Friday’s headlines claimed Florida from Obama – a significant blow in the election. And while there remain other swing states still very much in the running – arguably all of them – things have soured all month for the President. His is a campaign that is now firmly of the “challenged” variety.
Mitt Romney actually fares little better, really, which makes the race a strange one, with no real front runner. The former Governor of Massachusetts has had to combat a string of challenges to his moderacy recently. Rogue Republican statements on rape and abortion have made for big talking points. He also has a big list of “must-takes” on the state-by-state electoral map which are still very close. The most impactful of these is Ohio, where he has not yet led in a poll (with but a handful exceptions). If not there, then Wisconsin.
What the next few days look like – and there is a hurricane moving into a swathe of battleground America – will speak lectures about the election. It is close.
October 3, 2012
On Wednesday morning, October 3, the President woke up in Nevada and went to sleep in Colorado. He began the day a dominant incumbent, known for his intellect, championship of the middle class, and respect for a compelling argument. It was the 20th anniversary of his marriage.
Unfortunately, his afternoon flight to Denver was also the beginning of the pivot in the 2012 Presidential election. Within the next six hours, voters would, many of them for the first time, begin to consider Mitt Romney an effective and viable alternative. They would start to imagine an America with higher employment, better economic output, lower federal debt and a smaller federal deficit. They would do so because there was a man behind a podium that evening who was very comfortably showing them how these things were easily achievable – they just needed to vote Republican. Most voters probably didn’t change their mind about abortion, tax policy for the wealthy, healthcare reform, or government regulation of Wall Street all in that evening. But it seemed like they began to consider those things secondary to fixing unemployment. And they began to imagine what having a boardroom executive run their country once again would be like.
Within six days of that debate, Obama’s 4.3 point lead, shown in an average of all presidential polls and cultivated over the post-convention month, fell to nothing. And Mitt Romney would take, on October 8 2012, his first lead in the nationwide tally. He has not lost that lead yet, barring two days of 0.2 point advantages to Obama, and the margin looks like it’s spreading. If the election mirrors perfectly the average sampling of the national polls preceding it, then Mitt Romney will win.
There was then fallout and commentary to that debate, much of it funny and a little bit bewildered on behalf of the democratic camps, and the campaigns continued to tighten.
In any US Presidential race there are massive portions of the country that remain relevant only for the purposes of fundraising. California, Washington, Oregon, Ilinois, New York and most of New England are Democratic states, and most of the south and the middle are all Republican. The true swings were supposed to be Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and New Hampshire.
Now, Ohio is closer than anyone wants it to be, and with Florida potentially won by the Republicans, it looks just as important as had often been projected. The election may be won and lost there. A big focus on other swing states is going on as well – Green Bay, Wisconsin is the heaviest-bought media market in the country, and Obama has made a beer run to far-off New Hampshire for their votes – but Ohio is the big prize, and the two candidates are being framed as though they are fighting door-to-door to secure a win there. Futurists penning apocalyptic scenarios of electoral recount necessities are already preparing.
The three debates that followed Obama’s disappointing night on October 3 – the Biden/Ryan scrap, Town Hall Rumble in Hempstead, New York, and the Foreign Policy Israel love-in – were different from the first, but mostly, they served to establish that this race is tight, important, and between two candidates that can stand up for themselves. That Obama didn’t (stand up for himself) on October 3 gave Romney the window he needed to open up the race into one between two rivals, and not one between a towering incumbent and his chameleonic challenger.
Tight races are a blessing and a curse for the politically-obsessive. They mean ugly, negative advertising, exhaustive schedules, and massive expenditure – all focused in tiny, heavily researched fragments of the country. The blessing of it though, is political engagement. If there is a soul in Franklin County, Ohio that does not know about the elections then they are blind, deaf, and have no friends. Every voter there will consider very carefully who they vote for. But, the negative advertising that comes with importance pays an enormous toll on peoples’ satisfaction with the democratic process. Many in Ohio may know about what’s going on and be so disgusted with it that they will venture out to find the poor senseless loners who don’t, and recruit them for a revolutionary party in protest.
In just over a week the whole procedure will be finalised, and if the process goes smoothly there will be a decision. If it doesn’t, because either the President or Governor has won the electoral college but not the popular vote, or one or more states are too close and need to be challenged, then there will be a few more arguments, likely in front of the supreme court. But regardless of whether the process continues beyond the 6th or not, this will have been a very exciting, and a very close, competition. As happens so often in this country, the election has been about American values on the broadest range of moral, social, foreign and economic issues. It has not been – and scarcely could be – in any way boring.
Jonathan Holtby is a Masters of Communication student at Bond University. He is currently in Washington DC.
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