Where the Presidential Campaign Stands

Karl Rove is one of the smartest, and savviest, people in American politics. So his assessment of the presidential race in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal should be heeded. It is titled “The Obama Ad Blitz Isn’t Working,” but that is only part of the story. Rove notes how mistake-prone Obama has been this year, compared with 2008:

“If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Despite President Obama’s effort to walk back these remarks, the damage they’ve caused to him remains. And that’s because what he said in Roanoke, Va., on July 13 came across as a true expression of his worldview.

The president’s vivid words did not come out of nowhere. While pushing for higher taxes on upper-income people, Mr. Obama often refers to the wealthy as “fortunate” (such as at a Democratic National Committee event last September) and “incredibly blessed” (at a campaign event on July 23). Translation: Successful people don’t really deserve to keep what they earn.

“You didn’t build that” is not Mr. Obama’s only recent problematic statement. In a June 8 news conference, he said “The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government.” And in Oakland, Calif., on July 24, he told donors that on the economy, “We tried our plan and it worked!” These comments make voters wince.

Why is Obama making the mistake of saying what he really thinks? Rove speculates that he may be exhausted by the unprecedented round of fundraisers he has attended:

One factor may be overscheduling. Mr. Obama has attended an extraordinary 195 fundraisers in the 16 months since he filed for re-election on April 4, 2011 (according to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller). Many people don’t fully appreciate how much of a drain it is on a candidate—involving travel, a speech or two, private meetings with particularly energetic (or obnoxious) money bundlers, and always plenty of advice. Most fundraisers also include a long photo line where the candidate grips and grins for dozens, sometimes hundreds, of photographs.

I observed first-hand how difficult it was to wedge 86 fundraisers onto President George W. Bush’s calendar over the 14.5 months from May 16, 2003 (when he filed for re-election) through July 2004. In comparison, it is astonishing how much time Mr. Obama has spent scrabbling for cash.

Rove assumes that Obama has to campaign as well as discharge his duties as president on top of his fundraising schedule. I’m not sure his official duties get much attention, but we can give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

So, how is the campaign going? Rove notes that in the last three months, Obama has spent at least $131 million on television advertising, virtually all of it negative ads directed against Mitt Romney. Romney and his supporters have fought back, and the polls haven’t moved significantly. The bottom line is that Barack Obama has only one real talent: he is the greatest money-machine in the history of politics. In 2008, he swamped John McCain with cold cash, some of it illegally raised. But this year, that isn’t going to happen:

Mr. Obama’s strategists know they won in 2008 in large part by outspending their opponents in the primaries and general election. They’ve tried that with Mr. Romney the last three months, and so far it isn’t working. Still, just this week, according to public records, Team Obama has bought an additional $32 million in ads in nine battleground states for August.

Unanswered television ads do move poll numbers, as was the case in 2008. But these Obama ads won’t go unanswered.

Which means that Obama may have to face the horrifying prospect of running on his record.

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