The US presidential election, 2012… The closing stages

By Ronald Austin

This week the 57th quadrennial presidential election of the United States entered its final phase. The campaigns of both President Obama and Mitt Romney have intensified their activities, especially in the 10 ‘swing’ states. In one of these, for example, Ohio, 29,000 ads have been aired over a thirty day period ending September 17. One would have thought that the intensity of the campaigning in Ohio and other parts of the country would have had a decisive impact on the standing of the candidates, but this has not happened. Despite the advertisement ‘carpet bombing’ of constituencies in important states and some very skilful campaigning, the race has remained a tight one. The undecided voters, even at this point in the game, have remained stubbornly undecided.

By all accounts President Obama is leading in most states, including in the ‘swing’ states; it is not an insurmountable lead, but a consistent one. The experts in fact are agreed that Obama’s pathway to the 270 electoral votes necessary to remain in the White House is now easier than that of Mitt Romney. In addition, after the horrible period he had to endure as result of the poor economy, fortune seems to be smiling on Barack Obama. It has been widely reported that Americans are now more confident about the economy, consumer confidence has risen to its highest level since February, and house values have been steadily rising. Such good news could not have come at a better time. But this optimism could vanish if the fragile global economy worsens for whatever reason, and its consequences are felt in the United States.

Not surprisingly Mitt Romney’s camp is not happy with the polls showing the President in the lead. They believe (shades of Guyanese politics) that these polls are tendentious and calculated to mislead Republican voters. In fact, the Romney camp has produced their own polls to show that their candidate is tied with President Obama in most states or slightly ahead. But the Romney camp is faced with the dilemma that the polls showing President Obama in the lead are the ones with a solid reputation for accuracy, such as the Gallup and Rothenberg. In any case the polls favouring Obama seem to be consistent with public feeling and sentiment.

Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney: Strains in the relationship?

Yet there is evidence that the Romney camp does not believe its own propaganda. The constant reports that Obama is leading in the election have provoked fissures among his operatives about the direction of the campaign and the role of Paul Ryan. It is reported that Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice-presidential nominee, is rebelling against the attempt to de-emphasise his popularity and muzzle him. He has apparently taken to calling the candidate the “stench.” The term is derived from the observation by Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party in Iowa, that if “….if Ryan wants to run for national office again, he’ll probably have to wash the stench of Romney off him.” The story of the disagreements between Ryan and Romney, that was written by Roger Simon, was published in Politico on September 25. So far neither Ryan nor Romney has denied it, even though it has been part of the news cycle. To add to Romney’s woes the Republican aristocracy, which has never trusted him, has been aiming their barbs at his campaign. No less a person than Peggy Noonan has called it a “rolling disaster.”

Romney’s woes are compounded by the fact that his poor candidacy is having a negative effect on the race for the Senate. The conventional wisdom was that the Republicans would easily sweep the Senate; this no longer holds. In some quarters the expectation is that the Democrats will win the Senate. Even in Missouri where our friend Ted Akin was believed to be without a challenge, it is now anticipated he will be in a tight race. These things must be weighing heavily on Romney’s mind, in spite of his optimistic demeanour and predictions of a victory.

To listen to some of the more partisan members of the commentariat, Romney should run up the white flag, but this overstates it. Romney still has a few cards to play, including some which might be outside of the established rules.  He is expected to do well in the three upcoming debates, the first of which takes place on October 3 in Colorado. The general view is that if Romney does well the race will further tighten. And Romney is a good debater. What Romney also has in his favour is the ongoing voter suppression in such important states as Florida, Ohio, and Pennnsylvania.

And in the middle of this close race a thunderbolt struck when the Advancement Project brought out a report in which it raised the alarm that voter ID laws and registration policies could end up disenfranchising 10 million Hispanic voters. The enormity of this development is now energizing the minds of the experts as well as those of the commentators. It seems clear to all and sundry that maybe the Republican plan to suppress the vote and lessen the electorate might have been more successful than at first was thought. And as if this were not enough the drum beat of hatred and scare tactics has begun: a Republican affiliated group has brought out a video which purports to show that Obama is part of a conspiracy to facilitate a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the United States; Nebraska is threatening to take the President off the ballot if he cannot prove he was born in the US; and Ralph Reed, who was tainted by the Abramoff scandal, has taken to the media to prove that Obama is both a Nazi and a communist. The inherent lunacy of these charges and the scare tactics should not obscure the fact that this propaganda could solidify the Republican base and, in the case of Ralph Reed, nudge a number of evangelical Christians into the voting column for Mitt Romney.

As it has been made clear there is a lot riding on the outcome of this election. This explains the intensity of the campaign and the will to win by any means necessary. The two Goliaths have virtually fought each other to a standstill. It is still too early to pick a conclusive winner. And there are so many factors which could cause a decisive shift to one or other of the candidates. The undecided might decide; the global economy might deteriorate; the Middle East could burst into flames again; and the scary situation in Asia over the East and South China seas (little noted in the media) could turn nasty. As a guide to the next month or so, therefore, forget the political scientists, the pollsters and the experienced politicians, and instead turn to that great actress Bette Davis, who memorably said in one of her films: “Fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride.”

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