Saturday, April 21, 2012

Campaign 2012

It's enlightening to listen to the pros who either design or study political campaigns for a living, because they are able to analyze the process dispassionately and put it in historical perspective. Today, at the LA Times Festival of Books, I attended a couple of panels on the upcoming presidential campaign, one by a group of political consultants,both Republican and Democratic (Bill Carrick, Michael Genovese, Mike Murphy, and Dan Schnur), and another by a group of seasoned journalists who have covered lots of political campaigns the last couple of decades.(Eric Alterman, Ronald Brownstein, Adam Nagourney, and John Powers)

The political consultants, regardless of their different personal political views, came to strikingly similar conclusions about the upcoming election. Most of them thought the election would be fairly close, and that the president's re-election chances probably depend on the continued perception that the economy is improving. The Obama campaign will probably continue to portray the election as a choice between strikingly different Democratic and Republican visions of the role of government in the economy. (President Obama's recent campaign speeches make a clear contrast between the values Democrats are fighting for, and the Republican "you're on your own" philosophy.)  The Romney campaign will probably continue to portray the election as a referendum on Obama's performance, and hope there is enough dissatisfaction with it to allow them to win. If the voters see this as a choice election, Obama probably wins; but if they see it as a referendum, Obama may be in difficulty. The strategists thus seemed to endorse Romney's strategy of negativity, but also pointed out that that attacking the current administration's record is probably not going to be enough. Romney will need to articulate his own positive, competing vision in order to be seen as a credible alternative.

I was reassured today that the silly season we seem to be enduring in recent days (which I was complaining about in my previous post) is probably only a passing phase in the campaign, a hiatus of sorts between the highly entertaining and contentious Republican primary campaign, and the serious general election campaign that will not get into high gear for another few months. On the other hand, political journalists acknowledge that the campaign coverage will continue to pay far too much attention to the latest gaffe or squabble over some inconsequential issue. They blame that kind of coverage in part on the fact that there is not much else for campaign reporters to cover, since they are already so familiar with the campaign's positions on the issues, and those do not change much from day to day. They also put some blame on our own demand for that kind of information, even though we may claim we want more high-minded reporting. It's helpful to remember that presidential elections are decided by a fairly small number of swing voters in a fairly small number of swing states. And those people are so fickle it's hard to tell what will move them. Nevertheless, despite what we are going to be subjected to from the media, and from the relentless tide of political advertising, the voters will somehow figure out what is really at stake in the election and make a real choice about the direction of the country. That is the hope, anyway.

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