The Home Stretch

Monday, September 10, 2012
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and President Obama making their acceptance speeches at their respective nominating conventions

With the banging of a gavel at 11:18pm last Thursday night, the Democratic National Convention came to a close, ending their three-day gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina to nominate President Barack Obama to represent their party and seek a second term in the Oval Office.  Just one week before, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney received the Republican party's approval to stand for them at their weather-shortened event in Tampa, Florida.  Both men, along with their respective running mates, have begun a 60-day sprint in which they must entice more of their voters to show up at the polls than their opponents for the November 6 general election.  In addition to general campaigning, there will be three presidential debates as well as one for the two vice-presidential contenders to give any undecided people a few last opportunities to weigh their options. 

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addresses a rally at Dayton's Memorial Hall on February 7, 2012.

In a post earlier this year on the 2012 presidential election process (at the start of a somewhat contentious GOP primary season), I reflected upon the first two contests in determining the Republican nominee.  At that time, it appeared that Romney would have a relatively easy time securing the nod but a reversal of the Iowa caucuses result (former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was declared the winner two weeks after Romney's supposed election night 'squeaker' victory by just 8 votes) and a decisive win by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in South Carolina put the race back into contention among the remaining candidates (both Texas governor Rick Perry and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman bowed out after the New Hampshire primary while Ron Paul, a true libertarian, stay on and posted respectable totals but was never a serious contender for the nomination).  Romney rebounded by taking the next two contests in Florida and Nevada but Santorum swept Colorado, Minnesota and the non-binding primary in Missouri to keep pace with his main rival.  Romney responded by taking the next five (Maine, Arizona, Michigan, Wyoming and Washington) which set the stage for the 10 contests scheduled for March 6--"Super Tuesday"--where Ohio was one of the main prizes.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney speaks to voters at a town hall meeting in Beavercreek, Ohio on March 3, 2012.

I had the opportunity to cover local campaign events for both Romney and Santorum (in fact, they were held on the same day about 50 miles apart).  While it was a close vote, the former Massachusetts governor secured a 12,000 vote victory which, along with five other wins on that day, increased his momentum to eventually securing the nomination.  Gingrich, Santorum and Paul all suspended their campaigns in early and mid-May, and Romney's win in Texas on May 29 put his delegate tally over the 1,144 needed to go forward towards November.  In that same month, I had the opportunity to attend the kick-off event for the Obama reelection campaign in Columbus, Ohio--a clear sign that "The Buckeye State" would be prominently courted by both sides in the months to come.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum addresses supporters at a rally in Blue Ash, Ohio on March 3, 2012.

As I said in my previous political item, I do want to stay "agnostic" in terms of my personal politics but I do want to provide some objective observations on the current state of the race and where it might go over the next two months.  Due in part to the introduction of unrestricted campaign contributions brought about by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, the 2012 presidential campaign set a record in July by going over the $1 billion mark for fundraising by both campaigns and their non-affiliated political action committees (PACs) and that total could top out close to $3 billion by time the actual election is held.  The lion's share of this money is used to fund advertisement buys on media outlets in key "battleground" states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin).  As a resident of one of those states, I can personally attest to the saturation of political advertisements for both president and US Senate (incumbent Sherrod Brown faces a stiff challenge from current Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel).

President Obama speaks at campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio on May 5, 2012.

As the race stands today, President Obama holds a lead in the Electoral College count for state electors (RealClearPolitics graphics provided below):

And here is that same map if "toss up" states were awarded to the candidate who currently tops the polls:

With 270 electoral votes required to win the election, it is clear to see that the president is in the superior position to his challenger at this stage (if the election were held today, Romney is forecast to pick up just one of the 10 aforementioned states--North Carolina--and loses Ohio, a state that no Republican candidate has won the White House without it).  Much of the polling in those "battlegrounds" is within the margin of error; however, they do not currently factor in any "bounce" Obama may have received after the Democrats' convention (Romney saw a 2-to-3 point rise after Tampa but reporting over the weekend suggests that the president may have received a larger 4-to-5 point boost in his numbers following Charlotte).  This might be good news to his campaign but, in historical context, 12 of the last 15 winners of the presidency were leading in the polls prior to the conventions (with 1988, 1992 and 2004 being the only three exceptions) and Romney held a slim 47-46 advantage for the period just before those gatherings.

Ann and Mitt Romney take questions from Meet the Press host David Gregory for yesterday's show (video image courtesy of NBC News)

With all this being said, there could be events--either related to the campaign or totally outside their control--that could sway the electorate between now and November 6th.  An economic/military/terrorism-related incident or a political "October Surprise" could derail the incumbent's current advantages.  In our 24/7 media environment, a misstatement or "open mike" moment could send either campaign into damage-control mode and halt any momentum being made by the candidate themselves.  Just four years ago, John McCain's ill-timed comment on the strength of our economic "fundamentals"--made directly in the face of the looming Wall Street meltdown--cast doubts in many voter's minds about his judgment and subsequently swung them to support his opponent (several polls had the Republican leading prior to that September 15th pronouncement). 

President Barack Obama is lifted up by Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant, during a campaign visit to Fort Pierce, Florida on Sunday (photo courtesy of AFP/Scott Loeb)

Since this is not intended to be a political posting, I will defer on this opportunity to endorse either candidate.  In our extremely polar society, making such a personal pronouncement will surely alienate me from at least half of the country's voting population.  Many election observers see this year's edition as one of very stark contrasts in terms of the direction that our country may go in the years ahead; however, if we see a "split decision" (Obama winning the White House with Republicans holding on to the House and possibly taking the Senate), I cannot honestly see how we move beyond the ideological intransigence that has brought the process of governing to a halt in our nation's capital over the past four.  With the looming "fiscal cliff" that our national lawmakers and politicians will have to face together at year's end, my only endorsement is that we elect adults who will put the nation's well-being ahead of their party (and their financial backers) that too much to ask?

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