Zac Byer: Prix Fixe Politics — The Second Presidential Debate

Good morning from Las Vegas, and welcome to another edition of Prix Fixe Politics!  I’m on my way out of town, but spent last night with 23 undecided voters, 18 of whom voted for Obama in 2008.  After the debate, only five of the 23 committed to voting for the President again on November 6th.  Still, I’m skeptical to believe there will be any significant movement in the polls after the town hall.  For a quick look at why, here is today’s menu:

Appetizer:  First, neither Obama nor Romney have that “Bubba Touch.”  I’m not talking about some dish at the shrimp restaurant — I’m talking about Bill Clinton.  Love him or hate him, you have to admit that the man could connect emotionally no matter the situation, and no matter the American.  Obama’s a gifted rhetorician, but he isn’t the people person like the Democratic president that came before him.  And Romney…well, there’s a litany of socioeconomic and demographic jokes that have been made about Romney’s potential interactions with the undecided “typical American” voters at the town hall.  Regardless, neither candidate was going to score the bonus points that come not in the words of the answer, but in the empathy of the answering.  And, sure enough, neither did.  They spent more time trying to talk over each other than to listen to the concerns of the audience.  Yes, Obama showed more life than he did in the Denver debate, but Romney matched him closely.  I wish one of them had actually taken the time to ask one of the questioners a follow-up.  After all, we’re the ones pulling the levers the first week of November.

Main Course: It’s a tried and true analogy now — sports and politics.  Think about a sporting event you may have attended or watched between two teams to which you had no particular allegiance.  Sure, we all love a good underdog; but, most of us in that situation (and in all other win/lose horse race scenarios) like to be connected to the winner.  I think most of us, Democrat or Republican, can agree Romney won the first debate.  The polls confirm as much, with the undecideds breaking toward the Governor in the last 10 days.  But because this second debate was, and will be covered as, a draw (or a margin of error victory for Obama at the most), I expect the remaining undecideds to stay on the sideline and wait for the third and final debate next week.  This one will be squeezed largely into irrelevance.  As U2 and Linda Ronstadt sing, “everybody loves a winner”…and tonight’s debate left us lacking.

Dessert: I’m no conspiracy theorist who’s about to jump on the Birther Bandwagon, and I’m not going to send you models of how the electoral college could end up in a 269-269 tie.  What truly does, however, have a chance of occurring is the dreaded repeat of 2000 (and 1876, 1888, and kind of 1824) — one candidate wins the popular vote and the other wins the electoral college.  Take, for instance, a state like Pennsylvania.  In 2008, Obama won 54.4% of the vote, McCain carried 44.2%.  Bush also lost the Keystone State in 2004, but he won 48.4% of the vote and Kerry took 50.9%.  That 4.2% dip in the total popular vote for the Republican candidate from 2004 to 2008 equates to roughly 138,000 votes.  Polling, and prevailing opinion among political consulting circles, has the Philadelphia suburbs and other “Bush Country” counties turning back toward Romney.  So, while he may not win the state, Romney will siphon off tens, if not hundreds of thousands of more votes from Obama there.  The same goes for states like California and New York where Romney has no chance of winning — more conservative suburbs that broke for Obama in 2008 will shift back to reddish hues.  All of this may result in the chaos that is two winners, one Constitution, and a fraction of a mandate to govern for the next four years.  If I was a gambling man, I wouldn’t bet money on this — yet.  Just don’t say I didn’t make a serious case for why and how it could happen.

After Dinner Drink:  This may be the best pro-Obama ad of the entire cycle.  If Romney fails to break through in Ohio, it will be partly because of the impact this Priorities USA ad made when released in the middle of the summer.  And don’t forget:  no Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio.


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