Sunday, June 10, 2012

Election 2012: RNC Minus 78 Days And Counting

Theoretically, the primary season isn't over until the respective parties have had their conventions and officially chosen their candidates. It's a nice theory. The problem with that theory is that it hasn't worked that way since 1968. The Democratic National Convention of 1968 was a goat-rope of such epic proportions that both parties have since reworked their primary processes that everyone knows who the nominee will be with months to spare before the convention gets underway. We've had ten primary contest seasons since then, and not one has yielded anything like a surprise. The closest we came was in 1976, when Team Reagan tried to push a rules change through the week before the convention. It's 78 days until the RNC opens for business, and 85 days until the Democrats bang the opening gavel in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the issue they're ostensibly meeting to decide has already been decided. There are only two other interesting questions in play: first, who will the respective VP nominees be; and second, what will the details of the party platforms look like?

The first bears more weight than the second. That's partly because the parties do a decent job of describing themselves, and therefore, the party platform shouldn't contain any surprises. And that's also because a nominee's VP pick is a huge "tell" as to how their decision-making process goes. All eyes are on Mitt Romney for this, since we all know who Obama's VP nominee will be.

I'm not going to engage in any speculation on what that choice will be. I don't know the man well enough. But I'm telling you, it's important. Everything up to this point has been smoke and mirrors. This is the first real, Presidential decision the man will make. It will give us a template of how he will make every other decision. Not until then will we really know what Mitt Romney is made of.

What I will speculate on is who will win in November. As usual, my go-to information sources are Intrade, Nate Silver, and Pollster. All three deal with the same basic kinds of information, but each presents it in a slightly different way. FiveThirtyEight and Pollster both deal with poll aggregation. But the key difference is that Nate Silver performs a kind of Monte Carlo analysis on the data, teasing probabilities out of the polls. But Pollster has a breakdown of Strong-Lean-Tossup states that I like. Intrade is more or less a result of bouncing that data off the general public, and lets us watch where people are putting their money. People might lie to a pollster, but they won't lie to their bookie.

And so, from Intrade:

Barack Obama (D) 53.5% ( -7.3% )
Mitt Romney (R) 43.1% ( +5.1% )

And from FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D) 291.8 EV, 62.8%
Mitt Romney (R) 246.2 EV, 37.2 %

And, lastly, from Pollster:

Strong D: 225
Lean D: 45
Tossup: 77
Lean R: 21
Strong R: 170

General Impression: So far, Obama enjoys a slight advantage, an advantage that is eroding slightly due to economic issues. That's what I see from the Intrade results, that have gone from 3-2 odds in favor of re-election to 5-4 odds in favor. The polls don't reflect this yet. But if things continue on this path, they might. For the partisans on either side, the economic issues don't matter. They'll show up for their side in November either way. But for the handful of voters in the middle, the economy is key. That's the handful that will decide the toss-up states, and may flip some of the weaker states from one column to another. The story that each campaign must sell to these undecided voters, the thing that they must convince them of, is that they will be better able to enact policies that will favor economic growth and more jobs.

What Obama Must Do: First, he has to show, clearly show, what he's done to arrest the economic nose-dive that was underway in late 2008 and early 2009. But he has to do that without looking like he's still blaming Bush for the current state of the economy. Whether that's true or not is beside the point. It's been four years, and people tire of that explanation. The second thing he has to do is highlight the dark side of Romney's business expertise. He's done that, albeit with a bit of a heavy hand. The third thing he has to do is shine a big, bright spotlight on Congress' inaction, paying special attention to the Republicans in the House and Senate that keep anything useful from being done. Running against the do-nothing Congress might even prove more effective than running against Romney.

What Romney Must Do: Simply this: hang the current economic pain around Obama's neck. Just that. Against that, tout his executive expertise in both the public and private sectors. It'll require a bit of fancy dancing around some of the things Bain Capital has done, and also a bit of fancy dancing around the fact that his official portrait as Governor has him holding a copy of the dreaded Health Care Reform he'd passed. But he's already done that dance in the primary. He might be able to do it again this fall. Or not, since Obama's bound to say this at least once during the debates: "Hey, I got the idea from that guy."

And The Winner Is... I'd still take 3-2 odds on Obama winning the general election. No elaborations above and beyond that -- we need to see what the private sector does over the summer, and what the economic picture is on or around Labor Day. Barring an implosion, 3-2 still seems like a good bet.

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