(CBS News) Mitt Romney is a turnaround expert. He says he can turn around the country. But first he must show he can do it with his campaign. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he and his surrogates argued that the way he ran his campaign was a proxy for how he would govern. The one-term senator had to make this case because he had no experience running anything. Romney is pitching himself as the exact opposite: He is so experienced he can turn around anything. Whether it's your company or your Olympics, he knows how to walk in, figure out what's wrong, and fix it.
Of course, the Romney campaign's public posture is that nothing is going wrong. That's natural enough. It is in the handbook that you don't ever admit anything is running off the rails, even as you quietly get things back on track. The campaign got good news Thursday that helped them make the case that the situation was not as in need of change as the chattering class might think. The Gallup daily tracking poll shows that the race is tied. With 47 days left until Election Day, President Obama gets 47 percent and Mitt Romney gets 47 percent. Given Romney's recent comments about the 47 percent, it's clear that Gallup has a sense of humor. (We must remember to invite Gallup over for dinner some time--or at least cocktails.)
What better trait of a leader than not twitching at every sign of worry and discontent from supporters? Romney has had plenty of practice. He has had to go through the process of assuring his backers that there are no monsters under the bed several times. But time is drawing short, so changes are taking place. Romney's aides say he will start to get more specific about what he will do if he's elected. He's named policies before, but that hasn't done the trick. Now he's going to try to explain how his policies can affect people in their daily lives.Continue »
This post originally appeared on Slate.
(CBS News) -- Ohio Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel is 34, but he looks 19. He not clean cut--he's freshly shorn. So when the young State Treasurer explains that he's going to beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown by winning over working class voters who spend their day with equipment that is hot, heavy, and dirty, it seems like a long shot. But Mandel has possible inroads with these voters: He served two tours in the Marines in Iraq. His grandfather was a laborer at a brass factory and his mother was also a union worker--the kind of voters he's trying to court. In one of his ads he highlights his military experience. (A snapshot from Anbar Province puts grit on a man.) In another he highlights his working-class heritage.
Mandel's strategy may not work, but at least he can start the conversation with white, working-class voters, a critical voting bloc. The question after two days of reporting in Ohio is what Mitt Romney can do to appeal to these same voters? Is he going to visit the shift-change at the Lordstown GM plant and let them take his measure, or is he just going to hope that history and a bad economy will bring them out to vote against President Barack Obama?Continue »
Mitt Romney is enjoying at least the fourth public loss of confidence by conservative elites since winning the nomination. The first came in June when Rupert Murdoch and others complained that he was not taking the fight to Barack Obama. Then in July, he was faulted for thinking he could skate to victory by running only as the anti-Obama. Then in early August, GOP veteran voices again counseled against the passive campaign and urged Romney to be bold by picking a vice president with some substance. Now the fever arrives again from a variety of conservative quarters that he is not giving voters a reason to vote for him.
If you were a medicine man, you might notice that the fever comes on hardest at the start of every month. Perhaps it is triggered by soft monthly jobs reports. The view may be that given the persistently glum economic news, even an area rug could beat the incumbent. Romney should be doing better, so: panic. As George Will put it recently: "If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics and find another business." Whatever the reason behind the outbreaks, campaign wizards at Romney's Boston headquarters should start mixing the October poultice now.Continue »
In 2008, if Barack Obama's outdoor convention speech had been moved inside, he still would have raised the roof. When he was denied the chance to speak in the elements at Bank of America stadium this week, the closed venue seemed fitting. Obama's speech to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, like his presidency, has a lid on it. It was workmanlike from a president who had to strain with the reality of being in office. "The times have changed," he said, "and so have I." At his 2008 address in Denver, audience members cried at the end of his speech. Tonight, one delegate said Biden had been more inspiring. Another said Bill Clinton's speech was the one she would be sending around to barber shops and beauty parlors.
Speaking from behind a lectern that looked like the protective cardboard sleeve on a coffee cup, the president arrived to thunderous applause. A sea of blue signs that read "Forward" rose in the crowd. That was the task of the night, to explain how he would move the country forward. It was the president's intention to outsource the job to the audience. "You can choose that future," he said repeatedly to the audience. It was the logical extension of slogans that started with "Win the Future" and "Forward."
The president gave a Robert Frost address, a choice for voters to pick between one of two roads: "On every issue, the choice you face won't be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."Continue »
Usually when a president visits his convention before his big night, it's to kiss his wife. Barack Obama arrived a day early to hug Bill Clinton.
