The Shuttle’s Final Landing

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July 21, 2011, 3:22 a.m.

FNC com­ment­at­or/ex-Bill Clin­ton ad­viser Dick Mor­ris touted ex-Speak­er Newt Gin­grich (R) for WH ‘12 in a speech to FL GOP voters 10/1, re­fer­ring to Pres. Obama as “the most evil pres­id­ent we’ve had to de­feat” and prom­ising Gin­grich “could mop the floor with Barack Obama in a de­bate. He could run rings around him, and he doesn’t need a tele­prompt­er to do that” (Gant, Daytona Beach News-Journ­al, 10/2).

Call Him Newtrada­mus

Gin­grich pre­dicted on 10/6 that GOP­ers “are on the verge of win­ning 55 to 65 seats in the House” on 11/2. He pre­dicted his party would do “much bet­ter” than pick­ing up the 39 seats they need to win back con­trol of the House.

Gin­grich said GOP­ers are “in strik­ing range of win­ning back the 10 seats they need” to take back the Sen­ate, but he stopped short of pre­dict­ing an out­right takeover. Gin­grich: “All I’ll tell you is that, as a gen­er­al prin­ciple right now, Re­pub­lic­ans are prob­ably between plus-55 and plus-65 in the House and they’re between plus-sev­en and plus-12 in the Sen­ate.”

He also opined that the GOP wave would ex­tend to state races. Gin­grich: “And there’re go­ing to be between 32 and 34 Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors after elec­tion night.”

Gin­grich said the ele­tions might not be on the mag­nitude of ‘94 or ‘80, but prob­ably closer to the ‘32 elec­tions that saw Dems pick up 97 seats in the House. Gin­grich: “I think that will be a big­ger sweep than ‘94; it may [not be] com­par­able to any­thing we’ve seen since 1932” (O’Bri­en, The Hill, 10/7).

A lot has happened, but noth­ing has changed.

This, be­lieve it or not, is what passes for sear­ing in­sight in­to the race for the White House from the top ad­visers to Pres­id­ent Obama and Mitt Rom­ney.

What they mean is the battle was joined in June and Ju­ly, huge amounts of money were spent on TV ads, sharp blows were ex­changed over Bain Cap­it­al and tax re­turns (Obama on Rom­ney) and Solyn­dra and “You didn’t build that” (Rom­ney on Obama). There have been gaffes galore (Rom­ney, Rom­ney, and Rom­ney again), dis­cour­aging eco­nom­ic news aplenty for Obama (quarterly GDP, un­em­ploy­ment, re­tail sales, and con­sumer con­fid­ence), and the emer­gence of a po­ten­tially pro­found philo­soph­ic­al choice Amer­ica will make about dir­ec­tion, fair­ness, gov­ern­ment, and growth.

A hel­luva lot has happened. But not much has changed … in the polls. The race re­mains a na­tion­al tie with­in the mar­gin of er­ror. The Gal­lup track­ing poll 100 days out had it tied at 46 per­cent (since 1964, every can­did­ate who led this poll 100 days out ex­cept Mi­chael Duka­kis in 1988 went on to win). In swing states, Obama has picked up a bit of mo­mentum, but mar­gins re­main too close for com­fort. Obama has sold off some of his likab­il­ity, but re­tains a huge likab­il­ity edge over Rom­ney. The eco­nom­ic news con­tin­ues its gloomy slog. Rom­ney re­tains his up­side po­ten­tial to sell him­self as a turn-around spe­cial­ist.

On the sur­face, not much has changed. At a deep­er level, we know more than we did six weeks ago:

1. Rom­ney can take a punch. Obama hit him and hit him hard on Bain, out­sourcing, and tax re­turns. Rom­ney wobbled but didn’t fall. Top Rom­ney ad­visers aren’t stu­pid enough to be­lieve they’ve taken all of Obama’s best shots, but they be­lieve they’ve taken most of them, and they won’t be play­ing “rope-a-dope” ever again.

