(Syracuse, New York) – I’m on the road again this weekend, but there is no shortage to talk about in the world of politics. One debate is history, with three more to go! Here are my weekly observations:
There You Go, Again! – Ronald Reagan’s famous debate line is worth repeating, but lots of history is worth remembering, too. Mitt Romney certainly had a Reagan-like performance in the first debate Wednesday night, but this is far from over. Debates are tough on incumbents who must defend their record for the first time. Reagan himself had a horrible first debate against Walter Mondale in 1984, only to come back and easily dispatch Mondale in the second debate, on the way to a Reagan landslide in November (see photo). So, Obama supporters know he can give a comeback performance in the second and third debates; and Romney supporters need to know their man is up to the task, but must not to be overconfident in rounds two and three.
Libya – While he hit hard on the economy in the first debate, Romney must now hit hard on Libya during the final two debates. The changing White House story about that tragic event has caused deep concern in the public, and has given Republicans a lot of political ammunition. The worst political wounds are often self-inflicted and from an election year standpoint, the White House handled this poorly and could pay dearly politically.
Unemployment Numbers – The best news for President Obama this week was that unemployment has dropped to 7.8 percent, with one more report out the Friday before Election Day. If I was coaching Obama in the debates, I would advise pounding the number over and over. If I was advising Romney in the debates, I would get away from percentages and use raw numbers. Saying there are 23 million Americans still unemployed, is a lot stronger than calling it 7.8 percent. Yes, it’s nuance, but when you talk in millions, it grabs people’s attention.
Gas Prices – Obama’s big concern now is gas prices. If they continue to trend up sharply, it could hurt him. People always blame the president for such things, even if it’s not his fault. The timing of the spike in prices at the pump couldn’t be worse for Obama right now.
Fudging the Numbers – When unemployment dropped sharply Friday to 7.8 percent, a lot of White House critics – including retired General Electric CEO Jack Welsh – accused the Labor Department of cooking the books. Can that really happen? I have my doubts and here is why. The Labor Department – like many cabinet agencies – is made up of mostly career civil service employees, including many who came in under Republican administrations. To me it would be hard to fudge the numbers without a whistleblower coming forward. In 2004, some Democrats accused the Bush II White House of doing the very same thing – sugar coating weak economic numbers to help reelection. Now talk radio is full of the same chatter. The White House’s loss of credibility on the Libya matter is only fueling doubts about other issues. Still, the 7.8 figure is a net gain for the Obama reelection bid. If he can convince enough people the economy is improving, he wins.
VP Debates – Thursday night Oct. 11, is the vice presidential debate in Kentucky. The Ryan-Biden match up should be entertaining from two men who love to talk endlessly in public. VP debates rarely mean much in the overall picture, but they have had some amusing train wreck-like moments over the past few decades. So, watch for the candidates possibly hitting some potholes this week.
National Polls – Romney definitely got a post-debate bounce. Last week, President Obama’s lead in the Real Clear Politics composite poll was 3.1 percent. Today it is now only 1.4 percent. Another strong debate performance will make this race dead even.
Swing States Tighten – The post-debate bounce has put Mitt Romney in a tie in Florida, Virginia and Colorado. Even if you assume he can win all three, when you add that to his estimated Electoral College total, he only reaches 258, with 270 needed to win. Obama has opened a lead wide enough in Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ohio, that exceeds the poll’s margin of error, so Nevada and Iowa become even more crucial to Romney. Bottom line: the swing states still trend strongly in Obama’s favor. As I have said before: Romney could win the popular vote, with Obama winning the Electoral College. It’s just that kind of year!
As always, your comments opinions are welcome at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.