The presidential campaign is a dead heat as it moves into the home stretch, with all of the competent national polls within the margin of error. So what can we expect for the campaign’s final stage?
More of the same, I am afraid. I expected Mitt Romney to win relatively easily, but that evidently won’t happen for the reasons I stated here. Rather, the race most likely will remain neck and neck right up to November 6. The campaign is like the familiar cartoon image of an automobile race in which one of the cars has a slight lead, and pulls one dirty trick after another to try to hold off the other vehicle: it drops an oil slick, lays down a stream of nails or tacks, and so on. Likewise, the Obama campaign has tried to stave off Romney’s charge with one silly distraction after another, each one eagerly taken up by the Obama campaign’s media arm–America’s newspapers, news magazines and television networks. But after each setback, as in the cartoon auto race, Romney once again pulls even.
The conventional wisdom is that the debates are likely to decide the election, but I doubt that they will sway many votes. It is easy to predict what will happen: the moderators, all or nearly all of them Democrats, will ask Romney all the tough questions. The next morning, the reporters who didn’t get to be moderators will do their part by spinning their stories to suggest that Obama “won” each debate, or at least held his own. Romney will perform well, but hardly any votes will move in either direction, as viewers won’t learn anything they didn’t already know.
Of course, there is always the possibility that a dramatic event, especially in foreign policy, could intervene. For example, there could be violence across the Muslim world, American consulates and embassies could be attacked, an American ambassador could even by abused, murdered and dragged through the streets. Such a disaster would deal a death blow to Obama’s re-election chances…no, wait.
So how will the election be decided? By turnout. The issue in this election is not whether the Obama administration is a failure. No one seriously denies that it is. The question is, how many of Obama’s potential voters–the ones who went for him in 2008–care enough to do something different this time? Like, not show up?
The Romney campaign and supportive third parties have what is, on paper, an impressive ground game planned for November. Republicans are as motivated as I have ever seen them, and every poll I have seen indicates that independents favor Romney over Obama. The election will turn, I think, on which camp does a better job of identifying its voters and getting them to the polls. Which means that the next 44 days will be as depressing as the last 44. Wake me when it’s over!
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