Tag Archives: campaign strategy

President Obama’s First Term is a Failure and He’s All Out of Ideas

That’s the impression I got from the  lead-in to Howard Fineman’s latest column.  These are types of columns that get written via campaign leaks on a sinking ship (think backstabbers Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace in 2008):

Last spring a leading Democrat in the Hispanic community begged top officials in President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign to find at least one new, inspiring idea for the 2012 campaign. It didn’t have to be costly, this adviser said, just something to project optimism and a crusading sense of novelty into what, even at that time, was a nasty, essentially defensive campaign against Mitt Romney. Obama officials hinted — but didn’t quite promise — that they would unveil a new proposal at the Democratic convention in Charlotte. The convention came and went. Nothing.

Fineman, who for four years has been a complete “in-the-tank” Lefty for Obama proceeds to itemize all the reasons why Obama is faltering should he actually lose this election:

THE AXEMAN COMETH — Axelrod [is] an instinctive fighter with a former reporter’s penchant for eviscerating his foes. Beginning a year ago, the Obama campaign’s central, and negative, plan was to make Romney an unacceptable alternative. The Obama campaign and its allies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort, and have spent most of their time attacking Romney on everything from Bain Capital and his tax returns to Seamus the dog and the elevator in his splendid new garage. Arguably, the Obama campaign put Romney in a hole that took him months to climb out of, but climb out he has. His “favorables” are finally on the plus side and are approaching those of the president.

This is probably the most obvious planted storyline.  Axelrod is a notorious jerk with many enemies within his own camp, notably Stephanie Cutter.  Interesting to the claws come out with 3 weeks left.  The internals must be horrible…

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS — The Obama campaign, and the Obama presidency, haven’t done a consistent or convincing job of touting whatever good news there is — and there are increasing amounts of it — about the economy. Yes, the unemployment rate remains high; yes, the “right direction/wrong track” poll numbers remain negative (though not as negative as they once were); yes, millions of Americans remain underwater on their mortgages while big banks horde cash and pile up huge profits. But there is another side to the story, and the Obama campaign hasn’t sold it well, beyond talking, justifiably, about the success of the auto bailout. Consumer confidence is at its highest point in five years. The stock market has come back from the late Bush-era crash. Home starts and hiring are up. Venture capital groups are lending money again. If you don’t talk about the good stuff, no one else will.

By the way, Fineman probably knows better but the above litany of economic good news is illusory which is why Obama doesn’t tout it.

FAILURE TO PACKAGE A LEGISLATIVE ATTACK — The president does have a new proposal to sell: a job-creation package that sweeps together several ideas. He and fellow Democrats say that it would create at least a million new jobs. Obama mentions the package but hasn’t made it central to his campaign.

Again phony “jobs” bill that doesn’t create jobs.

CALLING IT “OBAMACARE” — In private polls for members of Congress, majorities of voters support the individual measures that comprise the landmark Affordable Care Act. But in most polls, the percentages drop when votes are asked if they support “Obamacare” — in one poll in a swing district, support dropped by 15 percentage points.

Vanity thy name is Obama…

FAILURE TO PHONE, PRETEND TO FRIENDS — Obama’s aloof (some would say condescending) attitude toward Democrats in Congress is legendary, though not in a way that is helping him now. Many, if not most, leading members of his party in Congress have never had a serious, lengthy conversation with him. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been lectured to more than wooed.

Be nice to the people on your way up because you’re going to be seeing those same people on your way down …

Breaking News: Obama Campaign Feels Good About the Race

The comedy writes itself:

Maybe they can get Kevin Bacon to reprise this role as Axelrod or Messina in the Chicago Headquarters in the sure-fire Emmy winning Game Change II: Electric Boogaloo

The Obama Campaign’s High Wire Act — Must Read

Fantastic piece by Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics today. After the Mark Haleprin post below I got to thinking about the ebbs and flows of the campaign and here comes Trende with an exceptional breakdown of the events driving polls throughout the year. The weak economy, ineffective President and no second term agenda — election fundamentals — should sink Obama’s chances.  But his campaign continues to, in Trende’s words, “defy gravity” through a series of calculated moves that maintain his lead despite the election fundamentals working so decisively against him. What you see in the write-up is how so few “events” are by accident and the masterful 2008 campaign by Obama was no fluke:

Team Obama has had one overriding goal this cycle — to keep the president ahead of Mitt Romney in the polls. The reason is simple: Obama is, and always has been, something of a bandwagon candidate. A major theme in 2008 was always that supporting Obama enabled the voter to be a part of history, encouraging others to join in the process. But for that theme to work, the perception had to be that Obama was, in fact, going to win. So every time there was a real or potential setback, Team Obama was ready to change the subject.


Consider, for example, the president losing the Democratic primary in West Virginia on May 13, 2008, by 40 points. The rollout of John Edwards’ endorsement the next day was clearly meant to change the headlines and to counter the obvious storyline about Obama’s weakness with working-class whites. Similarly, after the third debate in 2008, Obama’s lead over John McCain shrunk from 8.2 points on Oct. 14 to five points as of Oct. 19. And on Oct. 19, Colin Powell endorsed Obama, reversing that momentum.

2012 and poll compression

Over time, the president’s lead gradually deteriorates. When it gets too close, he makes a major play to change the dynamic, pushing the lead back up.

February to May

February. Mitt Romney has just lost the South Carolina primary, and a good jobs report has helped push Obama to a six-point lead. But over time, gravity takes its toll. At first it is a result of Romney’s opponents dropping out: Santorum at the beginning of April and Gingrich at the beginning of May. This helps Romney solidify his base.

Obama response I

In the week ending June 18, we begin to see a spike in ad spending in swing states from the Obama campaign. This is the beginning of the “Bain Capital” assault. It pays some dividends, as the president captures a four-point lead just as the second spending push comes at the beginning of July. But over time, gravity again takes over. By the end of July we are once more moving toward a tie.

