You can always count on James Carville for a good line. The conventional wisdom among Republican strategists and activists has been that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would be Sen. John McCain's choice for his running mate. That speculation has set the Ragin' Cajun up for another one. At a Christian Science Monitor lunch with reporters on Wednesday, Carville argued that his goal in choosing a running mate would be to "make the opposing campaign manager throw up. I don't think if they pick Romney, David Axelrod will reach for the trash can," referring to Barack Obama's chief campaign strategist.
With national security the raison d'etre for the Republican case for McCain, the question is how the Arizonan would rationalize picking a running mate with even less foreign policy and national security experience than Obama. With a vice president who will be a 72-year-old heart's beat away from the presidency, how does McCain explain picking someone with zero experience in what he says is so important?
Now that Sen. Joe Biden is the official Democratic nominee for vice president, the odds of Romney being picked may have gotten longer. The chances of Biden mopping up the floor with Romney on national security issues would seem to be high enough to send McCain strategists back to the drawing board if Romney was the preferred choice.
At the same Monitor lunch, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg asked, "You think someone who's in finance, merging businesses and losing American jobs, is the best answer to Biden?" Then Greenberg let rip a "I hope we get Romney, I pray for Romney." Obviously, Romney was a management whiz, but all one has to do is look at the negative ads that Sen. Edward Kennedy ran against Romney in their 1994 Senate face-off and you know what Greenberg is talking about. Turning around businesses is a tough business, but what pleases bankers and stockholders doesn't necessarily help with swing voters, particularly when it involves employee benefits and layoffs.
But even the pro-Romney arguments are pretty suspect. Certainly Romney would be no help in overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts, where he served for one term as the state's chief executive. Some argue that because Romney's father was governor of Michigan, leaving office 39 years ago (in 1969), he could help Republicans win there. But would that really sway many swing voters in the Wolverine State? And some say Romney would help with Mormons, but how many Mormons are swing voters in key states?
There is no question that this is a tight race. Whether one looks at the national polls or, as Obama campaign manager David Plouffe is quick to point out, at the more relevant 18 states that his campaign is targeting, this race is tough. Carville's argument is that among every growing demographic group, Democrats are improving, and groups that are shrinking are groups that tilt Republican.
If McCain wins this election, it won't be on organization. That was the message delivered by Plouffe and senior campaign adviser Anita Dunn at a breakfast yesterday with Convention Daily editors and reporters. Plouffe complained that the fieldwork in the states was the most overlooked story of this campaign. He has a point. But on a different level, try to name a state where McCain's organization today is equal or superior to the Bush 2004 effort. Now look at the numbers of people and dollars that the Obama campaign is throwing into states compared with what Kerry was able to do four years ago.
Or as Carville put it, if Obama can just replicate Kerry's vote percentage among Democrats, independents and Republicans, point for point, he would win the election by 3 points just by virtue of the increased Democratic Party affiliation compared to four years ago. But how Obama does tonight will make a big difference about whether he can.