Beneath the Surface

It’s easy to assume that presidential campaigns are flawless machines whose directors cooly deploy and shift resources like Field Marshals, based on the very latest accurate data and finely honed strategies.

But then you read something like veteran reporter Jon Ralston’s take on the Romney campaign’s commitment to winning in Nevada, and it all gets kind of mushy:

There are various theories as to why Romney is still campaigning here and why his team and outside groups are spending a fortune in the final two weeks. And some of it – maybe a lot of it – may have more to do with races below the top of the ticket.

I believe that some people in Romney’s organization believe the state can be won. They are happy that Republicans are turning out better than in 2008, even though that is an awfully low bar because there really was no race here after John McCain all but gave up and it was a wave election.

I have been reliably told that Romney’s internals in Nevada show him up a point – but some of those folks are smart enough to give the margin of error to the Democratic machine. But that makes it a race, so they aren’t going anywhere….

There also are outside groups on the air (Crossroads, especially) and on the ground (Americans for Prosperity and a few others) who are doing more here than 2008. Again, a low bar, but they have leapt over it. But these folks can’t fix the Hispanic problem or the registration problem for Romney and the Republicans; they can only hope to contain it.

Can they mitigate the natural demographic deficits and save the state, if not for Romney, for Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Joe Heck, Danny Tarkanian and Republicans seeking to control the state Senate? (Heck is considered a favorite by both sides, but the new seat is seen as up for grabs, with Tark seen as barely holding on now as Democrats coalesce. And the state Senate is a true toss-up, with Republicans needing to win four of five seats and now deeply concerned their candidates could be washed away by registration and turnout.)

I think Romney also is playing here because he can – the money is there – and because he needs to, as one wag put it, “show off for his investors,” including Sheldon Adelson. This is about what happens after the election, too, even if Romney becomes president and has lost Nevada. He at least has to give it the old college try.

So Ralston asks a simple question and comes up with a bunch of possible answers: maybe it’s about internal polls, or maybe it’s about downballot races, or maybe it’s a thank-you note to Sheldon Adelson or maybe it’s just because they have the money so why not spend it?

Truth be told, most campaigns are rolling balls of madness just beneath the surface.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.