Obama response II

At the end of July and in early August, the White House begins hammering Romney over his tax returns; Harry Reid claims that the GOP nominee failed to pay any taxes in several years; and Priorities USA launches the ad with the steelworker implying that Romney was at least partially responsible for his wife’s death.

Romney counters

These conversations dominate early August, so much so that Team Romney feels obligated to make its vice presidential pick early lest it completely loses control of the narrative. This reverses the trajectory of the race, and by the end of the Republican National Convention, Romney has worked himself into a tie with the president.

Obama response III

Of course, this is promptly reversed by the quite successful DNC. But over time, we see gravity reassert itself. After the Benghazi attacks of Sept. 11, the president’s lead again begins to deteriorate. By the weekend, the tracking polls are suggesting some major movement against Obama. Gallup is moving toward a tie, and indeed might have shown the president trailing over the weekend of the 14th.

Obama response IV

Then on Sept. 17, the “47 percent” video drops. Obama moves out to a four-point lead (note that something else big happens around that time). But once again, gravity takes over. Even before the first debate, Obama has seen the polls begin to close.

Maintaining the facade

Why is it so important to the Obama camp that he stay ahead this time? … [Because] the fundamentals [are what] dictate the [election] result to a much larger degree.

Why it’s working

  • First, the bandwagon effect affects fundraising. Once you move outside the partisan core, people like to back winners. This is especially true of the business community. By assiduously cultivating its front-runner status, the Obama campaign has aided its ability to press future arguments.
  • Second, maintaining a lead allows greater leeway in the arguments it can make. Something like the “cancer ad” from August looks hard-hitting from a campaign that is leading (and I certainly include candidate super PACs as part of the “campaign”), but would probably be described as “desperate” from one that is losing.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it affects press portrayals of the candidates and party enthusiasm. This is the most important thing here: I still think the default expectation here has been that Obama should be losing. (emphasis added)

High wire act

So the view that Obama is going to lose can — or at least could have — quickly become the conventional wisdom. If that happens, we would end up with a vicious cycle that looks something like this: The Democratic base becomes downtrodden, its enthusiasm falls, the right’s enthusiasm skyrockets, the likely-voter screens skew more Republican, and Obama falls even further behind in the polls. Instead, we have a campaign where everyone marvels at Obama’s constant lead, further adding to the mythos surrounding his supposed inability to lose.

The mask slips

This is why the Oct. 3 debate really might have marked an important, structural change point in the campaign. [W]e’ve seen exactly the combination Team Obama worked assiduously to avoid: Romney re-consolidating his base, Republican enthusiasm skyrocketing, and the president’s aura of invulnerability pierced.

End game

This leaves two important, unknown questions. First, to where does gravity pull Obama? Is the mean to which he regresses a narrow lead? Or is it a significant loss? Political science models are split, with the average model showing an Obama lead of a few 10ths of a point. We don’t yet really know where gravity naturally drags the president to, although the bottoms he reached over the summer suggest that it would be at least a small Romney lead with likely voters. Second, what else, if anything, does Team Obama have to push back against gravity? The 47 percent video seems like something that would normally be held until later in the campaign. Is there anything else it can use to push back against the natural trajectory of the race? We’ll find out, and if we get a few more polls like the Pew poll, I suspect that we will find out sooner rather than later.

What’s the Matter With Ohio?

OHIO UPDATE: CNN/ORC will be releasing a poll of likely Ohio voters at 4PM EST

Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times report some great details on the Romney Ohio campaign operation and why the problem may not be the candidate but the message.  Tons of “read between the line” moments in the write-up:

[A]s the race for the White House takes on a new air of volatility after President Obama’s off-kilter debate performance last week — a poll from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center on Monday suggested that Mr. Romney had wiped out the president’s lead among voters nationally — Mr. Romney is displaying new vigor in his fight for Ohio. The state, along with Florida, Iowa and Virginia, is now at the heart of his strategy for the remaining 28 days of the campaign.

Ground game and voter registration

Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are both visiting Ohio on Tuesday, the final day of voter registration here …

Romney commitment

… but Mr. Romney is sticking around for one of his most intensive bursts of campaigning yet. His increased presence is a response to pleas from state Republican leaders to invest more time and attention in the regions where he needs to turn out voters.

It’s the message not the candidate

For the first time, Mr. Romney is personally making his case in a new television ad, saying, “Ohio families can’t afford four more years like the last four.” The message, while hardly novel, is welcome among Republicans who have watched with frustration as Mr. Obama’s campaign has dominated airwaves for weeks with a tailor-made operation in Ohio. Mr. Romney’s problems here have included the Obama campaign’s success at defining him to many voters over the summer as an out-of-touch corporate raider, as well as a state economy that has been more vibrant than the country’s over all. With both the state and national unemployment rates now below 8 percent, Mr. Romney may have less opportunity than he did earlier this year to convince voters when he asks them in his new ad, “The question Ohio families are asking is ‘Who can bring back the jobs?’ ”

Ad wars

The president’s campaign has overwhelmed Mr. Romney until now in television advertising. In Youngstown, Mr. Romney and his allied groups ran virtually no advertisements through much of September, as Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies showed their ads more than 1,100 times, according to data compiled by the media monitoring firm Kantar Media/CMAG. Mr. Romney has now increased his advertising in smaller markets across the state, including Youngstown, Zanesville and Lima. He is scheduled to travel the state on Tuesday and Wednesday with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey at his side, hoping to keep enthusiasm high among Republicans who have been showing up in greater numbers at volunteer centers across the state this week.

Targeting women

Republican strategists in Ohio said Mr. Romney needed to increase his support among women, particularly in suburban areas. Requests from state Republicans for a television commercial featuring Ann Romney have not yet been approved by the campaign headquarters in Boston.