The Obama campaign got the picture of continuity it wanted for the front pages of the newspapers. If all campaigns are about the future, bringing in the popular former president was an attempt to use an envoy from past prosperity to explain why brighter days were just around the corner.
Clinton has now spoken for a total of more than five hours at Democratic conventions. It seemed at times that he was in the middle of a five-hour speech Wednesday night. The crowd of delegates and party stalwarts didn't seem to mind. For the last five minutes of the speech, everyone in the auditorium stood to let his words fall on their faces. Clinton seemed to delight in the whole event, luxuriating in the speech like it was a vast terrycloth robe.
By the time Barack Obama arrived on the stage to receive a bow from the 42nd president, it seemed like it should have been Obama doing the bowing. He owed at least that to the man he once criticized as a middling historical figure but whose aura his campaign considered so powerful it was enough just to have Obama in the same picture frame with him.Continue »
Barack Obama has said that his biggest mistake in office is that he hasn't told the right story to the American public. Maybe he should have let his wife tell it. First lady Michelle Obama delivered a powerful and deft defense of her husband, wrapping him in biography and the American story. She also started the process of rebutting the previous week's attacks.
At the heart of her speech Tuesday night was an effort to stretch the timeline beyond the four years of a single term. For the last two days, Democrats have been trying to answer the question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Michelle Obama said this struggle to restore the middle class--her husband's struggle--is bigger than a single election.
To make her case, the first lady started with family history. She told the story of her father who had multiple sclerosis but buttoned the buttons on his uniform each morning and lifted one leg, and then the other, to climb the stairs home at night. She talked about the president's grandmother who worked every day despite the frustrations of the glass ceiling.Continue »
Bob White, Mitt Romney's partner at Bain Capital and close campaign confidante, gave Paul Ryan the ultimate compliment. "We would have hired him at Bain," he told a campaign colleague. The buoyant 42-year-old Ryan did look a bit like the junior partner in the duo's first sit-down interview with Bob Schieffer on 60 Minutes, matching Romney with a checked shirt and blazer. As Ryan kicked off his first two days of campaigning he was crisp, effective, and eager to show that the boss' confidence was not misplaced. "We know who we are. We know what we believe. Now let's go do it," said Ryan Sunday.
The line sounds a little like a motivational mantra from Ryan's beloved P90X workout. The next 85 days are going to be an extreme workout for Ryan. (It will also be 85 days of Democrats calling him extreme.) The test for Ryan will be whether he has the stamina to retain that broad grin: his genial manner may be the best defense against the claims by Democrats that he wants to dismantle the social safety net and against the rigors of a campaign where his every move will be observed and analyzed.
The competition is well under way to define Paul Ryan, and it has now become a competition to define the Romney campaign as well. For the moment, at least, the Romney team has made the Ryan selection the narrative of the campaign. That means Ryan is no longer himself. Three forces are acting on this manikin: The Romney campaign, the Obama campaign, and the press. For two days the campaign gets to tell the story of its man, but now those other voices are starting to chime in. There's a lot of room for definition, if the Gallup poll is to be believed; nearly half of Republicans can't rate Ryan in a survey where six in 10 adults are not familiar enough with Ryan to offer an opinion of him.
Mitt Romney made a "bold" choice and is "placing a bet" that ideas will win the election. That's how the campaign is selling it. As Mark Halperin has expertly detailed, the Romney team produced a nearly flawless Ryan roll-out. The pitch is that these two men are a kind of Geek Squad for the nation: efficient problem solvers who love numbers and analysis. Romney has the executive skills and Ryan knows every inch of the budget, so together they will turn around the country. The pitch spans the generations: Romney, who seems like a man of the '50s, linking up with the first man on a national ticket from Generation X.Continue »
JANESVILLE, Wis.-- Mitt Romney has made his first presidential-level decision, picking Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old, seven-term Congressman from southern Wisconsin, as his running mate. The choice offers the first real hints about what kind of president Romney will be. Here's what we learned: He takes risks, he can adapt, and he's willing to campaign on a bold set of ideas rather than generalities. If you're looking for the attributes of presidential leadership, these are all strong qualities. The Ryan pick also tells us less flattering things about Romney: He's willing to discard what were once deeply held views about the necessity of business and executive experience and to cosset the GOP base for political reasons at the expense of independents.
