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Obama’s loss is Romney’s gain
If US President Barack Obama loses the presidential election next week, it would be safe to blame the loss on his first debate performance. That 90-minute stupor from a mummified Obama was all it took for his campaign to nosedive, a demise that no one saw coming.
In the space of two more presidential debates since then, several “swing states” have begun leaning to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, particularly Virginia, North Carolina (where the Democrats held their national convention) and Florida (where 537 votes for George W Bush “won” him the 2000 election).
Overall, people view Romney more favourably than before. Fewer people today believe Obama will secure a second term (55 per cent today to 50 per cent last month). Most poignantly, the massive 16-point advantage among women that was long Obama’s strong point has vanished.
This has happened despite overwhelming odds. There was the leaked video in which Romney said 47 per cent of the American public are “victims” who claim no self-responsibility and live off the Government.
There was the debate statement last week by a Romney-endorsed senatorial candidate that God “intended” rape victims to carry the children of their rapists. There were good employment numbers and jobs reports for the President. There were binders and Big Bird and bayonets for Romney.
And then there was the E-word that has been Romney’s clarion call. People today are significantly more optimistic about the economy and unemployment than they had been at any point in the campaign. Nearly six in ten likely voters think the US economy will improve in the next year, up from four in ten last month. All of this and yet Romney leads the polls for the first time: 47 per cent to 45 per cent.
A winner outside the US
T&T and the rest of the world are watching awestruck...and aghast. A BBC World Service opinion poll of 21 countries found four out of five people support Obama. In France, the figure was 72 per cent. Had they polled T&T it would have been a landslide.
Indeed, many Trinis rejoiced on social media when Obama awoke from his stupor as an alert, aggressive candidate to “win” the second and third debates. But win what? By then, despite Romney’s threat of kicking a big yellow bird to the Sesame Street curb, the damage had been done. The tidal wave of Republican support had gained momentum. As much as Obama appeared like the debate winner to Democrats, he appeared desperate, angry and even un-presidential to others.
It’s a description that has lingered. Last week, when Obama began using “Romnesia” and “sketchy” to describe his opponent’s ever-changing policy positions, critics argued the president was desperate and un-presidential. Then news broke on Thursday that this week’s Rolling Stone cover on Obama includes the president describing Romney’s changing positions as “bullsh---ing” the public.
Obama isn’t the only one growing “desperate.” On the ground, Democratic campaign volunteers are becoming more aggressive in their canvassing and phone calls. Ads are far more direct and even a bit scary. Even in safe states, supporters are worried and the air is tense. What is happening could be the undoing of Obama.
Before the debates, the media brayed that “debates don’t win elections.” Since the first debate ended, that phrase has not been uttered. There is constant talk of the positive shift for Romney after his first debate “win.” Yet after the president’s second and third debate wins, the talk was on whether a debate could have any kind of impact.
Debates don’t win elections but they can shift public opinion. Suddenly there was tremendous negative focus on Obama and all the negativity surrounding his opponent paled. Romney quietly shifted to the centre. He began looking “presidential.” Formerly undecided voters are being quoted in the news as feeling more confident about voting for Romney that he is no longer brandishing his archaic conservatism.
Obama is looking weak. There is no chance of reigniting near-magical optimism that swept the nation in 2008.
Debates vs polls
If debates don’t win elections perhaps they can help lose elections. What this year’s US debates have shown is that the real power of political debates lies in how they make people feel. Many former Obama supporters were already feeling deflated. Many Romney supporters were searching for a reason to feel proud of their candidate. Many undecided voters were unsure whether they could feel comfortable with a President Romney.
The debate performances themselves, the media attention afterwards and the consequent atmosphere on the campaign trails caused a shift in how some people felt. With just weeks before the election, they knew it was time to make up their minds. They were looking for something to sway them solidly one way or the other.
And, for some, they got it. Poll after poll is showing Romney edging out Obama. But as much as debates don’t win elections, neither do polls. Perhaps the complacency among Democrats I mentioned in the last column will be replaced by a much-needed determination, even desperation to get the vote out.
Next Tuesday, Americans go to vote with their minds made up.
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