This is huge.  Basically the people that know Ohio aren’t being listened to.  This is bad, bad, bad.  The best managers hire smart people and then listen to them.  Rob Portman is supposed to be Mr. Ohio so if he is one of the advocates for this type of ad Mitt Romney needs to step in and unclog the bottleneck in “Boston” (i.e. some campaign bureaucrat clogging up the system).

Geographic focus

But Mr. Romney is now trying to focus his appeal to specific voters in each corner of Ohio, with a focus on coal production in the southeast, conservative values in the southwest and a bipartisan pitch in the suburbs of Cleveland. In that area, George V. Voinovich, a former senator and governor, declares in a new radio ad, “Mitt Romney will bring us together and end the divisiveness we have seen in Washington.”

State of the Race — Mark Halperin

Between the volatility in the polls and the ever changing campaign themes (at least from the Obama camp), it is sometimes easy to get lost in the weeds.  Mark Halperin takes a step back and identifies the fundamentals that should continue to drive this race through election day (or at least the next debate):

One, Romney’s campaign trail performance is without a doubt better than it was before, but it is also getting more attention and being given gentler reviews by voters and the Gang of 500. As long as the Republican is on a roll, even the Old Romney will be seen through new, more forgiving eyes.

This is both the bandwagon effect (everyone likes a winner) plus a tacit admission the media were covering Romney unfairly prior to his debate performance.  The media will want access to a Romney Administration so they need to curry favor and cover for their all-out advocacy over the prior months.

Two, the message discipline reversal continues. Romney is running on a theme he can sustain through Election Day (“we can’t afford four more years of Obama”), while Chicago has switched from “Romney is an extremist” to “Romney is a liar who hates Big Bird.” The Obama campaign has some sorting out to do on this, especially in the eyes of the Gang, and, perhaps, with voters.

This is a big deal.  The Obama campaign has no second term agenda that even their staunchest advocates in the media reluctantly concede. Ever since the disastrous first debate performance their campaign and messaging has been floundering while the Romney campaign has sprouted wings. Even today’s juxtaposed Sesame Street ads speak to a substance-less Obama message versus a wonderful jiujitsu reversal to substantive issues like Syria and jobs in the Sesame Street/RNC graphic.

Third, momentum and confidence matter a lot in politics. Until at least the next debate on October 16, Romney and his forces are likely to have more of both, barring some huge intervening event.

This is a cautionary warning to the Romney campaign that folds into the prior point of message discipline. The Romney campaign in the primaries and even during the general election had an uncanny ability to steal its own thunder when events and momentum were on its side.  Coming out of the debate the campaign has achieved the opposite by augmenting their advantages most notably with Romney opening up about the incredible and poignant service he has done in his community for many years with no fanfare.  Absent Europe collapsing (still possible) or another terrorist attack the current framing and construct of the campaign should last until the next Presidential debate — sorry Paul, the VP debate doesn’t matter, just ask President Dukakis.

Fourth, while the horserace poll numbers are eye-catching, watch to see if there is Romney improvement on “cares about people like me” questions and on “has better ideas on the economy and jobs.” Those are among the most critical areas.

There’s more to the empathy issue than meets the eye. While economy and jobs are the overriding principles of this election, we’re down a single percent of Undecided/persuadable voters.  And when they are in the voting booth they need to “feel” comfortable with Mitt Romney.  He’ll never come close to passing President Obama in this category ahead of the election but it would hugely valuable if this softer-side metric continued to rise as the public sees the different side of Romney evidenced by the personal stories he shares.

Fifth, and most important, the President still has an advantage in the Electoral College, both in the individual battlegrounds and in terms of more paths to 270. Whatever progress Romney has made in the wake of Denver, he hasn’t eliminated the Obama edge there, and, obviously, nothing else really matters.

This is the reality of incumbency and what ever more looks like a the 50/50 electorate we had in 2000 and 2004. Obama’s support may be soft underneath in any number of states, but he does have a base support that gets him all the way to 47% no matter how you slice the electorate. It only takes a small amount more to put him over the top.

Priorities USA Action (Pro-Obama PAC) Pulls Ads From Florida and Wisconsin

This hit the wires yesterday but I missed it with all the debate prep. The top Obama Super-PAC is pulling ads from Florida and Wisconsin. As the write up says, these types of moves send loud signals where campaign priorities really lie. One is good news for the Romney campaign, the other not as much.  The good news is Florida data continues to trend towards Romney and I view this as a retreat from Team Obama.  The bad news is I believe the move out of Wisconsin signals marginally increasing confidence of the Obama campaign in Wisconsin.  Obviously they are concerned enough about Wisconsin to send the big dog there for his first stop after leaving Colorado so maybe they believe that will offset the need for ad buys but the Priorities USA move is noteworthy:

The pro-Obama “super PAC” that has spent millions of dollars attacking Mitt Romney in ads is pulling commercials from Florida and Wisconsin, part of what the group says is a realignment of its advertising campaign. The cancellations by Priorities USA Action, coupled with new purchases of television time in other key swing states, indicate where Democratic strategists think the presidential race may and may not be competitive with a month left to Election Day. President Obama was always polling strongly in Wisconsin, so the need for him to have a strong television presence advertising there was less crucial.

Bill Burton, a senior strategist for the group, said Wednesday that Priorities would also be buying more time in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and Virginia in the coming days. According to preliminary advertising totals, Priorities moved $4.5 million out of Florida and Wisconsin markets. But the group remains on the air in some markets, including Orlando, West Palm Beach and Green Bay. “We are not leaving any states,” Mr. Burton said. “Based on our extensive polling and targeting data, in some states we are shifting efforts into some key markets.”

