It’s just a week before the biggest political event… in four years. Only eight swing states and possibly only a handful of independent, undecided voters separate President Obama and Mitt Romney. Calculations have been made to show that an unprecedented draw, at 269 Electoral College seats apiece, is quite possible.
How did we get to this point? Just a month ago, President Obama was climbing to an almost unassailable poll lead in the wake of the infamous ‘47%’ MotherJones video. On 4th October, one forecasting site estimated he had an 87.1% chance of winning the election. Obama’s campaign had front loaded much of its campaign funding into attack ads that got their point across before Mr Romney had a chance to establish his own image (much like Bush Jr did to John Kerry in 2004). Despite a weak economy, the 47% video appeared to confirm everything the Obama campaign had said, and the game seemed to be up.
Now it’s all to play for again. This is largely down to an almost catastrophic first round debate performance from the President. Since then he has recovered slightly, but there is no doubt that in round one he was trounced. What Mitt Romney did was to pull an incredibly predictable trick and Mr Obama should have been far better prepared for it.
In effect, he lied. Ok so it’s more ambiguous than that. It depends on which comparison you want to make. Either its October 2012 Mitt vs Republican primaries Mitt; or, October 2012 Mitt vs Massachusetts governor Mitt. I have previously argued that Mr Romney instinctively sits on the liberal side of his party: His record as governor shows that he pre-empted ‘Obamacare’ and was willing to use tax increases to close a deficit. However, since Ronald Reagan, neo-conservatism has captured the American right, turning the GOP into a viciously ideological, inflexible and aggressively uncooperative party. To win the vote, Mitt Romney had to tack right.
Now he’s tacked back. Secure in the knowledge that the Republican base will be energised to come out against a black, ‘socialist’ President, he’s now appealing to independents. Mr Obama was left looking woefully unprepared in the first debate. He and his team arrogantly assumed that Mr Romney’s policies were so illogical that they could be easily dismantled by the Commander in Chief on live television. Instead, the President was left chasing a shadow as Mr Romney planted a flag on the centre ground. He literally built an elephant-shaped castle there.
The President has recovered: He could barely conceal his glee at unveiling ‘Romnesia’ as the illness of forgetting all your own policies (the video is well worth a watch, particularly for the ending). Frankly, Mr Obama’s recovery should never have been required; he should never have been left so floundering. Mr Romney’s move was incredibly telegraphed: By the very nature of the American political system, a candidate is required to win the base in primaries and then win a small number of independent voters in key swing states. The President should have been briefed that Mr Romney would suddenly change his tone.
The ‘Romnesia’ attack is effective and also hilarious, but it may be too late. With so little time left, there is only a tiny fraction of undecided voters left to play for and Mr Romney has gone some way to closing the gap with his shift in position. The President is right to paint Mr Romney as someone who sails whichever way the wind is heading; forgetting his own positions and making things up as he goes along. For a candidate who labels himself as a decisive businessman, Mr Romney has been dangerously scatter-brained in his positions. For his part, he also made an arrogant assumption that the ‘I’m not Obama’ line would get him into the White House.
Despite this, the election is in my opinion, Obama’s to lose. Notwithstanding a poor record of delivering on his promises, he has enough to boast about and he should do so. Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince people of his record by saying ‘if I hadn’t done this stuff, you’d be worse off, trust me’. However with ‘Frankenstorm’ Hurricane Sandy tearing into New York, the incumbent has a chance to draw attention away from the vicious partisan scrap and onto his (hopefully) decisive leadership as President. If Obama performs well enough in the next week, Romney won’t even have a chance to connect with voters, whatever stance he decides to take.
And what if Mr Romney wins? The most dire prediction is of a Zomney apocalypse. Hurricane Sandy makes this slightly more plausible.
Read more from Iain at Catch21.com and following him on twitter @IainWaterman