Friday, August 31, 2012

Election 2012: Post-RNC Update

Well ... that was certainly interesting. Given what went down last night, I think it would be appropriate to recap the Republican National Convention with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: I have been saying for some time that Mitt Romney's Vice-Presidential pick would give us a bit of a window into his decision-making. It's the first Presidential decision that the nominee makes. What, why and how gives you the template for their decision-making, and some idea of how their Administration would go. We saw Reagan and Clinton both pick former rivals as running mates. We saw Bush the Elder pick a non-entity. Bush the Younger picked Dick Cheney, who was the chair of the search committee, and who became a virtual shadow President. And do we need to rehash McCain's choice? Mitt Romney ended up picking Paul Ryan. And yes, I think that's a good thing. And yes, I think that reflects credit upon Romney as a candidate. He didn't pick someone to be a media-wowing "game changer". He picked someone with serious policy cred. Even if you don't agree with him (and in a lot of ways I don't) you can't dismiss him out of hand. Not only does he have some policy chops, and some legislative experience, he also comes from a swing state. That's a pretty canny choice. It brings me a bit of relief. The world probably won't end if Romney were to win.

The Bad: But ... what on God's green earth was Team Romney smoking last night? I mean, I like Eastwood as an actor. I like him as a director. But dear Lord, improv is not his form. And that was a huge speed bump in what could have been a perfectly stellar nomination night. The video got rave reviews, and was a great starting piece. If they'd slid from that into Rubio's speech, and if Rubio's speech has been more about Romney than about Rubio, then the lead-up to Romney's acceptance speech would have been an ascending crescendo of splendor. But no. Which makes you ask, who's driving this bus, anyway?

The Ugly: The purified, distilled crazy at the bottom of the pot, that would be my suspicion. The incident with the CNN camera operator -- you know, the one where they threw peanuts at an African-American and said "this is how we feed animals" -- tells you just about all you need to know about the sorry state of the GOP today. This is why I can't be a Republican. They can claim they were just random guys, but you know that they had to have been either delegates or alternates, which means that their home state party vetted them and sent them as their representatives. No one gets out on the convention floor that's not a delegate or an alternate. This is distilled, concentrated ugliness. The very idea of an African-American President utterly unhinges them. Republicans don't like it when people say this, but... Pray tell, where was the Tea Party, alleged "libertarians" that they claim to be, when the Patriot Act was being passed? Where was the Tea Party when Bush was spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave? Nowhere, that's where. They didn't show up until November 5, 2008. I find the timing suspicious.

And now, the numbers. As usual, my data sources are Intrade, FiveThirtyEight, and Pollster. Information is current as of Friday afternoon.

From Intrade:

Barack Obama (D): 57.4%, 281  EV (-0.4%, -6 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 42.6%, 232 EV (+2.8%, -18 EV)

From FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D): 71.6%, 302.4 EV (+0.5%, +2.8 EV)
Mitt Romney(R): 28.4%, 235.6 EV (-0.5%, -2.8 EV)

From Pollster:

Strong D: 211 (+20)
Lean D: 20 (-79)
Tossup: 116 (+59)
Lean R: 16 (+16)
Strong R: 175 (-16)

The Pollster map is fascinating, as always, but I'm not really sure what it means. Both sides' support is softening in the negativity of the campaign. But the negativity is hurting Romney far more than it's hurting Obama. Romney is softening in places he can't afford to, and still has to clean up all but one of the toss-ups. Obama only has to pick up two or three of the toss-ups, so long as he can hold onto his "lean" states.

And I'm still curious about the divergence between the gambling public and the pollsters. I'm pretty sure it comes down to the fact that a man might lie to a pollster, but won't lie to a bookie.

What Romney Must Do: That last-day bobble at the convention was unfortunate. They needed a more coherent message. They're going to have to go at it hammer-and-tongs over Labor Day weekend, then there's a week-long blackout while all eyes are on Charlotte. There's really no option for them but the nuclear option: go negative, and go big. Negative advertising sickens independents and rallies the base, at least in theory. It probably won't work. But that's about the only card they have to play.