Why Ed Gillespie is a Smart Dude

Gillespie is a senior adviser to Mitt Romney and was one of the campaign chairmen on Bush-Cheney 2004. I hear friends complain why isn’t the Romney campaign attacking the biased coverage in the media and we find out they have a rule in the Romney campaign: “no whining” about the media coverage. This is smart because that should be left to people like me and others who switch the channel and cancel subscriptions. Also, complaining about the media takes you off your message to the people and is a sure sign you’re losing. Smart stuff out of Gillespie:

The Mitt Romney campaign has a “no whining rule” about media coverage, senior adviser Ed Gillespie said Wednesday. “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy asked Gillespie whether he believes the media will convince Republicans that there is no point in voting this November because of recent polling that shows Romney down in a number of key swing states.

“Ed, do you buy into this theory, and there are some people on the right who say, look, mainstream media is going to talk down Romney’s chances of winning. They’re going to show Mr. Obama way up in the polls just to tamp down enthusiasm so Republicans go, ‘You know, why even bother voting because it’s a foregone conclusion the guy’s going to get four more years?’” Doocy said.

“Well,” Gillespie replied, “we have a no whining rule in Boston about coverage in the media. We just deal with the facts.” The choice between Obama and Romney’s respective paths will prove more important than the media’s role in the race, Gillespie said. “We think that big choice will overcome all of this horse race political analysis you see in the media on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

A Sober Look at Ohio

Sorry to go all “Debbie Downer” with this post, but I think this is a good piece on the difficulties for Romney in Ohio.

In nearly every mention of Ohio, I refer to it as a tough nut or tough terrain for Romney.  It’s not without reason.  This was a state 12-months ago the Obama campaign privately thought was out of reach for them.  But rather than conceding the point, they redoubled their efforts and changed the narrative.  Now it is Romney looking at at increasingly difficult numbers in Ohio (even with appropriately balanced polling) and it is his campaign that needs to change the narrative.  They are already redoubling their efforts evidenced by the current three-day immersion in the state but that must only be the beginning.  Peter Hamby of CNN takes a sober look at what troubles the Romney campaign in a very fair assessment of where things stand:

Interviews with some two dozen Republican strategists and elected officials across Ohio revealed an array of explanations — and no easy answers — for Romney’s failure to catch on there. Some pointed to the Obama campaign’s aggressive effort to hang Romney’s opposition to the federal bailout of Chrysler and General Motors around his neck. Others said a hangover remains from the divisive 2011 battle over collective bargaining rights that hurt the GOP’s standing with working class voters. A handful of GOP strategists blamed Romney’s standing on campaign staffers who aren’t Ohio natives. One longtime Republican strategist griped about the “arrogant top-down” approach of the Romney team and said they have done a poor job listening to the advice of savvy Ohio strategists — a charge rebuffed by Romney aides who point out that field staffers from the Ohio offices of Sen. Rob Portman and House Speaker John Boehner have come on board. Still others cited Romney’s lackluster political skills and said his stiff CEO demeanor as a turnoff for Ohioans, with one Republican officeholder saying that former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour wasn’t far off when he said recently that Romney is being caricatured as “a plutocrat married to a known equestrian.”

A man without a message

The main criticism that emerged, though, is that Romney is man without a message. “We are still at a point where I think it’s still a winnable race for Romney,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “Generally when you talk people, there is a feeling that Obama hasn’t done that great a job. But Romney hasn’t made the sale. He still can. But he hasn’t made the sale yet.” Another statewide Republican officeholder who — like others interviewed for this article — did not want to be identified criticizing the Republican ticket, offered a blunter assessment. Both Romney and Obama, this official argued, have provided nothing but “narrow arguments” and “fantasy land” policy prescriptions for the country. “Why is Mitt Romney running for president and what will his presidency be about?” the official asked. “I don’t think most Republicans in Ohio can answer that question. He has not made a compelling case for his candidacy. Don’t make your campaign about marginal tax rates. Make it about your children and your grandchildren and the future of this country.”

Fallout over bailout

Obama forces have persistently reminded voters about the auto bailout — on television and in small-scale earned media events around the state — and Republicans faulted Romney for failing to develop a succinct response to the criticism in a state where one out of every eight jobs is tied to the auto sector. Romney wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2008 titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” and argued for a managed bankruptcy for the industry, without the use of government funds. In May, he took credit for proposing the bankruptcy idea. In August, he tapped a running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who voted in favor of bailout. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has aired multiple TV ads on the issue and synced their pro-bailout message with down-ballot Democratic candidates such as Sen. Sherrod Brown. According to The Washington Post poll, 64% of Ohio registered voters view the federal loans to GM and Chrysler as “mostly good” for the state’s economy. Only 29% said the bailout was “mostly bad.” Putting a finer point on the matter, one longtime Ohio GOP strategist called Obama’s advantage on the auto bailout “a kick in the balls” for the Romney campaign.

Ground operation a bright spot for Romney

One aspect of the Romney operation that earned praise from Republicans is the campaign’s ground game, which has made more than 3 million volunteer voter contacts so far this year and knocked on 28 times as many doors in Ohio as John McCain’s campaign did in 2008. “It’s one of the better operations in the country, as it always is,” Romney’s political director Rich Beeson told CNN. “Ohio has always led the way and it is again this cycle.” The so-called “victory effort” — a joint venture of the Romney campaign, Republican National Committee and Ohio Republican Party — has 40 offices statewide. The humming ground effort, combined with Ohio’s traditional GOP lean and what’s expected to be a more animated conservative base than in 2008, has Republicans confident that the final margin on Election Day will be much closer than the 5, 6 or 7-point Obama lead seen in recent public polls. “Nobody will win Ohio by 5,” said Mike Weaver, a Republican consultant with more than two decades of campaign experience in the state. “Anybody who tells you that doesn’t know Ohio. This state is too close. It’s too divided. It will not be Obama by 5 or Romney by 5.”

