Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Romney's Clunker

“This is not exciting and barn-burning,” Mitt Romney admitted as he stood today amid 65,000 empty seats at Detroit’s Ford Field to deliver what was billed as a major economic address, “but it’s important.” He was right, at least, about the first part. The awful optics—the 1,200 supporters who showed up didn’t even fill the rows of chairs that stretched to the end zone—occasioned derision from just about every politico with a Twitter account. (See “Daily Meme,” below.) But what did Romney actually say? Nothing surprising. He called for cutting income tax rates by 20 percent, anticipating that economic growth and curtailing some (unspecified) tax breaks will keep the deficit from skyrocketing. He announced his intention to raise the minimum age for Social Security and to create a voucher system for Medicare. And he reiterated that he would drop the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, the rate that Obama’s new tax plan reserves for manufacturers. Along the way, the “resolute” Romney...

Chart of the Day

It’s always useful to have the proper context when evaluating the popularity of a presidential candidate. Otherwise, it’s hard to know if you’re looking at a deviation, or the usual pattern. Mitt Romney’s high unfavorables are unusual, for example, but the real question is how unusual? To that end, Talking Points Memo has a chart comparing the favorability of presidential candidates over the last decade: As it turns out, Mitt Romney isn’t just kind of unpopular for a presidential candidate in the February before the election, he’s extremely unpopular, to a degree that’s unprecedented in recent memory. The key question for his campaign—and the Republican Party writ large, if he wins the nomination—is whether he can recover by the fall. After all, even with a united party, it’s hard to see how anyone could turn these numbers around.

Obama's Michigan Pitch

As Republicans blanket the Michigan airwaves with negative ads haranguing each other before Tuesday's primary, Barack Obama's reelection campaign has released a Michigan-centric spot touting the success of the auto bailout. Titled, "Made in America," the ad takes a similar tone to the Chrysler/Clint Eastwood "Halftime in America" Super Bowl commercial, both filled with nostalgic tinged images of past American manufacturing greatness before highlighting car production as a means to restore the country's economy. "Made in America. For generations of Michigan autoworkers it's more than a slogan, it's a way of life," the ad's gruff narrator intones. The ad starts off with the positive take on those hardworking Michiganders and the success of the bailouts, but also mixes in attacks for Republican opposition to the president's plan. After flashing an image of all the candidates on the debate stage, the commercial highlights Mitt Romney's "let Detroit go bankrupt" quote, a clear indication...

How To Make Romney Look Popular

(Ford Field/Kevin Yezbick)
Mitt Romney is set to speak before the Detroit Economic Club later this morning to expound upon his recently unveiled tax policy. Befitting the importance his campaign has placed on the event and his self-perceived status as the frontrunner, Romney will address the group at Ford Field, home to the Detroit Lions, a stadium which seats 65,000. The only problem for the Romney campaign is that there isn't a throng of thousands interested in turning out during lunch for a lesson on fiscal policy. As the Detroit Free Press reported , the stage and audience will be situated to make the 1,200 attendees look as if it's as packed as any NFL game: The Romney campaign and the Economic Club think they've solved the problem. The guests will be seated at one end of the playing surface, roughly between the end zone and the 30-yard line, while Romney will speak from a stage in front of them. About 100 news media representatives and 50 or so TV cameras will set up behind the guests, so that it will be...

This Fall's Media Bias Complaints, Explained Today

Mitt Romney pretends to enjoy hanging out with the press (Flickr/Paul Chenoweth)
It's only February, but I have a pretty good idea about how the election is going to proceed from this point forward. Mitt Romney is going to struggle through the primaries, eventually dispatching Rick Santorum. But unlike many nominees, instead of being strengthened by the primary process, he will have been weakened by it, demonstrating his persistence, but not much else. As the economy slowly improves, President Obama's approval rating will continue to inch up, and the Obama campaign will begin its assault on Romney's character, one that will be largely successful. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, will struggle in the face of that improving economy to come up with a compelling critique of the President, trying in vain to alter opinions about the incumbent that have been formed and solidified over the past four years. Obama will lead the tracking polls pretty much throughout, culminating in a win that is fairly close, but not uncomfortably so. In this it will resemble the 1996...