2. Obama has sown doubts about Rom­ney. These are ex­pos­i­tion doubts about val­ues, middle-class con­nec­ted­ness, and shared goals. Not fall­ing is not the same as gain­ing ground. Rom­ney’s team knows this and un­der­stands it has got to do more to move un­de­cided voters from curi­ous but sus­pi­cious to curi­ous and per­suaded. They know Rom­ney looks too rich for too long, like a mis­shapen ves­sel for middle-class as­pir­a­tions. That they must change, which is why Rom­ney de­b­uted a new “I Be­lieve” bio­graphy ad on Tues­day. Mean­while, Obama re­tains these ad­vant­ages even as he has traded down likab­il­ity to grind up Mitt.

3. Obama has paid dearly to keep the race stat­ic. In the face of drab eco­nom­ic news, Obama has had to at­tack re­lent­lessly. It’s been costly. Cam­paign to cam­paign, Obama has out­spent Rom­ney heav­ily in every swing state — with at least 70 per­cent of the statewide TV cost in Ohio, Flor­ida, Vir­gin­ia, Nevada, Iowa, Col­or­ado, Pennsylvania, and New Hamp­shire. Only in North Car­o­lina is the Obama spend­ing blitz be­low 70 per­cent of statewide TV cost (65 per­cent). Obama needs to feed this TV ma­chine, which is why his fun­draisers mul­tiply, and when sur­rog­ates like the first lady show up in Bo­ston (as she will next week) there is no ce­re­mony or idle glad-hand­ing. To at­tend, you have to write checks — per­son­al ones. It’s cold and ruth­less. Be­cause Obama needs the money.

4. Nar­rat­ives are com­ing. We are en­ter­ing a new phase of the cam­paign where nar­rat­ives be­gin to shape dis­cus­sions and in­ter­pret­a­tions. Rom­ney will hit the eco­nomy on Fri­day after the Ju­ly jobs re­port comes out and add new spe­cif­ics to his eco­nom­ic plan (re­spond­ing to crit­ics like Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er). Top aides said that from now on, Rom­ney will talk less about gen­er­al­it­ies (taxes and debt) and more about middle-class spe­cif­ics (take-home pay and cost of debt per child). He will also roll out his vice pres­id­en­tial pick (yes, there’s an app for that), and use the GOP con­ven­tion to fan what ap­pears to be or­gan­ic small-busi­ness fury over Obama’s “You didn’t build that” re­mark. Obama will have his nar­rat­ives of “for­ward” pro­gress, an eco­nomy built to last, and break­ing the D.C. stale­mate. Both cam­paigns will de­vote time and en­ergy soon to their own stor­ies — re­du­cing the fre­quency and in­tens­ity of the hour-to-hour skir­mishes that dom­in­ated June and Ju­ly.

5. Rom­ney wasted time over­seas. Is­raeli dip­lo­mat Abba Eban once fam­ously said that the Ar­abs (not the Palestini­ans, as lore would have it) “nev­er miss an op­por­tun­ity to miss an op­por­tun­ity.” This can now be said of Rom­ney. His hash of an over­seas tour was a study in mis­man­age­ment and me­diocrity. OK, he had a de­cent speech and good “golden hour” pic­tures in Jer­u­s­alem. How hard is that? If Olympic judges had scored his Lon­don vis­it, he would have been dis­qual­i­fied. The rant­ing at re­port­ers in Po­land (“Kiss my ass” and “Shove it”) from Rom­ney’s press staff only heightened the im­age of frayed nerves. Will Rom­ney lose the elec­tion be­cause of the trip? No. But every day is pre­cious, and fight­ing to ugly draws or los­ing them com­pletely when you’re sup­posed to pro­ject strength, com­pet­ence, and dip­lo­mat­ic acu­men is mal­prac­tice. Gross mal­prac­tice.

A lot has happened. But the cam­paigns know each oth­er bet­ter (like box­ers), and voters have be­gun to sift a lot more in­form­a­tion. It all looks stat­ic, and it sounds like white noise in sat­ur­ated me­dia mar­kets (43,000-plus gross rat­ings points already in Des Moines!). But not much has changed. Or has it?

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