Mixed message from Kasich irks GOP

Republican Gov. John Kasich’s relentless boosterism for the uptick in Ohio job creation runs counter to the national Republican message that Obama’s policies have kept the economy from bouncing back. The statewide unemployment rate has fallen to 7.2%, roughly a point below the national average. In bellwether central Ohio, home to the capital city of Columbus and its thriving suburbs, the jobless rate fell to 5.9% in August. Kasich is not shy about talking up Ohio’s job growth, even if it muddles the Romney campaign’s arguments about the state of the national economy. At a recent campaign event in conservative Owensville, a fiery Kasich boasted that “Ohio is rocking!” — moments before turning the microphone over to Paul Ryan, who proceeded to issue dire warnings about Obama’s economic policies. The mixed messaging has rankled Republicans in the Romney and Kasich camps. Both sides have done their best to keep the tensions under wraps, but they occasionally spill over into public view…One Washington-based GOP operative involved in the campaign and closely watching Ohio accused Kasich of not doing enough to help Romney win the state. “No single swing state Republican has been less willing to criticize President Obama at important junctures in this campaign than John Kasich,” the Republican told CNN. “Anyone who doesn’t want an Obama second term should be furious at him.”

Pulse of the Romney Campaign

National Review’s Robert Costa has done some of the best reporting this cycle and his latest dispatch from inside the Romney base is no different.  I’ll grab grab a few highlights:

Earlier today, I spoke with several Romney advisers. They continue to shrug off the put-downs from critics who are calling for a shake-up. For example, they see Peggy Noonan’s column, which calls for Romney to bring in a Republican grandee as campaign manager, as mistaken. As one adviser says: “We have so many veteran Republicans already on the team,” citing former White House chief of staff John Sununu, former White House political director Ron Kaufman, and former Bush counselor Ed Gillespie.

The Press

They’re tired of hearing about how things are disastrous, and they’re tired of hearing that Romney is stumbling and losing a winnable election. There is an ominous consensus among many advisers that between now and the election, they’ll never win great coverage, so it’s more important for Romney to spend time preparing for the debates, cutting ads, and holding rallies — not currying favor with pundits.


Romney’s aides know that they are lagging behind in a handful of swing states. More than a few of them are especially concerned about Ohio, where Romney has struggled in the polls all year. But they point to Gallup’s national tracking poll, which shows the race tied, as evidence that things are fine, for the most part. They think the president is on the ropes since he’s not above 50 percent. “Voters are focused on different issues than the media,” a second adviser says.

Debate prep

Paul Ryan’s prep sessions are apparently going well. Unlike Romney, who has hosted mock debates at a Vermont estate, Ryan is mostly practicing on the plane and in hotels. Attorney Ted Olson is playing Biden in the mock debates, and adviser Dan Senor is playing a prominent role in helping Ryan get ready on foreign policy. As the veep debate nears, Romney advisers expect Ryan to head home to practice in Janesville, Wis.

Mark Halperin on the Latest Campaign Push from Romney

These are the things Halperin does best.  Not always flattering but usually honest. I don’t agree with everything but it is a sober assessment amid a cacophony of media noise:

On technical competence, the Romney campaign is handling its (latest) “re-launch” pretty well so far.

First off, a well-executed “turn the page” gambit involves implicitly acknowledging the campaign was on the wrong track, without admitting too much and thereby counter productively driving more “campaign in disarray” stories. The idea is to suggest a purposeful, clear-eyed change of course, rather than a half-cocked, panicky swerve. Boston seems to have hit their mark on this pretty well, with their targeted backgrounding to selected press types, taking advantage of the fact that this is a group always eager for a new story line.

Second, the campaign has put Romney himself at the center of the comeback narrative, rather than arguments about process, money, etc. This is essential for a number of reasons, including the Republican’s deficits compared to President Obama on a range of traits in the minds of voters. The project of making Romney an acceptable (or, even, desirable) alternative to the well-liked incumbent was, to state the obvious, not completed in Tampa.

Third, from the looks of and reports about Romney’s Wednesday night Miami rally, he’s sounding a bit more fired up and ready to go than usual. If you think about recent presidential campaign comebacks, the perception and reality of the candidate “fighting” back is almost always at the center of the narrative. Think, among many other examples, Kerry 2004 against Dean, Gore 2000 against both Bradley and Bush, Bill Clinton always, Bush 2000 against McCain, McCain 2008 against the GOP field. Of course, not all those comebacks led to ultimate victory.

The “new” Romney and Romney-Ryan campaign still face a lot of challenges, to be sure. Bad poll numbers continue, per usual, to drive much of the coverage. If the polls don’t turn after a Twitter-generation decent interval, there will be more bad stories about the failure of Romney’s latest reinvention. Boston hasn’t really addressed, let alone solved, the policy-specificity-is-a-character-issue puzzle. Romney has to pour more of himself into the race while also being prepared to debate Obama. Chicago is still the 24/7 negative killing machine it has been all cycle. And the Gang of 500 remains at best skeptical of, and often hostile to, Romney and his chances — a sentiment that is released on a hair trigger.

How Romney Can Win — Morning Jay

Thanks to the direction from Ed in the comments, I darted my attention over to Morning Jay and he is full of some great advice today.  I’ve said all along Jay Cost is a must-read and today is no different.  He explains the essence of  three campaigns campaigns (2 going back over a century) and then uses them as guides for Romney today.  As the Blogfather says, read the whole thing:

Romney would do well to take these lessons from Polk, McKinley, and Bush. First, start with McKinley: The entire premise of the Romney candidacy must be about prosperity – not just in terms of GDP growth over the next four years, but about putting the country on a sustainable path to growth. Romney has to hammer that home everywhere and anywhere. Indeed, I doubt that McKinley – the first modern conservative – would mind so much if Romney just adopted his “advance agent of prosperity” slogan!

