Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Issue With Issues

Remember when Paul Ryan's selection meant that the 2012 campaign was going to be about issues? Like the "Scott Brown Means the End of Healthcare" and "The Supreme Court Will End Obamacare" narratives, this one also might turn out to be wrong. So far this is a campaign about Mitt Romney tripping over his own tongue and Paul Ryan trying to sweep it up from the floor. At some point, though, Mitt will stop saying destructive things and President Obama will need to confront the economy, so this race has some tread on it going forward. Given the polls, though, Romney had better step hard on the gas, and soon.

The Medicare debate does not seem to be hurting Romney in Florida, at least according to the latest poll from the Miami Herald. That's good news for the Republicans. The problem is that they're not saying exactly how they would pay for those over 55 to stay on traditional Medicare while weaning those younger onto a voucher system (a teat of a different size?). Perhaps the elderly voters have already internalized that they wouldn't be touched by the Romney/Ryan plan, so why oppose it? Those who would fall into the voucher zone have plenty of reason to be nervous, suspicious and demanding of details. I wouldn't hold my breath. This is the same team that says they aren't going to tell us what taxes they're going to cut until they get elected. If the polls are correct, that could be years from now.

The economy, which was supposed to be the downfall of the president, doesn't seem to be hurting him at this point, but there's still time for the GOP to highlight it every day and remind people about the unemployment rate and the deficit. Mitt's 47% comments didn't help him and several polls have shown that Americans now say that Obama would be the better candidate when it comes to fixing our economic house. This is a huge turnaround since the spring and, with women and more enthusiastic Democrats, is providing him with the polling bump he's received since the Democratic National Convention. Keep in mind that there are two more employment reports to be released between now and election day, so the danger isn't past for Obama. But now a plurality of voters think that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who can't be trusted on jobs, so he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to catch up.

Neither party has highlighted the old standby social issues of abortion, marriage equality and prayer in schools, so we've been spared the usual fights over who's more moral. Part of that, I think is that the GOP understands that most young people don't want to fight those fights and most older people have already staked their territory on those issues. Whatever the reason, it's good news.

The presidential debates are next week and I'm sure we'll get an earful on the issues from both candidates. The conventional wisdom says that debate gaffes, missteps or forceful performances will affect people's votes. The research says that's not really true. That's not good news for Romney, who is behind in the key swing states and needs a defining moment to build upon for the final six weeks of the campaign.

With most voters having made up their minds, and with a small slice of independents still on the fence, this election could turn on a mistake by either candidate, so look for them to play it safe and stick to well-worn scripts. It's not the most interesting way to conduct a campaign, but it's the system we have.

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