US Elections Analysis: One Week to Go --- Why "Moderate Mitt" and Crucial Ohio Point to a Cliff-Hanger
Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan in Celina, Ohio on Sunday
Last week, in the third Presidential debate, Mitt Romney surprised all but his closest advisers when he renounced the hawkish tone of the national security wing of his Republican Party. He preached moderation, and counselled a pragmatic attitude to international affairs, that was at odds with the previous positions of his advsiors.
It is hard to believe that the neo-Bush cabal who populate Romney's foreign policy team have changed their opinion on America's destined role to bring democracy to the world. So why are we witnessing the emergence of a "moderate Mitt" so late in the campaign?
The answer lies in his demeanour on that stage in Florida. Mitt Romney was a man who is truly convinced that he is winning this election, avoiding any potential controversy that would detract from the message that put him in the role of frontrunner. To use a boxing analogy, this was a fighter ahead on points entering the final round, covering up in the corner to avoid walking into a knockout blow.
Romney is a competitor, and for the last half-hour he wanted to throw some rhetorical punches at Obama, given the pummelling that he was taking from the President. But he restrained himself --- that is why, at the end of the debate, Romney began to babble placating reassurances while his heart for something far more confrontational.
It was an arresting performance to watch. Either Mitt Romney has convinced himself he will win, arrogantly assuming he cannot fail –-- and some kind of personal religious revelation cannot be discounted –-- or his campaign is party to some internal polling information feeding confidence that the election is theirs to grab. The latter explanation is the more intriguing because the most detailed reading of polls, at least those available to the public, indicate that Romney is still an underdog and that President Obama --- despite the ng downturn in his support over the last month --- , is the favourite to triumph on 6 November.
The Romney ground operation may believe that Obama does not enjoy two advantages he held over John McCain in 2008. The first, emphasised by Republican strategists all year, is that the President will not turn out the Democratic-leaning vote to the extent that he did in the enthusiasm of "Hope and Change" four years ago. The second is that Republicans are better financed than 2008, which not only allows them to compete over the airwaves but means they can run a grassroots organisation dedicated to bringing out their supporters in early voting and on Election Day.
All these possibilities deserve mention because the headline news of the election, with a week to go, is already set. Either Florida votes for President Obama, in which case the election is already over, or it votes for Mitt Romney, which means Ohio becomes the critical state. Each man can win the election without the Buckeye State, but neither campaign wants to consider a path to victory that does not include the state's 18 Electoral College votes.
An in-depth look in The Washington Post at Ohio, telling the personal stories of residents about the incessant campaigning in the state, noted:
Ask the strategists assigned to Ohio and they will tell you that running a campaign here is like running a national campaign. Ohio is that complex. Five regions and three major cities — Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus — define the culture, politics and economic underpinnings of the state.
The piece explained how Obama's success in Ohio in 2008 was based on competing in all 88 counties, even the heavily-Republican ones:
An analysis of the voting patterns by Republican Mike Dawson, an Ohio election statistics expert, found that 17 of the 20 counties where Obama saw the biggest percentage increases in raw vote totals over 2004 were GOP counties. In the heavily Democratic Cleveland suburbs of Cuyahoga County, for example, he got 9,919 more votes than Kerry. In heavily Republican Delaware County, north of Columbus, he lost to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and won just 36,653 votes, but that was still 9,605 more than Kerry.
The New York Times also dissected the importance of the differing strategies of campaigns in Ohio and the other "swing states" of Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and New Hampshire: “At this late stage of the race, the fight for the White House is being waged on intensely local terrain, in places whose voting histories and demographics have been studied in minute detail by both sides.”
The newspaper offered an example of how the local can take on national significance:
A new wave of Puerto Rican voters in Central Florida is highly influential, Democrats say, along with younger Cuban-Americans in South Florida. Republicans, still bullish about victory, say Mr. Obama’s aides are overestimating his support among Puerto Ricans. And, they said, Mr. Romney can rely on a very strong showing in Polk County, a Republican stronghold, and push for an edge in the swing county of Hillsborough as well as in Volusia County, home to Daytona.
On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times, while reporting on its poll, gave this tip to outsiders about the vagaries of Florida's voting behaviour: “The formula for Democrats to win Florida has long been simple: win big in the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, avoid overwhelming losses in conservative North Florida, and stay close to even along the I-4 corridor. Obama and John McCain essentially tied in the battleground four years ago.”
The poll revealed that President Obama is losing along the I-4 corridor, and Mason-Dixon Polling and Research contended, “"Being that this is I-4, the Florida battleground, the region of the state that usually tells you how it's going to come out, for Romney to be up 6 points right now....they should be able to call Florida as soon as the polls close in Pensacola if they do their exit polling right."
The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel offered an analysis of local Wisconsin politics that diverged from the usual media story of a hardened and partisan electorate:
When President Obama goes to Green Bay Tuesday, he’ll be visiting one of the "swingiest” parts of Wisconsin.
Democrat Bill Clinton won Brown County by 5 points in 1996. Republican George Bush won it by 10 points in 2004. Democrat Barack Obama won it by 9 points in 2008. And GOP Gov. Scott Walker won it by 20 points on June 5.
Welcome to Clinton-Bush-Obama-Walker country.
Or maybe Clinton-Bush-Obama-Walker-Romney country. We’ll find out Nov. 6.
The Sentinel then described how some other counties in Wisconsin are more volatile electorally than even Brown County.
The importance of these media reports is that both campaigns will know these numbers and demographic realities down to the last percentage point, not just in the few counties and regions the media covered this weekend but every precinct in every county in every battleground state. They know better than the media how this election is progressing, and when that is taken into account the confidence Mitt Romney showed in his prospects in that last debate takes on a new perspective.
That recognition does not negate the likely accuracy of the polls which have Obama as favourite to win the election --- Romney's assurance could be the hubris of the self-deluded. However, this election could well be a cliff-hanger, even closer than the dramatic race for which the media have hoped all year.