Next, following Polk, Romney needs to get specific. But he also must keep it short and sweet – and all of the specific points have to swing back to prosperity, with a particular eye to the coalition he is looking to build. If we follow Polk’s model of four points, then I would suggest the following for Romney:

  1. He will reform the tax code. Specifically, he will cut all loopholes that the wealthy have purchased through lobbying efforts and use the money to cut taxes for small businesses and average Americans.
  2. He will reduce the deficit by cutting Obama’s wasteful spending and putting our entitlement system on a long-term sustainable path.
  3. He will repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that emphasizes competition and portability – making health insurance more affordable and more secure.
  4. He will lower the cost of energy and food. On energy, he will open up new areas for oil drilling and green-light the Keystone pipeline. On food, he will end the madness of the Obama Fed’s money printing, which only helps Wall Street while raising the price of basic necessities for the average American.

This is a “full dinner pail” / “advance agent of prosperity” pitch, even down to the monetary aspect of point 4, which McKinley would surely love. Romney should take these four points and, like Bush, repeat them again and again, then again and again. By Election Day, every swing voter should be able to repeat: “tax reform, deficit reduction, repeal Obamacare, drill baby drill, reform the Fed.” If he does that, he will win.

How the Romney Campaign Sees Itself

Just after the Guy Benson report from inside from inside the Romney campaign, National Review’s Robert Costa reports on key findings during his talk with campaign insiders.  Plenty of great reporting and red-meat.  Read the whole thing:

The minute a reporter brings out a tape recorder, campaign operatives get nervous, especially when their candidate is having a bad week. When National Review Online contacted several Romney sources on Wednesday, the vast majority of staffers and confidants declined to talk on the record. Many advisers, however, did talk “on background,” which means they were candid (to a point), and shared the campaign’s thinking. Broadly speaking, the campaign is optimistic, as well as frustrated. They feel that they’re competitive, and that the pundits, both in the mainstream press and on the right, are overly harsh. Here is a synopsis of those conversations.

This is a team

Outside of the campaign, there has been a lot of grumbling about Stuart Stevens, Romney’s strategist. “The people who are complaining don’t understand his role — or they want his role,” says one Romney consultant.

It’s cordial

“Are there disagreements? Sure there are,” says a second adviser. “But this isn’t a campaign of big personalities.” Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager, is a low-key leader who despises “process” stories and spends much of his time working with Romney’s political team, as well as with his friends at the Republican National Committee. He never goes on television. Stevens avoids TV, too, and though he is not Rhoades’s best friend, they have a professional rapport.

[Note: it personally drives me bonkers senior Romney people aren’t on TV every day pushing back twice as hard against the media anti-Romney lie of the day.  I want them out there fighting for this job.  It’s the most important job in the world.  Isn’t that worth fighting for?]

Location, location, location.

According to Romney advisers, the criticism of the campaign isn’t coming from state party chairs or tea-party activists but from the usual Beltway suspects, and from media commentators who are looking for drama. “It’s noise,” a third adviser says. In fact, Romney advisers see the candidate’s unpopularity in Washington as a plus, most of the time.

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Why All the Negativity and Nastiness in this Campaign? Just Ask the President

Obama surrogates in the media will never hold his campaign to account for the sleaziness and nasty nature of attacks this campaign season. When they do discuss it on TV they will always talk about the campaigns on equal footing in terms of dirty campaign tactics or ads. Well, you know Mitt Romney is winning because even full arteries of the Democrat National Committee are writing more fair pieces against Obama and by default in favor of Romney. Politico yesterday published a study on negative campaigning and found Team Obama to have the nastiest and lowest attacks of this cycle:

A crabby, negative campaign that has been more about misleading and marginal controversies than the major challenges facing the country? Barack Obama and Mitt Romney can both claim parenthood of this ugly child.

But there is a particular category of the 2012 race to the low road in which the two sides are not competing on equal terms: Obama and his top campaign aides have engaged far more frequently in character attacks and personal insults than the Romney campaign.

With a few exceptions, Romney has maintained that Obama is a bad president who has turned to desperate tactics to try to save himself. But Romney has not made the case that Obama is a bad person, nor made a sustained critique of his morality a central feature of his campaign.

It is not that the Obama-led attacks on Romney’s character have been especially vicious by historical standards. But they have been both relentless and remorseless, designed to portray Romney as too flawed personally to be a viable political alternative :

— Obama senior adviser David Axelrod early in the campaign called Romney “a charlatan.” Senior White House adviser David Plouffe made the same hollow-man argument during the GOP primaries: “You get the sense with Mitt Romney that if he thought it was good to say the sky was green and the grass was blue to win an election, he’d say it.”

— Obama’s campaign has suggested Romney is deceitful or corrupt. Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, highlighting inconsistencies in Romney’s explanation of his departure from Bain Capital, suggested that Romney is “misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony.” The alternative, she said, is Romney was lying to the American people. Last weekend, Cutter said that Romney and Paul Ryan think “lying is a virtue,” judging from the factual misrepresentations of the GOP convention.

— Obama’s campaign and surrogates say Romney’s business decisions and his personal finances call his patriotism into question.

Obama Outspent Romney by 3-to-1 Over the Summer and Can’t Pull Away — Must Read

That headlines is the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media, right? It’s not.  Every poll, even biased polls, says the race is no worse than even for Mitt Romney despite the unprecedented avalanche of negative ads from President Obama, the compliant water-carriers in the media, and a spending advantage like no one had ever seen before.  Yet the the write-ups in every poll release talks about the “trouble for Romney” underneath the headlines and Obama’s resilient likeability still buoying his campaign prospects.

Well, a lot of that is about to change.  We won’t ever get the media on our side, let alone be objective, but we can unleash ad campaigns the likes of which no general election has ever seen before and it appears the Romney campaign is just about ready to do that. The Boston Globe takes a long look at the inner workings of the Romney campaign’s finances and find a frugal, thrifty and focused campaign — much like what we should expect from a Romney White House —  ready to flip Obama’s spending advantage on its head:

Mitt Romney is heading into the final three months of the campaign with far more cash at his disposal than a sitting president known for his fund-raising prowess, a scenario that presents the Republican’s Boston-based campaign with a series of strategic and tactical opportunities that could provide a crucial difference as he enters the final stretch of a race expected to be razor-close.