Thanks to the endless coverage this campaign of gaffes and out-of-context quotes, it had seemed like we were going to have a donut election: fluffy, sugary, and with nothing in the middle. The stakes for voters have always been high, but the way the campaign has played out has not matched the claims by both candidates that this is the most important election of a generation. Romney has had plans he could point to, but he wasn't really running on them. Now he's put a greater emphasis on those plans. They are no longer in the background, which means this election will be a clearer choice for voters. It will touch on the central question of how you refashion government in a time of scarcity and when a majority of the public is scared, thinking the country is headed in the wrong direction.Continue »
(CBS News) POLAND, Ohio - Candidate Barack Obama tells a compelling story about the American middle-class dream. In shirtsleeves in the town square in Sandusky, Ohio, and at twilight in Parma, he explains how the theory at the heart of most of American life - that hard work and responsibility will lead to prosperity - is under threat. His audiences during his two-day bus tour are attentive. When they hear him speak, some say, "Amen." Others repeat his last word out loud, as if to affirm its truth. A man in Poland raised his hand as if in prayer, but most keep both hands raised to film him on their cell phones.
The call-and-response might make it feel like a church service, but the candidate is not speaking to his audience; he is speaking from it. He is one of them, he says, which is why he understands this threat to their way of life. "I believe in that basic promise of America because I lived it. That's my biography," he said amid the hay bales and a large American flag in Maumee, Ohio, on Thursday. At the end of the day, he said, "I saw myself in you. I saw my hopes and dreams in you. And when I see your kids, I see my kids. And when I see your grandparents, I see my grandparents."
This guy may really have a shot against the incumbent. Continue »
Iowa was the emotional center of the 2008 Obama campaign. The state launched him when he beat Hillary Clinton in the caucuses. Obama went on to win the general election in Iowa by 10 percentage points, but that margin of victory was out of character for the state. President Bush narrowly won Iowa by 10,000 votes in 2004 after having lost it by less than 5,000 votes in 2000. Now, like the rest of the country, Iowa is reverting back to its normal condition--a 50/50 state with narrow electoral margins. The latest polls show Obama and Romney in a dead heat.
In every calculation of how the candidates get to 270 electoral votes, Iowa is listed as a battleground state. But it's also a swing state. States like Pennsylvania and North Carolina will be contested by both sides, but the competition there will be more about turning out each party's base and topping those operations with success among the small number of swing voters. Winning in Iowa will be about courting the large number of moderate voters who are up for grabs. There are more registered independents in the state than registered Republicans or Democrats. Ten percent said they were up in the air, according to a recent NBC/Marist poll that had Romney and Obama tied at 44 percent.Continue »
Mitt Romney's Las Vegas field office was buzzing last week. The candidate wasn't there, but his white and blue campaign bus was. Volunteers who had worked a shift calling on voters or knocking on doors in the brutal heat were rewarded with a tour. They stood among the black leather banquettes in the back where the candidate rides and read the love note he left his wife on Valentine's Day. Back in the offices, Romney and Republican Party staffers shared windowless rooms working under color-coded maps of the state. Hovering over the entire operation was a poster in the lobby that greeted everyone. It simply read "92."
That's not the number of days until Election Day. That's the countdown until voting starts in Nevada. Today it reads 85, which is 18 days before Election Day. By the time the big day rolls around--Nov. 6--almost 70 percent of Nevada voters are likely to have marked their ballot. In 2008, only a third of the roughly 130 million nationwide ballots were early or absentee, but that number is expected to increase in this election in the 32 states where it will be allowed. Nevada is one of several early-voting battleground states along with North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado. So many people vote early in those key states, it's possible that the election outcome could be determined before anyone steps into a voting booth on that first Tuesday in November
As my colleague Sasha Issenberg writes in his wonderful forthcoming book, The Victory Lab, candidates and political parties started paying more attention to the science of campaigning after the election of 2000. That close race proved that when the outcome is tight, every little bit helps. So campaign strategists dropped the folk wisdom and started paying attention to the eggheads to learn whether a house visit, a phone call, or a piece of direct mail is more effective in identifying and turning out voters, or whether all three can be just as effective if deployed at different times and in different ways.Continue »
If Barack Obama wins this election, he's going to win ugly. Job creation is anemic, voters think the country is going in the wrong direction, and the president has been unable to convince them otherwise. So, the path is clear: Destroy your opponent and pander to your base. Obama Wan Kenobi, it's your only hope.
