Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vanilla Thunder: Mitt Makes the Bold Choice

So which is it? Did Mitt Romney make the VP pick that Barack Obama wanted? Or is this Romney being Reagan? Should Democrats be giddy at the Paul Ryan pick or should smart Democrats (which includes all of us, by the way) be worried? Was Ryan the only logical pick for an election that will hinge on economic policy? Or was this pick an admission of fear from the Romney campaign?

At the very least, it's a good thing nobody said that a looker like Ryan will attract the women's vote (see Quayle, Dan). Perhaps that's the next story. On to the analysis.

First of all, there has been some polling on Paul Ryan, and the results are clearly mixed. The most recent, from August 7 and 8 of this year, shows that 54% of Americans have never heard of the guy. Turns out, they were probably paying attention to their lives, jobs, hobbies, successes and problems, and not to some good-looking guy from Wisconsin who wants the government to mess with their Medicare and Social Security. Of those who had heard of him, 27% had a favorable view of Ryan.

Reaction to his economic plan though, tells a different story. From the article:

However, some media pollsters asked about the substance of the plan and found net negative reactions among those willing to venture an opinion. In June 2011, for example, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll posed the following question to Americans:
There is currently a proposal to change how Medicare would work so seniors being enrolled in the program ten years from now would be given a guaranteed payment called a voucher from the federal government to purchase a Medicare approved coverage plan from a private health insurance company. Do you think this is a good idea, a bad idea, or do you not know enough about this to have an opinion at this time?
Although nearly half said they had no opinion or were unsure (47 percent), more considered it a bad idea (31 percent) than a good one (22 percent).

Other polls and analyse, such as this from Nate Silver, tell a similar story. 

It’s going to take some time before we can reliably measure the impact of Mr. Romney’s choice. Vice-presidential picks sometimes produce “bounces” in the polls, especially when they are as newsworthy as this one, but they often fade after a few days or a few weeks. And the party conventions, which almost always produce polling bounces, are coming up soon.

I think there are other “bold” picks that Mr. Romney could have made — Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, for instance, or Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada — where the balance of risk and reward would have been a little better. Some of these candidates, especially Mr. Rubio and Mr. Christie, would also have excited the Republican base. But they might also have had a more natural appeal to independent voters, and to demographic groups that Mr. Romney is struggling to win over.

That last line is key. Romney is trailing in most polls and needs to lock down independent voters, who voted for Obama in 2008, in critical swing states. Paul Ryan is not a safe choice for that task. He's a lightning rod and a true believer. Romney-Ryan now face the difficult task of not only convincing voters that they will do better on the economy, but must also sell voters on the farthest of right-wing proposals in order to accomplish the task. And that includes giving up cherished entitlements that most people rely on in good times and bad. The GOP won huge majorities in the House of Representatives and statehouses in 2010 by running against President Obama's Medicare adjustments. Ryan's plan includes severe cuts and changes to Medicare. Do the Republicans think they can win Florida with that plan? Good luck.

Of course, not all is rosy on the budget attack front. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is firmly behind the Ryan Medicare plan, and that could complicate the Obama campaign's message. In the end, Obama will bet that most people don't know and don't care who Ron Wyden is, and I would agree with that assessment. I also seem to remember that one of the Republican candidates supported a health care program similar to Obama's. Forget his name, though. It'll come to me.

The funniest idea I've seen on the Ryan pick is that Republicans are now saying that this campaign will finally focus on the issues. And I thought the Democrats were the party of naive idealism.

This campaign has been fought on Barack Obama's terms so far and the Romney campaign has done little but to be defensive and slow. If the race is going to be fought on ideas, it will mean that Romney-Ryan has taken control of the debate and is driving the daily message. That will be a feat. It's certainly doable and Mitt has about two weeks, through the GOP convention and a couple of days afterward, to change the shape of the campaign. I have my doubts. After all, Obama is running anti-Ryan ads now and he's not going to stop until election day. He's a Chicago brawler and the GOP is underestimating his tenacity if they think he's going to let niceness (or facts, in some cases), get in the way.

The polls will give us a sense of how the race is moving, and the effects of the Ryan bounce, by Wednesday or Thursday. As of today, the Gallup (46-46%) and Rasmussen (Romney 46-44%) tracking polls are close and the overall RealClearPolitics Index has Obama with a 48-43.4 lead.

This is the first touchstone of the campaign and one that the Romney camp badly needs to move the needle. Let's see what happens.

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