The growing financial advantage, one that would have been hard to predict several months ago, comes after months of hoarding money as President Obama’s campaign spent heavily on television ads trying to brand Romney early in the minds of voters. But with a race that still appears tight, Romney’s campaign is now enjoying some of the rewards of withholding its money while being outspent — by about a 3-to-1 ratio — by the Obama campaign through the summer months. “That will be over soon,” said Stuart Stevens, a Romney senior adviser. “And the playing field will be more level.”

Unlike Obama, Romney seems to have been stockpiling money for the intense final months of the race. “If you have a financial advantage, which Romney does, it is important. It does give you more options,” said Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant who was a senior strategist for Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s presidential bids. “You’re able to do more things with your money.” But it’s not self-evident what those things ought to be. Romney could deepen his presence in the dozen battleground states where he has opened offices, hired field staffers, and intermittently run advertisements since the spring. Another way to exploit the advantage, Devine said, would be to try to make inroads in areas that are not part of the traditional Republican map and have not received the full force of Romney’s attention — states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — and prompt Obama to spend more money to defend them.

Romney since the start of June has spent $25.8 million on ads, for example, while Obama has spent $77.6 million, according to data maintained by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. But Romney spent much of the summer raising money, and saw his accounts balloon as the Republicans ended a bitter primary battle and began consolidating around Romney. Romney’s campaign has also launched an aggressive effort to utilize his new running mate, Paul Ryan, to raise new funds. The Republican’s presidential campaign last week announced a $10 million cash surge since Ryan joined the campaign. A memo from Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager, said 68 percent of donations were from new donors, and that the average donation was $81.

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What Paul Ryan’s Week Reveals About Romney Campaign Strategies

The Washington Post takes in all of Paul Ryan’s first week on the campaign trail and gleans some insights into the Romney camp’s thinking when it comes to the Vice President nominee:

  • The campaign appears to believe that the Wisconsin congressman is able to be deployed in most any battleground state — He has visited Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia and Florida in the past six days.
  • Venues in which Ryan has addressed voters thus far have largely been the same — high school and college gymnasium.
  • Ryan is not likely to play the typical vice presidential role of campaign-trail “attack dog” — and that when it comes to himself and Mitt Romney, those roles appear very much to be reversed.
  • Both GOP candidates have talked about offering Americans “solutions” but Ryan drives home that message to voters in a largely positive way (this dichotomy is not accidental).
  • Ryan speaks of forging a “covenant” and of “deserving victory” as he did Thursday in Oxford, Ohio, or pledging to supporters Tuesday night at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas that the GOP ticket is not just about opposing Obama.
  • If there’s a candidate who has shown flashes of anger this week, it’s been Romney.
  • the Wisconsin congressman does not talk much about his own biography on the stump (especially relative to other potential VPs like Rubio and Pawlenty). He appears to take care not to overshadow the man at the top of the ticket, on whose life story and achievements he tends to focus more than his own.
  • Ryan’s deep, personal Capitol Hill relationships are clear at every campaign stop.
  • When it comes to retail politicking, Ryan tends to ask voters their names and introduces himself simply as Paul.

10 Ways Obama’s Re-Election Will Get Easier

I’ve said before that I like Mark Halperin’s reporting and I especially love these “clip ‘n save” type pieces.  He has been fair in his criticisms and compliments to both campaigns and regularly offers some of the best campaign insights.  But this list of 10 reasons Obama’s path to re-election will get easier is absurd.  I’ve listed them below with my response:

Team Obama has been energized by the addition of Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket. The White House will try to define the contest all the way through Election Day as a fight over issues it thinks the seven-term Congressman is vulnerable on, such as Medicare, tax cuts for the wealthy and abortion … But there are 10 other factors smoothing the President’s path to re-election:

1 Obama’s incumbency allows him to control the news cycle whenever he wants with resonant gestures like his Aug. 3 move to purchase $170 million worth of meat and fish in drought-stricken agricultural states
RESPONSE: Government give-aways to buy votes do not appeal to Independents — the only remaining voter group

2 Chicago’s research shop is patiently sitting on potentially distracting information about Mitt Romney, ready to discharge for maximum impact
RESPONSE: Obama’s slash and burn has already eroded the lone factor buoying him — his likability — this will only hasten that decline

3 Romney plans to release his 2011 tax returns soon, fueling another round of stories about his wealth and investments
RESPONSE: The GOP line resonates with the public: Voters care more about their own tax returns than Romney’s

4 There are signs that housing, retail sales and other areas of the U.S. economy may be improving
RESPONSE: Oh lord. Betting on the economy “helping” Obama?  He is overwhelmingly viewed negatively on this topic and those anecdotal data points cited don’t and won’t override the “worst recovery ever

5 For all the Democratic fretting over potential crises in Europe and Iran, both just might stay stable through November
RESPONSE: The two most unstable geo-political crises “may” not collapse/go to nuclear war over the next three months?  That’s a plus?

