Campaign 2012 arrives at a formal down select today with supplier presentations in Tampa and Charlotte over the next two weeks. Like most selections, people involved are bemoaning the available options and questioning who designed the process in the first place.
The current preference gap is razor thin. The Real Clear Politics number, a blended average of major nonpartisan polls, has President Obama at 47% and former Massachusetts Governor Romney at 45.5%. It remains — for all the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt of the last several months — well within the margin of error.
Of course, as we were reminded in Campaign 2000, the popular vote doesn’t determine the President. The Electoral College does. And despite all the noise this summer, it too is a largely unchanged landscape since June.
The dirty Election 2012 secret is that 40 or so states are largely irrelevant, residing squarely in one camp or the other. Only about nine states, as of now, are being heavily contested: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, and now Wisconsin. And if you live in one of these states, you are being bombarded with micro-targeted messaging almost to the point of affliction. “Hello 9-1-1. It’s me again.”
The expansion of what the pros call the “map within the map” to include Wisconsin is a function of native son Paul Ryan joining the GOP ticket earlier this month. At 42, Congressman Ryan is the third youngest vice presidential nominee in the post-WW II period. He is, both sides agree, a serious policy thinker. He also brings a detailed plan, Path to Prosperity, to the national conversation.
The healthcare provisions within the Ryan policy sketch have of late been a focal point of the nightly shouting matches on cable news. Brookings Institute’s Henry Aaron and Robert Resischauer may have originated the term “premium support.”* Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) may have embraced it last December. But Romney and Ryan now own it as the campaigns fight for seniors in Florida, Iowa, and rust belt states like Ohio.
The aggressiveness of the debate is a reminder that the modern presidential campaign sadly does not lend itself to deep educative efforts, particularly in the last 90 days. As the former DNC Chair Howard Dean said last Sunday, “I have always told people that campaigns are not for educating” and much of the last several weeks validates that near term view.
Romney and Ryan, of course, know how the game is played. And thus as we start the Republican National Convention this morning, the U.S. economy will be front and center. Q2 GDP (advanced) was middling at just 1.5%. Median household income has had its worst 10-year stretch since the Great Depression. U-3 unemployment remains above 8%. It is a tough narrative for any incumbent, even for the personally well-liked Barack Obama.
These Hurricane Isaac-quality headwinds, in turn, all but ensure a close race through November 6. For believers in Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds, the online betting market Intrade currently favors Obama to win by 57.3% to 42%. That collective sentiment feels qualitatively right, with the caveat that even a week can be an eternity in modern politics.
Beyond the electoral outcome, it also is worth asking the larger question: what realistically can be accomplished in the coming Congress? The down ballot House and Senate terrain looks poised to deliver two closely divided chambers, including a U.S. Senate where Joe Biden or Paul Ryan may well cast the tie-breaking vote. Absent a fiscal crisis, and in the wake of an ugly campaign, it may make the current Congress look comparatively productive.
It will be a tough environment for either man. Selection is, of course, always easier than the change management required to make something work. And while some surely will bemoan the process, the blame in a democracy actually has to begin with us.
*Premium support, in simple terms, would provide Medicare recipients with an annual payment from the federal government to enroll in the health plan of their choice. It is a serious policy idea that has champions and critics alike. A primer can be found here. Beyond that, we will leave the debate around approach to the myriad sites focused on health policy and politics.
Donald Trigg, along with his long history in healthcare IT, spent a decade in the public policy space, including his work on the 2000 Bush for President campaign in Austin, Texas.