Republican Women Still Like Rick Santorum

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Yet another poll shows Rick Santorum with a lead among Republican women; according the latest survey from ABC News and The Washington Post , 57 percent of Republican women have a favorable view of the former Pennsylvania senator, compared to the 61 percent who have a favorable view of Mitt Romney. What’s more, as The Post notes, Romney has higher negative ratings among GOP women than Santorum does—28 percent to 18 percent. There is at least one reason to be suspicious of this result; the sample of Republican women in this poll—137 people, or 13 percent of all respondents—isn’t large, and the margin of error on the survey is ±9.5 percentage points. But even if we take the lower bound as the actual result, it still comes as a surprise to learn that, among Republicans at least, there isn’t much of a gender gap between the two candidates. Indeed, the same is also true as far as their unpopularity is concerned. Santorum is viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of Democratic women and 36 percent...

Mitt, Rick, and the Ultimate Irony

Last night in Mesa, Arizona, we learned (thanks to Rick Santorum) that birth control leads to more unwanted pregnancies. We discovered that Newt Gingrich thinks his best one-word description is “cheerful.” We couldn't help noticing that Ron Paul (see below) has become Mitt Romney’s most valuable campaign surrogate. But there was one relevation odder still: that Santorum is (are you sitting down?) a raving moderate compared to that beacon of conservative consistency, Romney. It is no small feat for a formerly pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-universal-health-care governor of Massachusetts to transform one of the nation’s leading right-wing Neanderthals into an unprincipled, wavering compromiser of conservative values. But give Romney (and his wingman Paul) their due, because they’ve now managed it twice in one campaign. First it was that other Neanderthal, Texas governor Rick Perry, who—long before “oops”—was badly wounded by a barrage of criticism from Paul (and Michele Bachmann) that he was...

Republican Family Planning

It only took about an hour into the 20th Republican debate Wednesday for the candidates to find something they could agree on. After sparring over the fine details of earmarks, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum agreed that it’s all right for women to serve in the military but birth control, well, that’s a slippery slope that leads to the breakdown of society. Supporting the right of women to serve in the armed forces, itself a completely irrelevant debate considering 167,000 women are active-duty military , while trying to limit access to birth control, betrayed a profound ignorance on the way that women lead their lives. Even the way moderator John King posed a viewer-submitted question over contraceptives to the candidates, asking them if they “believed” in birth control, seemed to suggest that contraception is some form of rare unicorn that exists only in the imagination. The candidates’ answers were even more surreal. Gingrich skipped answering the question...

Milking the SuperPACs

(Flickr/AMagill)
Back in the dark ages when I worked on campaigns, contributions from supporters always made me feel a little guilty. Some of them anyway—not the rich guy who maxed out, or the candidate's business partner who gave his house as a crash pad for the staff to sleep in when they shuffled out of the office at 1 a.m.—but the nice little old lady who gave $50, or the earnest schoolteacher with a check for $100. I knew it meant a lot to them, but I couldn't help thinking it would go to something that wouldn't do very much to make the world a better place, like pizza or some ineffectual mailer. And that doesn't even get into the money that's milked by the armies of consultants. That's why I was actually pleased to see this analysis by the Los Angeles Times of how some of the people running super PACs are turning them into dandy profit machines. Here's just one example: Winning Our Future, a group backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that has been buoyed by $11 million in donations from...

Rick Santorum's Cross to Bear

Rick Santorum and this guy go way back. (Flickr/
Apparently, Rick Santorum is displeased that he's being forced to talk about stuff like contraception, and Satan's war on America , when other candidates aren't getting the same kind of questions. One of his aides made the complaint to conservative journalist Byron York: But specifically religious questioning of Romney is as rare as specific Romney statements about Mormon beliefs. Given the current grilling of Santorum, that is a source of growing frustration to Santorum's advisers. "Why is Mormonism off limits?" asks one. "I'm not saying it's a seminal issue in the campaign, but we're having to spend days answering questions about Rick's faith, which he has been open about. Romney will turn on a dime when you talk about religion. We're getting asked about specific tenets of Rick's faith, and when Romney says, 'I want to focus on the economy,' they say, OK, we'll focus on the economy." In one way, Santorum's people have a point. Reporters haven't asked Romney lots of questions about...