This has been obvious for months. It was clear, at the very least, from the president's campaign kick-off back in May. What's new is that Mitt Romney's campaign is trying to make something of it. In a recent series of ads and television appearances, the Republican challenger argues that the president has discarded the high-minded principles of his 2008 campaign to keep the White House at any cost. Obama promised to lift the nation above petty sniping and political game-playing, and now he's doing exactly what he decried. The latest Romney ad called "Hope and Change?" starts with CBS's Bob Schieffer asking David Axelrod, "What ever happened to hope and change?"
(Watch Schieffer's reaction to Romney campaign ad in video to the left.)
Do people really care about the niceties of campaigning? They don't like politicians. They expect them to say one thing and do another. Why would they be surprised when one of them is behaving exactly as they'd expect--especially when the other candidate is doing the same thing as well?Continue »
President Obama chose the humblebrag: "The mistake of my first term--couple of years--was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."
This is a shame. Recognizing mistakes and knowing how to fix them is a key attribute of the presidency. The only way voters know that a candidate or president has this skill is if they talk about it. In our campaigns, we condition candidates to never reveal any mistakes, second guessing, or lessons they've learned through trial and error. Our campaigns are like an Olympic qualifying trial in which contestants are not tested for the sport they'll ultimately play.Continue »
Mitt Romney was booed. It was a good day for Mitt Romney.
When the Republican nominee told the NAACP that he was committed to eliminating Obamacare, audience members shouted out. The negative reception might have been momentarily jarring to the candidate, but the moment had a political upside. It offered a chance for a candidate criticized for his malleability to look principled in the face of opposition. That might not have mattered to the audience in the auditorium, but as Romney advisers explain, this speech was not just aimed at the people sitting in their seats or African American voters in general. Like Romney's contentious visit to the largely African-American school in West Philadelphia weeks ago, this speech was aimed at rounding out Romney's image. "I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African-American families, you would vote for me for president," he said.
Hearing this, swing voters might think Gov. Romney has a bigger heart than those mean Democratic ads claiming he sent jobs overseas. At the very least the speech, and the negative reaction it provoked, replaced the outsourcing of American jobs as the political topic of the day. That may be the biggest political benefit of all of Mitt Romney's NAACP speech: He changed the conversation. In an election that is so close, both campaigns seem less concerned about the substance of their argument than that the argument take place on favorable turf. On issues from health care to charges and counter-charges about outsourcing, both Romney and Obama are willing to endure boos, howls from fact-checkers, and even some cries of hypocrisy if it will keep the argument on the topics that do them the most political good.
Watch video of Romney's mixed reception at NAACP convention.
Romney was also applauded by the NAACP audience, as his supporters were quick to point out. True, but it's in their candidate's interest to get booed and to have that booing reported. Quiet golf clapping and even sustained applause would rob Romney of explaining how steadfast he is going to be in the interviews that followed. It would weaken the Daniel in the Lion's Den story. Big deal Daniel, the lion's just purred at you. This is why, when candidate Obama in 2008 told of being grumbled at by auto executives for his position on auto emissions, he left out the part about how they gave him a standing ovation at the end of the speech.Continue »
(CBS News) Republicans may have renewed reason to think well of Chief Justice John Roberts. Mitt Romney argued Wednesday that Roberts' Supreme Court ruling uncovered Barack Obama's hidden tax in the Affordable Care Act while simultaneously proving that Romney's similarly designed measure in his Massachusetts health care law was not a tax, but merely a penalty.
Did Roberts do this? Not really, but Romney's novel claim offered the latest twist in a winding series of responses to the ruling. The last week has offered a rare window into the Romney campaign in action. Buttoned-down and risk-averse, the team is slow to react and sticks to the script so strictly they're even willing to endure ridicule. Those can be highly prized qualities in presidential campaigns. The presidency requires relentless focus, too. But politics and the presidency also require a certain dexterity, an ability to be nimble in the face of changing events.
A blistering editorial from the conservative editors at the Wall Street Journal argues that the Romney campaign has failed to get this mix right, particularly in its response to the court's Affordable Care Act ruling. Bill Kristol, who was just a guest at Romney's high-donor event in Utah, has also penned a bracing piece asking: "Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he's running?"Continue »
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