To quote another Yogi phrase, “it ain’t over til it’s over” … but … it is late in the scheme of things for dramatic so-called “game changers” to occur. Of course the presidential debates matter and of course Saturday Night Live or other mainstream comics will help shape our views. Someone can still commit an incredible gaffe, there are two more unemployment figures to be released, and unforeseen, unpredictable incidents always happen. On the fundamentals, things have been in place for months with 11 open Senate seats and a completely redrawn House of Representatives guaranteed to elect at least 62 new faces.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as we evaluate the time between now and the first presidential debate on October 3.
- We can’t dream about the past and liken this to another cycle. This isn’t 1980 where a perceived sudden surge by Ronald Reagan ousted President Carter. Why? Because that was before the Internet, bloggers, cable, Twitter, etc., when the debates were a go-to spot for impressions about the candidates. Before early voting. Before an expanded electorate that includes a growing number of young voters and Hispanics. Before the realigned Electoral College. Reagan, the former governor of California, won that state’s 45 electors. Today, California has 55 electors and will give 60% or more of the popular vote to President Obama. Mitt Romney has to win all the states in the McCain column, then pull a net of 96 electoral votes off the Obama tally.
- This isn’t a simple two-way presidential race. I’ve written and spoken at length about the others on the ballot. In recent weeks, Libertarian Gary Johnson has qualified in most of the target states. Constitution nominee Virgil Goode, a former congressman from Virginia, is on that state’s ballot. Courts ruled that Nevada can continue to offer the option of “none of the above.” Ron Paul supporters know how to organize and surprise, caring less about victory than making a point. Watch what his enthusiasts might do - writing in his name in Iowa or elsewhere. If one of the major party contenders can’t stay over 50% for the next three weeks, one of the “others” will affect the outcome in states such as New Mexico, Colorado, possibly Wisconsin, in addition to the rest listed in bold in this article.
- There are persuadable, undecided, likely voters. A recent Zogby poll surmised there were at least 10% unwilling to commit and who, perhaps surprisingly, paid little attention to the conventions. Some of them are likely employed or business owners, within the reach of the employer community on economic issues. Even modest swings in demographic groups, such as younger white males or working women, can shape the outcome in critical states such as North Carolina. As more state polls are conducted, watch which electoral subsets are not yet at 50% for either candidate.
- Pay attention to what candidates are doing on the ground rather than on the airwaves. Notably, both presidential tickets took down their commercials on September 11, but that didn’t mean their field offices closed. At this stage, a better trending barometer would be the volume of traffic in and out of local volunteer storefronts than what we see on our broadcast screens. It’s impossible to turn out early voters without a ground game. Each camp will claim his operation is the best, but our state partners tell us that the Obama campaign continues to outnumber the Romney presence. New Hampshire is the classic ground state because even well funded candidates want to avoid investing in Boston TV.
- Bill Clinton wagged his finger at the TV cameras during his convention speech in Charlotte and said “this is personal.” I think he is the equivalent of the swat team who shows up when the local sheriff can’t control a situation. Expect him to appear when and where he is most needed to turn around a very specific target group. The earlier he is alive on the trail (not in an ad, email, website), indicates the increased nervousness of Obama strategists. If he has to go to Michigan or Pennsylvania, there is something afoot showing movement from the Romney message. More within the gameplan: Denver, around the first debate, or Florida on October 22 (last debate is Boca Raton). Clinton’s rallies will draw thousands. If he goes to Missouri, you will know there is evidence the Republican state ticket has eroded an anticipated Romney victory. We don’t hear anyone saying “I’ll visit all 50 states,” as President Ford attempted in 1976 – ending in a lost voice and a lost race.
- I didn’t mention Ohio in the above points because my map gets someone to the White House without it - always has, always will. This is counter to what everyone else believes as a core premise of American politics. Make of it what you will.
It certainly is getting late early out here on the campaign trail but it’s not too late yet. Go: register to vote, vote early, plan your lameduck grassroots activities, get ready for January 2013. I’m loading up on Tums and will be happy to share. The future ain't what it used to be.