Why Arizona is "in Play" This November

(Pablo Manriquez/Flickr)
If John McCain weren’t on the ballot in 2008, you could make a strong case that his state, Arizona, would have been in play for Democrats, regardless of who they nominated. Hispanics were a huge share of the population, a significant share of the electorate—at 16 percent of all voters in the state—and a solid block of supporters for the Democratic Party—in 2008, they supported Barack Obama with 55 percent of the vote. The percentage of Hispanics in Arizona has remained steady since then, at around 30 percent , but the voting age population has increased to 845,000, and now constitutes 19 percent of Arizona residents of voting age, up from 17 percent in 2008. What’s more, intense Republican antagonism—through intrusive, draconian laws—have thoroughly alienated Hispanic voters. All of this is to say that conditions have moved Arizona to the column of states which are “in play,” and recent polls bear that out. For example, in its latest survey of the state, Public Policy Polling found...

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I talked to Duckworth about a range of issues, but it was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s comment about women in combat that sparked the greatest reaction. Duckworth, the daughter of a veteran, joined ROTC over 20 years ago, as a graduate student, and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat positions open to women at the time. She went on to become one of the first women to fly combat missions in...

And the Winner Is: Barack Obama

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Without question, the winner of Wednesday’s Republican debate was Barack Obama. This wasn’t apparent at the beginning; during the first forty minutes, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul argued about earmarks, and made the usual promise to cut taxes, cut spending, and magically balance the budget. But by the end of the event, the candidates had revealed their hostility toward women and Latinos, and further ensured that they would stay on Obama’s side into the fall. It wasn’t actually until after the first commercial break that moderator John King asked the candidates about the elephant in the room—birth control. After Gingrich went through the usual motion of insulting King for posing the question, the candidates embarked on a fantastic voyage of obfuscation, dishonesty, and outright attacks on women’s health. Mitt Romney, whose ancestors were driven from the country by the government for their religious beliefs, began the exchange with an attack on the...

Santorum's Piñata Moment

Back in early September, after he’d vaulted into the lead in Republican polls, Texas Governor Rick Perry found himself the queasy center of attention in his maiden presidential debate. "I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party," Perry said midway through the inquisition. It wasn’t long before Perry “oopsed” himself into oblivion—the fate that’s met each of the conservative shooting stars (Bachmann, Pawlenty, Cain, Gingrich) who’ve plummeted back to Earth partly because of the Piñata Effect. Tonight, in what might be the last 2012 GOP debate, it’s Rick Santorum’s turn. Coming six days before primaries in Michigan and Arizona, as Santorum leads in national polls, the 8 p.m. EST showdown in Mesa will be a test of how he can handle being a frontrunner—an experience he hasn’t had since his 2000 Senate campaign in Pennsylvania—and of whether Mitt, Newt and Ron can get his goat and turn their fortunes around. Throughout the previous 20 (or 25, depending on how you count them)...

Women for Santorum?

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
If this new poll from the Associated Press is any indication, Republicans have mixed feelings about the presidential race. On one hand, 60 percent of Republican say that they are satisfied with the people running for the nomination, which is down from the 66 percent in October. This isn’t a great number, but it isn’t a sign of widespread disappointment, and it dovetails with polls from Gallup that show a broad preference for sticking with candidates that are in the race, rather than reaching for someone new. That said, only 40 percent of Republicans say they have any interest in the race, which is down from 48 percent in December. Some of this comes from election fatigue—constant coverage can result in people losing interest. What’s more, the race has stabilized considerably since January, and has probably lost some of its excitement. The general election should energize Republicans, since they’ll have a nominee and a direct competitor, in the form of President Obama. Even still, the...

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