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20 Things the Romney Campaign Nailed in the Ryan Rollout

Mark Halperin heaps loads of praise on a Vice President rollout that can go wrong in so many ways:

As a matter of pure execution, regardless of what one thinks of Ryan’s ideology, Boston gets major props for pulling off a very strong veep launch. Some of what has worked involved a bit of luck, but clearly, the Romney campaign meticulously gamed out how to best launch the pick:

  1. The choice and the timing of its announcement was a kept a secret up until the last minute, allowing the campaign to control the rollout.
  2. The announcement event was well staged.
  3. The optics of the Romneys and Ryans together are very good.
  4. The talking points intended to smooth over rough spots (such as policy disagreements between the top and bottom of the ticket) were carefully written in advance.
  5. Boston had a thought-out pushback on the Medicare issue – raising ObamaCare’s Medicare cuts – and made sure all surrogates were ready to make the same case.
  6. The campaign was correctly confident that the last two days of the Olympics wouldn’t be a barrier to getting major coverage for the pick.
  7. The timing allowed for the requisite “60 Minutes” interview, insuring a big and valuable audience.
  8. They also put in place the requisite People magazine hit.
  9. They had ready to go an experienced, strong team of managers and communicators to manage the Ryan process.
  10. They tick tocked the selection process for the media in a way that produced news stories that were 98% on message for Team Romney.
  11. They rapidly distributed favorable quotes from previous Romney skeptics expressing jubilation over the choice.
  12. They made sure Ryan had a well-written first speech.
  13. Ryan was well-prepared and has capably conveyed an excellent balance between eager teammate/junior partner and tough player.
  14. They tweeted out endearing candid photos from the trail.
  15. They had their allies aggressively tweet positively about Ryan while pushing back hard on the Democrats’ attacks.
  16. They were privately very gracious and sincerely regretful to those not selected, minimizing any sour grapes story lines or interviews from the Tim Pawlentys of the world.
  17. They isolated the interesting and favorable biographical aspects of the Ryan family and made sure they were delivered to the media.
  18. They devised a short-term schedule for the two candidates together and then separately that smartly makes the most of their current velocity.
  19. They used the pick to define and send signals about Romney, emphasizing the “bold” meme.
  20. They anticipated that the announcement and addition of Ryan would produce much bigger crowds for their events and they handled the logistics of the swell without too many hitches.

The result of all that technical planning and success is that Romney is a more energized and focused stump performer today than he was just four days ago. The weekend’s major events have gone well and that is reflected in the candidate’s demeanor. His performance in the “60 Minutes” interview was also better than usual, apparently thanks to having his partner by his side.

Again, to be clear: this is not an endorsement of Ryan or a prediction that the pick will ultimately be a net positive. But Boston gets credit for executing a process that can go wrong in a million ways — and, so far, has been smooth sailing.

“Paul Ryan represents Obama’s most horrifying nightmare: Math”

The Blogfather has a great column where he quotes the always hysterical IowaHawk regarding the impact of selection Paul Ryan on the Obama campaign psyche:

In Inman Majors’ terrific novel The Millionaires, a consultant explains that there are really only two themes to political campaigns: “It’s A Bright New Day,” and “Back To Basics.” Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was “Bright New Day” raised to a higher power. Now, with the choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has signaled that he’s doubling down on “Back To Basics.” That has risks, but they’re risks worth running.

With trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and the exploding national debt (which Obama called unconscionable when it was about half as big as it has become under his stewardship) it seems time for a Back To Basics approach. And that’s clearly the direction favored by Romney, the turnaround artist who specialized in taking mismanaged entities and making them work. His choice of Ryan simply takes it to a new level. As Internet humorist IowaHawk tweeted on Saturday: “Paul Ryan represents Obama’s most horrifying nightmare: Math.”

As the great one often says, read the whole thing…

UPDATE: The brilliant .Jpeg on the left is from the Freepers (smoothsailing):

Romney’s Course of Attack Now Clear

Below is an excerpt of a column I submitted for publication:

After today’s ruling Mitt Romney has a clear line of differentiation with President Obama that is consistent with the GOP message in 2010:

These were the major factors that led to historic gains for Republicans in 2010.  These arguments remain true today and should all be articulated against Obama for the remainder of this election.  The states mentioned above have already declared their support for such arguments and many others can be expected to join in if Mitt Romney can effectively state his case to the American people.

Dueling Campaigns Idenitfy Their Battlegrounds

In a unique couple of announcements, both the Obama campaign and Romney campaign publicly identified the states each side considers Battlegrounds. For the most part, no major surprises beyond the inclusion of Wisconsin ahead of the recall which I will discuss below. The Obama campaign made its Battleground states known via a web video:

President Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina said the campaign’s polling shows a decided Obama lead over Romney in all-important electoral votes, 243-191; a total of 270 or more is needed to win the presidency. The campaign’s up-for-grabs states include Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire.

Politic gets their hands on a Romney campaign presentation that identifies the Battleground states as follows:

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

Among the interesting takeaways is the fact that the Obama campaign included Wisconsin one day before the recall effort.  Clearly they knew something that both kept the President from visiting the state (to not get tainted with the expected loss) as well as include the state as a Battleground.  One of the key aspects about Wisconsin is that Obama MUST win the state whereas Romney would like to win the state but does not have to win the state to carry the election.

The Romney campaign’s inclusion of Arizona is suspect in my opinion due to the fact that the Obama campaign pulled its resources out of the state over a month ago.  It could be included simply to “put the state to bed” as we’ve previously outlined with North Carolina. Also it is a state Romney MUST win but is not necessary for Obama to win — basically the inverse of Wisconsin.

These lists are not comprehensive by any means but do indicate where the battles are being fought today which is consistent with our posts on ad spending identifying the campaigns true intentions.

The State of the Race — What Each Campaign Thinks

John Heilemann may be a card carrying Lefty, but he can also be a pretty good reporter. His recent New York magazine cover story on the change in tone of the Obama campaign from 2008 to 2012 created a lot of buzz in media circles. For me, although the article was quite interesting, this interview of Heilemann by Charlie Rose on May 31 is a near pitch-perfect explanation of what each campaign is thinking right now about their own chances as well as what they believe the opposing campaign is thinking. Heilemann, sadly, greatly veers off into traditional liberal prejudices when he’s asked by Rose why Republicans have such antipathy towards Obama, but when discussing campaign strategies Heilemann is better than anyone in the business right now and this interview is fantastic in that regard.