% over Mitt Romney. In August, the same poll had Romney ahead by 1%, so this is a sharp swing towards Obama. Part of Romney's problem is that only 38% of the voters see him in a favorable light vs. 52% who regard him unfavorably. Obama's favorability is above water with 49% to 46%.

Romney Releases 2011 Tax Return, Paid 14%

Willard M. Romney has released his 379-page tax return. His income was $13.69 million, of which $450,740 was earned (business) income. The rest was mostly interest, dividends, and capital gains. He paid $1.9 million in federal tax. Below is the income portion of Romney's tax return.

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Nine Is the Loneliest Number

(Flickr/Paul Downey)

I try to resist the temptation to argue that any particular statement a candidate makes represents his "true" self, revealing what he wants to conceal the rest of the time. This is something that campaigns say whenever their opponent makes a "gaffe," but in general what matters isn't what someone says once off the cuff, but what they repeat multiple times. That's why I have pointed to something Mitt Romney said repeatedly when asked about his taxes, that "I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president." He really seemed to be saying that if you don't game the system as much as you can, then you're a sucker, a chump, and you wouldn't want a chump to be president.

This quote—and he said variations of it on more than one occasion, remember—is now coming back to haunt him, because Romney is releasing his 2011 tax returns, and his team of accountants and tax lawyers has fashioned them in a very particular way:

Could Romney Have Been a Different Candidate?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey

Mitt Romney has made a lot of mistakes in this campaign, not all of which came in the last couple of weeks. Now that we've moved into the "Is he doomed?" phase of campaign coverage, the always thoughtful Ron Brownstein wonders if Romney sowed the seeds of his own undoing by the way he ran his primary campaign:

Romney's biggest general-election problem is that he did not believe he could beat a GOP primary field with no competitor more formidable than Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich without tacking sharply right on key issues. Romney repeatedly took policy positions that minimized his risks during the spring but have multiplied his challenges in the fall. His fate isn't sealed, but the choices he made in the primaries have left him with a path to victory so narrow that it might daunt IndianaJones. "To secure the nomination, they made … decisions about immigration, tax cuts, and a whole host of other issues that had no strategic vision," said John Weaver, a senior strategist for John McCain's 2008 campaign. "So he's now trapped demographically and doesn't even seem to understand it."

Of all Romney's primary-season decisions, the most damaging was his choice to repel the challenges from Perry and Gingrich by attacking them from the right—and using immigration as his cudgel. That process led Romney to embrace a succession of edgy, conservative positions anathema to many Hispanics, including denouncing Texas for providing in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants; praising Arizona's immigration-enforcement law; and, above all, promising to make life so difficult for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants that they would "self-deport." Although Romney this week tried to soften his tone, polls show Obama attracting at least the 67 percent of Latinos that he attracted in 2008, despite Hispanics' double-digit unemployment. Weaver, like other GOP strategists, worries that Romney has placed the GOP "on the precipice" of losing Hispanics for a generation.

There are really two questions this raises. The first is whether, if Mitt had run as more of a moderate, he would have been able to win the nomination. The second is whether, if he had, he'd be in a better position than he is now. Although Brownstein doesn't say so outright, the implication of his piece is that the answer to the first question is possibly no, while the answer to the second question is probably yes. My own view is exactly the opposite.

The Democrats Have a Lot of Governors' Mansions to Protect

(Flickr/Kevin Hutchinson)

Republicans already dominate governors' mansions around the country. Twenty-nine states have GOP governors, thanks largely to 2010, when the party took 11 governorships away from the Democrats. Given those numbers, it might not seem like there's much left for Democrats to defend. But, as it happens, this Democrats must play defense in all but three of this year's gubernatorial elections.

Of the 11 states electing governors this year, eight currently have Democrats doing the job. (That's Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.) A Stateline report offers a handy rundown. Many of the races will be competitive, and with a serious disadvantage in fundraising, Democrats face an uphill battle to simply hold their ground.