Why the presidential race is close

Charlie Cook has put together a pretty good analysis (“It Shouldn’t Be Close – Charlie Cook“) for National Journal about why the race remains close despite a disappointing economy. National Journal is widely ready the important player in the DC and Cook’s analysis is a good example why. Cook is one of the few political analysts I consider worth reading. Most political analysts realize that they will make more money when they parrot partisan rhetoric or make outlandish predictions.

Cook’s explanation for Romney underperforming results from: (1) Romney not being a natural candidate, (2) campaign ad that seem to “studiously avoid trying to establish any bond, any connection, or any level of trust between him and American voters,” and (3)  Romney’s inability to find a middle ground for the Republican Party on the Dream Act.

Cook’s analysis is good. However, I think he’s a little off the mark.

Some of the problem that Romney is basically running on the Bush economic plan He does not seem to be able to distinguish himself from George W. Bush and the economic problems Bush has been blamed for. Further, Romney looks the part of the stereotype of the GOP tax plan (fair or unfair). People expect Republicans to cut taxes for the wealthy and Romney is definitely a wealthy guy. It’s hard to find a guy who is richer and Romney’s car elevator, horses, and other stories have helped keep that image alive.

Romney could have escaped this had he more aggressively defined himself and his policies. Unfortunately, he decided to let his message be crowd-sourced and if there’s something worse than a philosophy written by a committee it’s a philosophy written by a mob. His reluctant to provide leadership has proven costly as weird Republicans talk about legitimate rape, civil war, birth certificates, secret Muslims, etc. Romney has found himself drowned out  by the cacophony of voices that make up his party. The media environment today makes leadership possible and Romney has yet to find a way to provide a message clear and compelling enough to cut through all the noise around him.

Obama is also benefitting from lower expectations. The economy is not doing well but voters are comparing 2012 to the situation in 2008 and that makes it look better. It’s similar to one of the problems that Al Gore had in 2000. The economy was going okay in 2000 but voters expected better after years of very strong economic growth.

A recent poll found that about 6 in 10 Americans doubt that the presidential election will have an impact on the economy. That result makes a lot of sense given the financial troubles in Europe and the slowdown in the Chinese economy. The economic troubles are coming from a lot of different directions and Americans might finally be realizing that all the answers will not be found in presidential politics. The guys at Freakonomics made their case for a limited presidential impact back in March. However, many citizens and reporters prefer to obsess about the presidency. Expecting the president to solve all our problems represents a fundamental misunderstanding of those pesky checks and balances and maybe Americans have stumbled onto the real limits of presidential power that the founders dreamt up centuries ago.

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