Mitt Romney’s campaign will be launching TV ads in Wisconsin, reflecting its belief that the state is within its grasp. It was not an easy or risk-free choice to spend money there.
The last two months of a campaign are when political consultants earn their keep. There are only so many hours in a day, so much airtime to be bought and so much money (even in an election with as much money already sloshing around as was spent in the entire 2008 race). One of those is where to try to expand the map for your candidate.
A senior Romney adviser told me the spate of ads rolled out Friday in eight states was shipped before the Democratic National Convention and before the rotten August jobs numbers were known. But the campaign guessed right in making the ads intensely focused on jobs (even breaking down the number of jobs each state could hope to add under a Romney presidency) and emphasizing that Romney has a jobs plan. That economic message will be pounded home throughout the fall. There was a reason Obama was so glum in Charlotte on Thursday; the economy was and remains critical in the election and we are at best going sideways at a time the economy should be rolling full-steam ahead.
There has been plenty of buzz as to whether the campaign was giving up on Wisconsin since it was not one of the eight in the immediate post-convention blitz.
The adviser says that currently the Obama team is airing ads in about 20 markets in which Romney is not. These include markets like Rochester, Minn. (which carries over to Iowa), Gainesville, Ohio, and Charlottesville,Va. Going up in Wisconsin means the Obama campaign won’t be giving up in these smaller markets.
It is not that Romney is lagging in fundraising. In fact, he is taking in boatloads of money. But the ad buys have gotten expensive. The third-party groups have bid up the price per point. Each point is about three times as expensive. The campaign therefore has to make choices.
So what happens in those 20 markets in which Obama is on the air and Romney isn’t? There is some spillover from one market to another. But the key to filling gaps will be up to third-party groups that contributed to the uptick in ad prices. That doesn’t entirely make up for the absence of Romney ads because the content and timing of the third-party ads can’t be coordinated with the campaign. But it is certainly better than nothing. And in close races small margins may be the difference between winning and losing.
As I learned in my lengthy phone call with the senior advisor and other conversations over the last week with Romney’s top advisors, much of what you read about the campaign from “unnamed” Republican officials (at what level? based on what information?) suggesting the Romney team is worried its “behind”or is slipping in states like Ohio is bunk. (Those fretful, anonymous sources are probably the same sources who were hand-wringing over the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as VP, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of the campaign.)
The campaign doesn’t expect this race to be like 1980 when the playing field tipped heavily at the end after the debates. This is a neck-and-neck race as far as the Romney team is concerned. The campaign believes that each side has a floor of about 47 percent; that’s where the campaign will be played for the rest of the race.
Working to Romney’s advantage is the Obama team’s bubble of arrogance. What else would explain the Obama team’s boast that a disproportionate amount of votes will break for the incumbent? That would be a historical anomaly, one seemingly based on no hard data.
One explanation is that Obama staffers are telling themselves a comforting scenario. It’s hard to pump yourself up to work 18-hour days for months if you don’t see payoff at the end. Since Obama has not broken 50 percent nationally or in key battleground states, a last-minute break their way (in defiance of the truism that undecideds break for the challenger) is comforting, if not logical.
But the public chest-beating is also the telltale sign of a candidate and his flacks who think that normal rules don’t apply to them, that Obama is so special they can defy gravity. The distortion is magnified greatly by the Beltway media whom the Obama team courts incessantly. The Romney senior adviser calls it a “202 area code”campaign, referring to the phone prefix for Washington, D.C. For whatever reason (a desire for praise, the delusion that media hold sway), the Obama team seeks refuge in easily spun media reports that will dutifully regurgitate its theory of the race. (And when not spun by the Obama team, editors eager for “clicks” online dream up storylines and send their reporters to piece together bits and pieces to fit the preordained narrative, regardless of whether it is an accurate representation of the race.) Of course, the Beltway media fixation ignores the hard truth that liberal Beltway press and pundits have never been less in touch and less influential. The quintessential example is Clint Eastwood.
That arrogance also puts excess pressure on Obama, creating a panic when he fails to meet expectations (as his speech failed to do in Charlotte). Given his prowess as an orator, for example, the bar for him during the debates is sky-high. If he doesn’t flatten his less eloquent opponent, will he again disappoint supporters and fail to impress undecided voters? The larger the Obama team builds up its candidate, the less likely it is that he’ll shine.
That’s fine as far as the Romney team is concerned. The Obama team can bluster and solicit cheers from mainstream media. The Republican hysterics can moan and groan; the nose-out-of-joint conservatives who never liked Romney or thought he could win can finger-wag all they like. None of it seems to ruffle the top Romney advisors I have spoken with over the last week.
Meanwhile, slowly and steadily Romney’s electoral map expands. Now it includes Wisconsin. Right behind that is Michigan. Obama’s 2008 red state “gets” ( Indiana, North Carolina) are no longer realistically in play. The map is shrinking — but for Obama.