1. The polls still show a slight Obama edge. Some of the media outlet polls show a smaller Obama edge than the ones that came out last week, but the Rasmussen tracking poll has gone from a tie to a three point Obama lead. The result is that the RCP polling average has gone from a peak Obama lead of 4.1% down to a 3.5%. That is basically meaningless. In terms of the polls, we are where we were last week. We have a narrow Obama lead. This time in 2008, McCain was 5.3% behind Obama. So Romney has that going for him.
2. But I can sort of feel the media narrative starting to shift. Last week college professor Dan Drezner (who is not at all favorably disposed to Romney) wrote that the mainstream media’s treatment of Libya and their treatment of Romney’s 47% gaffe showed some pretty major bias. I think that is a sign that quite a few liberal-leaning elites who don’t think of themselves as professional liberal partisans are starting to have second thoughts. Maybe a the combination of security lapses, a terrorist attack that led to the murder of an American ambassador, and a government cover up that tried to deny the terrorist attack and instead blamed the attack on a YouTube video, are collectively almost as important as a video of Romney flattering his marks at a fundraiser. Here is my read on journalists who work at liberal-leaning-but-not-explicitly-liberal news outlets: they want Obama to win very badly, but they also want to feel like they are doing their jobs of providing “news.” They are very ready to fool themselves, but their self-delusion has limits (maybe I’m being generous here.) I think they is a sense that they have gone a little too easy on Obama. So I think they are ready to make an almost honest effort to call balls and strikes almost fairly – for a while. This is an opportunity for Romney. If Romney had had a good debate performance last week, the dominant narrative out of the major network news would have been to question whether Romney’s aggressive performance had been racist or merely racially insensitive.
3. But Romney still needs to score some runs in the debate. If Romney doesn’t have a good night, the narrative won’t shift. Just as bad, he will have missed (another) chance to speak to millions of voters at length. He has some material to work with. Median income declined last year. That is the third year of Obama’s presidency and income is still going down. Time for the incumbent to stop blaming George Bush and George Washington and everybody else and look in the mirror. Romney’s problem is that simply pointing out that things are bad isn’t good enough. He needs a plausible story about how his preferred policies will lead to better outcomes and defend those policies from Obama’s attacks. The problem is that the average viewer (even the one who watched Romney’s acceptance speech) will come in having little idea what Romney is for. Romney has to explain some fairly complicated policy ideas in a couple of minutes and defend them from Obama’s distortions. If people had some context it would be a lot easier. But those watching his acceptance speech and his ads haven’t heard much about IPAB or how much Obama proposed to cut Medicare. They haven’t heard about how the most recent Ryan Medicare plan has a guaranteed benefit. So Romney has two minutes to explain guaranteed benefit premium support Medicare. And watch for the red light. This is just another cost of Romney’s wretchedly cynical convention speech. Hope the rose story was worth it.
4. So I’m watching the Massachusetts Senate race play out. It looks like America’s favorite phony Native American has a narrow lead over Republican Scott Brown. I’m not so much interested in the polls as a lot of stuff could be influencing them. Brown is now an incumbent rather than an insurgent since it is a presidential election year, he has to win over a lot of voters who are going to be voting for Obama. But how Brown is running his campaign might give us some important information about how the political environment has changed since 2010 – and not just in Massachusetts. In 2010, Brown focused his campaign not just on his personality (the truck and all that), but also on a set of issues. He first made a splash with a clever ad in favor of tax cuts. He also focused on opposition to Obamacare and civilian trials for accused terrorists. He focused on issues that brought conservative and moderate voters together. This year Brown is running more of a personality-centered campaign. His positive ads have mostly been endorsements from municipal government Democrats and assertions of what a bipartisan, independent, hardworking guy he is. The main positive issue I’ve noticed him focusing on in his ads was banning members of Congress from engaging in insider trading. I’m not saying that Brown is making the wrong decision as a matter of tactics. Obamacare has already happened. Winning a statewide race in Massachusetts this year is going to be tough for any Republican. But it does give a sense of some of the costs of the national Republicans not having a clear positive message.