The picture is taking shape. It’s still early for predictions—I’ll do that over the weekend or Monday. But let me put it this way. While there are certainly a few known unknowns, and always the possibility of the emergence of one more unknown unknown, I’d sure rather be Barack Obama right now than Mitt Romney. Sandy (and Chris Christie) stopped Romney’s momentum cold and put some wind (so to speak) behind the president’s back. Consider: Thirteen swing state polls came out on Wednesday. Obama led in 11. Romney is on the mat. Now Obama needs to step on his neck and put this thing away. He can do this in five ways.
First, hit the trail furiously. He’s back in campaign mode as of Thursday morning. I don’t know where he’s going, but he should obviously hit Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, and Virginia. He should make one stop in Michigan to batten it down (Wisconsin looks safe, as does Pennsylvania), and maybe New Hampshire. And he should make a new push into North Carolina. That will be seen as a power move—testing Romney’s little Confederate Maginot Line, as it were, reopening the conversation in a state that had been seen as red but is now up for grabs. It’ll probably go to Romney at the end of the day, but Obama can make him sweat it out, and who knows, with the right kind of turnout, maybe pick it off.
Florida? Let Joe Biden and Bill Clinton take care of south Florida. The alter kockers are more their crowd. Obama needs to hit the I-4 corridor, where the white swing voters and the Puerto Ricans (and plenty enough African Americans) live, with a huge weekend rally, probably in Tampa. He carried Tampa’s Hillsborough County 50-48 last time, and if he can replicate that, he has a shot at Florida, which would crush Romney.
Campaign, campaign, campaign. Get hoarse. Get tired. As I wrote in my cover piece, drop any hint of “I Got This” Obama and be hungry.
Second, pound away on this Romney lie about Jeep and China. One fact like this can grow to become symbolic of the whole Romney enterprise (as indeed it is!) if the Obama team chooses to make it so. When the heads of General Motors and Chrysler both in essence call a presidential candidate a liar, that’s pretty much without precedent in American politics, and it’s most definitely campaign commercial fodder. This is the kind of thing that makes for backyard fence chit chat, and it can stick like molasses.
Third, keep pumping up the gender gap right until the end. Considering a range of polls, the gender gap was very wide before that first debate, 15 points or more. Then it narrowed to almost nothing or, in some polls, nothing. Now it’s back up to eight or 10 or 12, depending on the state. Obama beat John McCain among women by 13 points last time, according to exit polls. He should hit at least that, with all the fodder out there, from Romney’s own vow to defund Planned Parenthood to all these nutso Republican Senate and House candidates and their 16th-century comments about women’s bodies. Romney’s positions have been considerably more reactionary than McCain’s were—on Planned Parenthood, on contraception generally—so he deserves a worse fate.
Fourth, I’d like to see the Colin Powell and Susan Eisenhower endorsements used in ads aimed at independent voters. I don’t know who’s undecided at this point. And they may not even persuade anybody, although I do think Powell swung some votes. But they’re semi-surprise validators who aren’t elected Democrats and are enrolled Republicans. Hearing from them just makes independents feel a little better about their vote. It even makes most Democrats feel better about their vote.
All of the above are about the outside game. The fifth point pertains to the inside game. David Axelrod and Jim Messina need to keep pushing positive but credible story lines to the media. They’ve spent the week selling journalists on the case that Obama is ahead and is likely to win. The Romney people countered with their first such conference call yesterday afternoon. Reports suggest they made some persuasive points—how well they’re doing with independents, say—and some downright silly ones. Aide Rich Beeson, for example: “The firewall that I think they talked about was Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Right now their firewall is burning.” Okay, Rich—three states where Obama is judged to be four to eight points ahead. Whatever you say.
You can spin reporters, but you can’t just sling utter bullsh*t at them. You have to be credible if you want to win the media spin over the final weekend, and doing so can influence how those final 72 or 96 hours are reported. This is especially so for television, where the order the candidates are presented in, the looks on their faces, everything conveys to viewers a feeling about who’s up and who’s down.
Obama has the upper hand coming out of the Sandy experience. But there’s time for the momentum to flip back. Remember before the first debate, when Obama was playing not to lose? I trust he’s learned that doing that is exactly how you lose. But if he spends these last five days playing to win, then there’s no reason he shouldn’t.