What Obama Must Do: Avoid major screw-ups in their own convention. Draw the public's attention to their accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, such as they are. Obama never did a very good job of selling health care reform, this is his chance for a do-over. And Biden's idea for a slogan is still a pretty good one: "General Motors is alive, and Bin Laden is dead." (But sorry, Joe, I won't be watching your speech. You're on opposite Cowboys/Giants. I'll read the transcript later.)

And The Winner Is: Odds are holding steady at 3-2, as they have for months. I don't expect much movement in the next two weeks. I'd take Obama/Biden at 3-2 for the win, and I'd probably take 290 EVs for the over/under.

Remember, vote early, and vote often!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Enter Robespierre

If Lance Armstrong was the King, then Travis Tygart is his Robespierre.

The thunderbolt that struck the cycling community yesterday was the news that Lance Armstrong was, for possibly the first time in his life, giving up. He would not take the USADA's case against him to arbitration. He still maintains his innocence, but no longer wishes to contest the matter.

The evidence will come out, sooner or later. There are other tightly coupled cases coming forward. For example, Armstrong's long-time team director, Johan Bruyneel, will be taking his defense forward. In this matter, the two are practically joined at the hip. But...

But in the back of our minds, many of us always knew. Or at least suspected.

For over a decade, from 1996 to 2007, every winner of the Tour de France was either found guilty of doping offenses, or admitted to doping offenses. Bjarne Riis admitted to taking EPO during his 1996 Tour victory. Jan Ullrich's career ended in disgrace after Operacion Puerto. Marco Pantani was expelled from the 1999 Giro d'Italia, ostensibly for "health reasons". In 2006, Floyd Landis' title was stripped after he tested positive for testosterone, and the 2007 winner Alberto Contador has just finished serving a two-year ban. What were the odds that Lance Armstrong would be the only clean one?

But even so, his achievements were singular. No one disputes the fact that he contracted near-fatal cancer. And no one disputes that he clawed his way back to the top of his chosen profession. In a strange way, this may have been his key advantage. From the wastage of chemotherapy, he was able to forge for himself the ideal cyclist's physique. For most of a decade, he prepared himself monomanaically for those three weeks each summer. No one worked harder, or longer, or suffered more deeply. Whatever other pro cyclists were doing, Armstrong turned it up to eleven: training, diet, equipment, he was an innovator in all these areas. It stands to reason that if he was using performance-enhancing drugs, he'd be using the very latest and the very best.

And that's the last bit I'm still curious about. How did they manage to hide it for so long? How did they skirt the testing protocols? It's telling that so many of his former colleagues fell afoul of the tests after leaving his team. They tried to repeat the doping program, but failed to keep the parts that helped them evade detection.

That's why the case is still important. We need to know how. We need to know how, so that the testing protocols can be updated to account for it.

There's reason to think that some of the "how" has already been discovered. The new "biological passport" program has made large-scale cheating much harder to accomplish. And if you've watched the races year by year, you can tell that the riders are having a much harder time on the climbs now than six or eight years ago. It's a much cleaner sport now than it was then.

There are no winners here. The closest anyone comes to having "won" here is Greg LeMond. LeMond was one of the first to raise the flag of suspicion, and he was a virtual pariah for years as a consequence. But he was right. He was right, all along. So far as I know, he's said nothing in public. He probably isn't overjoyed at having been found to be correct.

The King, after all, has been found guilty of treason.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Election 2012: Let The Games Begin

A man who's legally blind, who can barely read the morning paper, has recently set a new world record in archery. Another man, born with no feet, is competing as a sprinter. For only the fifth time in history, a weightlifter has cleaned three times his own weight. I love the Olympics. You see the very best of humanity on display, and you see the barriers of the impossible pushed a little farther back each time. But, as awesome as those Games are, those aren't the ones I'm talking about today.

In just over three weeks, the Republican National Convention gets underway in Tampa, Florida. In just about a month, the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Charlotte, North Carolina. And in 95 days, just over three months, we go to the polls to elect the next President of the United States.

The so-called "Silly Season" is just about over. The fall campaign is about to commence for real. Ladies and gentlemen, it's on like Donkey Kong.

