Sunday, October 7, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Unemployment, Post-Debate Environment And Signs (?) Of A Coming Political Tsunami

After the latest unemployment figures were released, I received a note
from a good friend (who happens to be a strong supporter of President
Obama) saying how disappointed in me they would be if I suggested the
figures were rigged in the president’s favor. Although some prominent
political observers have alleged just that, and most economic experts I
trust think that real unemployment is over 10%, I will accept the October
numbers at face value. No conspiracies are necessary. The published
numbers are disastrous for the nation, even if they went slightly under
8%. Those who assemble the numbers are the first to admit, moreover,
that they do not count millions of unemployed American who are so
disheartened they no longer actively seek work. Just because they are not
counted, does that mean somehow miraculously that they are employed?
Most importantly, the new figures have apparently had little impact so far
on U.S. voters who know we still have serious national economic problems,
notwithstanding a small decrease in unemployment suddenly in the
last report before the election. Most neutral observers have already
commented that the critical deadline time for positive economic news is
usually April or May. After that, most voters have a relatively fixed
perception of economic conditions.

As I suggested just after the first presidential debate between Mitt Romney
and Barack Obama, Mr. Romney’s poll numbers would begin to rise.
They have already done so, including putting the former governor slightly
ahead in some key battleground states. This does not mean his numbers will
necessarily continue to rise. Two debates remain, and there is still just under
a month until election day. The biggest lift to the Romney campaign has
probably been psychological. Between 65 and 70 million Americans saw the
debate, and virtually all voters have had several days of media descriptions
of his victory (by almost all commentators, including the usual pro-Obama
Old Media). Any doubts about Mr Romney in his base and among undecided
voters seem to be evaporating. Of course, this has given serious incentive for
Team Obama to fight back, and they will. The attacks on Mr. Romney,
already very heavy over the past few months, will only increase and become
harsher by his Democratic opponents. So far, Mr. Romney has withstood
most of these attacks, but there is no guarantee he will successfully continue
to do so. Last-minute surprises, a typical feature at the end of a presidential
campaign are expected. This contest is by no means over.

In one of my essays in the new book “Taking Turns; Political Stalemate or
New Directions in the Race for 2012” co-authored by me, I take special note
of two possible major upsets in the 2012 U.S. senate races. The longest shot
of the two is in Hawaii where former GOP governor Linda Lingle is running
against Democratic Congresswoman Mazie Hirono. Hawaii is a traditional
Democratic state, made even more so by native son Barack Obama appearing
at the top of the ticket. Congresswoman Hirono still leads in all public polls
in Hawaii, and remains the clear favorite. But Mrs. Lingle is the most popular
Republican in state history, won two races for governor (the first against her
present opponent), and is a remarkable campaigner. This race might still be
an upset.

In Ohio, the senate race pits long-time liberal incumbent Sherrod Brown
against conservative newcomer Josh Mandel, currently the state treasurer.
Here, too, the polls have consistently favored the Democrat, although Ohio
itself, unlike Hawaii, is a battleground state, and a must-win state for either
presidential candidate. Following the first presidential debate, Mr. Obama’s
lead of a few points here has been replaced by a small lead for Mr. Romney.
The presidential race here will likely go down to the wire. This is good news
for challenger Mandel who has drawn to a tie in latest polls. Mr. Brown’s
allies, including organized labor, the Democratic senate campaign committee
and liberal superPACs have poured tens of millions into this race for their
candidate, but Mr. Mandel has been a prodigious fundraiser, especially for a
challenger, and seems to be a one-man boon to the shoe leather industry as he
criss-crosses Ohio in an aggressive bid to unset Mr. Brown. This may become
the most expensive senate race in the country in 2012, as well as the one where
the most hardball is played. Mr. Brown remains, because of his incumbency,
the favorite with less than a month to go, and there will be lots of political
fireworks yet in this highly contested Middle Atlantic “rust belt” state, but
Mr. Mandel must be taken very seriously.

The horizon of the electoral sea remains calm so far. Is there a political
tsunami coming?
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

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