Beware the Ides of October
What should we expect as the campaign heats up in the final four months?
1. Follow the money. Both candidates, in a way unlike the 2008 campaign, are well-funded. Romney will probably match Obama dollar for dollar and, in fact, outraised him last month by several million. The super-PACS may prove for Romney, more than for Obama, a force-multiplier.
The significance of that money-raising parity transcends just tit-for-tit commercials, ads, and well-staffed campaign headquarters of the sort a McCain campaign simply could not afford. Obama’s forte is the open-air rally. In 2008 the more that the money poured in, the more Obama was freed to crisscross the country, doing his hope-and-change routine and warning hysterical crowds about fainting from ebullition.
But this time because both sides are roughly equally financed, Obama must continue with his record pace of private $40,000-$50,000-a-head fundraisers. This is not healthy for two reasons: one, it takes time away from his natural showmanship in the public arena (and to a lesser extent from being president); and, two, these Upper West Side and Santa Monica meet-and-greeters are at odds with the rhetoric of “fat cat bankers,” “corporate jet owners,” at some point you’ve made “enough money,” “not the time” to profit, and “spread the wealth.” Obama earns hypocrisy for shaking down capitalists whom he derides, while running the risk of hearing just that complaint from one or two upstart fat cats in his small crowds.
2. The polls. It is very important for Romney to run within 1-2 points in the polls for the next few months. That closeness forces out the real Obama—of the Chicago sort who used to sue to get opponents off the ballot or had his supporters leak rivals’ divorce records. In such a mode, it is not decorous for a president’s campaign to suggest that Romney probably committed a “felony,” or to claim that Bain Capital was a serial outsourcer in the sense that the U.S.-subsidized green industry or the space agency is not. In contrast, if Obama surges by 5 points or so, he will revert back to hope-and-change-II banalities; but, again, in a tight race we will see quite enough of the new-old, inner-Chicago Obama, a persona that he did not need to reveal from 2004-8.
3. Michelle Obama. The first lady’s poll numbers are high because she has been stateswoman-like when diverted from partisan politics since the late summer of 2008. But do we remember why she was marooned in the closing days of the 2008 race? Try “for the first time in my adult lifetime, i'm really proud,” “raise the bar,” “downright mean" country, “deign to" run, “…uniformed, uninvolved lives,” “our souls are broken”… and a host of other angry and usually incoherent denunciations.
Almost instinctively Michelle Obama reverts to the Chicago style when she goes into a partisan campaign mode. This week the frequenter of Costa del Sol, Martha’s Vineyard, and Vail, whose third-of-a-million-dollar job in Chicago was largely a political perk, was at a graduation address once again in monotonous 2008 fashion decrying “all the traditional markers of success — the fat paycheck, the fancy office, the impressive line on our resumes.” That class-warfare trope should go over well next week when she is begging still more of those with the fat paychecks and fancy offices to fork over $50,000 to make up for the lack of grassroots $10 and $20 donations. This year Michelle seems to have forgotten that the Obama strategy is not whipping up 10,000 devotees at a rally to send in $5 each to net $50,000, but rather to schmooze one Hollywood producer or Citibank navigator over foie gras to match what a stadium used to deliver.
At a political rally last week, she roared, “Multiply yourselves. ... He needs you to keep making those calls, doing that hard work. Knocking on those doors. Treacherous work, right? … You know, that aren't registered and you gotta get 'em and shake 'em. Find them, get them registered.”
What exactly does “treacherous” here mean? Or, for that matter, “multiply yourselves”?
If the first lady is sent out each day, I predict a repeat appearance of her anger of 2008, but in a year where there is now margin of error and she is first lady, not a partisan candidate’s wife. Do we remember her January 2012 Queen Gertrude pushback at a sympathetic biography, when she snapped that she was not “some kind of angry black woman.” The lady doth protest too much, methinks.