As always, our numbers come courtesy of Intrade, from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, and from Pollster.

From Intrade:

Barack Obama (D) 57.8%, 287 EV (+1.9%, +/- 0 EV)
Mitt Romney (R) 39.8%, 250 EV (-1.2%, -9 EV)

From FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D) 71.1%, 299.6 EV (+2.8%, +/- 0 EV)
Mitt Romney (R) 28.9%, 238.4 EV (-2.8%, +/- 0 EV)

From Pollster:

Strong D: 191 (-30)
Lean D: 99 (+80)
Tossup: 57 (-50)
Lean R: 0 (-10)
Strong R: 191 (+10)

General Impressions: Pollster tells a fascinating story here. Obama and Romney have exactly the same amount of "strong" support in the Electoral College, but Obama has a ton more "leaning" states. Romney has none. That's an interesting point -- Romney goes straight from "strong" to "toss-up", with no states leaning in his direction. I don't know what that means yet. One thing it could mean is that the Bain attacks, and the mess with the tax returns, seems to be getting some traction. But it also shows a vulnerability in the Obama camp, his "strong" support has softened considerably since the last time we looked at the figures. One way to read this is that Romney has firmed up his soft support, while Obama's firm support has slipped. But, how does that scan when stacked up to the fact that the tossups seem to have broken all one way?

It's a confusing picture, but a very interesting one. It may well be that the people who like Romney really like him, but there's an awfully wide canyon between that and the undecideds.

I'm also curious as to the reason between the wide gulf between Intrade's percentages and Nate Silver's. Mind you, they both predict the same result. But the gambling public is giving Romney more love than the pollsters are, just right now. It'll be curious to see how closely these two sets of data converge, as we get closer to the big day. And, it'll be very interesting to see what the overnight trade volume does, the night before Election Day.

What Obama Must Do: His "You Didn't Build That" remark was a huge unforced error. He can't afford too many of those. The economic recovery is still very weak. Unemployment is still fairly high. The relatively good news is that gas prices aren't sky-high, and home prices seem to have bottomed out, and are on the rise again. What he needs to do at this point is sell the idea that he's on the side of the middle class, and also sell an agenda for sustainable economic growth. At the same time, he also has to convince the public that the Republicans either can't or won't do a better job. He's got a considerable advantage, even with the relatively soft economy. But the race is going to tighten, depending on how Romney plays the next three weeks.

What Romney Must Do: Diplomacy, not to put too fine a point on it, isn't his strong suit. Fortunately for him, though, the election isn't being held in London. Irritating foreigners not only isn't something that's likely to offend his base, it's liable to be something that endears him to his base. Which is helpful, since Romney is still running for the whole-hearted support of the hard right. If I were one of his advisers, the Pollster data above would be very troubling to me. With his "strong" and "leaning" support, Obama has enough EVs to win re-election. Romney simply must run the table in the toss-up states, and pull at least 21 EVs of Obama's current support. That may well be doable. Hell, it is doable. But it's going to be hard sledding for this particular candidate, who isn't overly blessed with warmth. I'm not saying he's a bad man, but he's got a fairly stiff public demeanor. For all his faults, George Bush was someone a lot of people could have a backyard BBQ with. But Romney looks more like the guy who just fired you. That's when he's not looking like a collaboration between the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab and Disney's Animatronics. And I'm not sure we've seen the real Mitt Romney stand up yet. But in three weeks' time, we'll get an unparalleled glimpse into his thought processes. As I've said before, the VP selection will speak volumes for the man's judgement, and how he goes about making decisions.

The VP pick is absolutely vital for Romney. His best option is someone personable, who's also palatable to the centrist voters out there. But he may feel stampeded into going hard-right, to cement the support of his base. If he does the former, we'll have a real race on our hands. If the latter, he's probably toast.

And The Winner Is... Intrade is back to giving 3-2 odds in favor of re-election. Nate Silver's numbers work out to 7-3 in favor, just shy of 2-1, but as I said last time, I'm not comfortable jumping into 2-1 territory yet. I want to see how the conventions go, and how the economy's shaking out come Labor Day.

Remember, vote early, and vote often!