Friday, August 03, 2012

Why the RomneyRove Carpet Bombing May Not Work

It's August, and the decisive phase of the presidential campaign begins: the conventions, the debates, the last few days when the last undecideds decide.  Sometimes it doesn't matter how things look at this point--but sometimes it does.  So while President Obama's lead (10 points nationally in the Pew poll, and ahead in most of the swing states, with the top vote nerd giving him a 70% chance of reelection) could change, there are a couple of possibilities for why July may have been more decisive than usual.

First is the possibility that Romney has been defined, definitely.  His record of sending jobs overseas, his evading releasing his taxes while his tax plan is shown to benefit the rich at the literal expense of everyone else, etc. are showing up in strong negatives--the lowest favorability rating of any presidential candidate in recent decades.  His negatives increased in the past month, according to Pew and other polls.

I've suggested here that the only way Romney's seeming indifference to his image, the need to disclose his taxes, the call for more specifics on the issues, etc. as well as the unforced dumbness of a host of decisions large and small, makes any sense (like his handling of the appearance of the Romney horse in dressage competition in the Olympics--instead of putting those who criticize it on the defensive, he's expressed complete disinterest, says it's his wife's thing, he won't watch the competition--making his sound like an idiotic husband as well as a rich elitist)--is because he's relying on a strategy of carpet bombing the airwaves with a billion dollars or so of strident anti-Obama ads in the last two months.

But that leads to the second possibility: it may be too late already for that to work.  Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein is among those who suggest that President Obama has already taken most of the hit he's going to take on the state of the economy, and unless the economy changes dramatically one way or another, voters have already factored in this weak economy in their assessment.  Bernstein writes: "We all know what we're looking at by now: an economy which is far too weak to assure Obama of an easy re-election, but strong enough that it doesn't make him a sure loser."  He is specifically arguing that the monthly jobs reports--like the one coming today--aren't going to matter much, absent a big change.  But the larger point may also pertain.

Of course, the RomneyRove carpet bombing is still going to happen, and indeed is happening now.The Romney forces have outspent the Obamas 2-1 in the last week.  By the third week in July, GOPer outside groups had spent $188 million but Obama groups "only" $20 million.  But the Obama forces are aware of the coming deluge and are preparing for it--with $30 million in reserved time in swing states for the last two months of the campaign. 

That's still far less than the Romney forces will likely spend but so far, the Obama candidacy is clearly winning on effectiveness of their ads.  They are defining Romney and perhaps making people more receptive to what President Obama has to say about what he wants to do in a second term.

It may be that by now, voters know the incumbent President and they've heard every negative thing about him and his administration.  They don't know Romney as well, so they are paying attention to what he says and what's being said about him.  So RomneyRove's negative barrage may fall on deaf ears.  And if Romney was himself defined in July, anything that supports that narrative will solidify that identity.    

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