Missed Connections

This is clearly the week of Republican Nervousness, as evidenced by a passel of commentary scorning the “liberal media’s” glee over Obama’s apparent convention bounce.

GOPers would be advised to pay less attention to polls and more to the granular analysis of people like Charlie Cook, the closest thing we have to a “referee” of how the election is actually going:

The decision to defer any biographical ads until August—ads that would have sought to define Romney on a personal level beyond being just rich, as someone worthy of trust, and as someone whom swing voters might be comfortable having in the White House—is inexplicable. The Obama campaign and allies ripped Romney apart in swing-state advertising, and with no Teflon coating to protect their candidate, it stuck like Velcro. While Romney allies say that such positive ads did not “move numbers” when dial-tested, my view is that these kinds of ads are essential to making their candidate acceptable. No matter how unhappy voters are, if they are uncomfortable with the alternative, the incumbent survives.

Only in the last few days has the Romney campaign begun buying any time in swing states on local cable systems, something the Obama team has been doing for months. While one campaign has been looking for every nook and cranny to reach voters and has been doing so for some time, the other didn’t bother until after the conventions. Go figure.

The Romney campaign made the extraordinary decision to not try seriously to connect their candidate with voters on a personal level until their convention. As dubious as that decision was, they were rewarded by having a convention shortened by a day due to a hurricane, then compounded the error of waiting until the convention by putting much of what was most needed to be seen in the 8 and 9 p.m. hours, when the only viewers would be C-SPAN fans. Wow! The biographical film and the testimonials of people whose lives had been touched by Romney were powerful, necessary, and largely unseen. Instead, the Romney campaign treated them to the Clint Eastwood debacle and a serviceable speech by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida that should have been made earlier, not chewing up precious broadcast airtime. At the 10-11 p.m. hour, abbreviated personal testimonies and the film introducing Romney’s own speech—which was quite good—would have made for an extraordinary hour of television and very likely have done him a lot of good with voters.

Cook goes on to observe that presidential debates, on which a lot of GOP hopes now rest, are not a particularly good venue for “demonstrating empathy and developing trust” (unless, I suppose, you are Bill Clinton). They are, however, pretty good settings for forcing a candidate to defend unpopular or hazy policy positions, which the Romney campaign has tried to avoid like the plague. Cook concludes:

This is a very close race and one that still could go either way. But the odds of Romney capitalizing on this economy, and the opportunity it affords, seem lower than they were before the conventions. If Republicans and Romney supporters are growing nervous, they should be.

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.