This presidential race appears to be close. Really close. In such a race every decision can be second-guessed. There will be plenty of Monday-morning quarterbacking if the race comes down to a tiny percentage of voters in a few states.
If President Obama wins narrowly, Mitt Romney will rue not having defended himself against the carpet-bombing negative ads this summer in Ohio and other swing states.
If Romney wins by a hair, Obama will rue wasting so much time on negative ads this summer.
If Obama ekes it out, he’ll be commended for sticking with Vice President Biden.
If Obama loses by a tad (and doesn’t keep his gender-gap advantage) he will be pilloried for not putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket.
If Romney wins by inches, he’ll get kudos for putting out meaty policy proposals.
If Romney loses by a smidgen, he’ll be castigated either for not being more specific or for giving Obama too many targets.
If Obama manages to win, his “vilify Romney” strategy will be credited.
If Obama loses narrowly, critics will say that this was the price for offering no positive agenda.
If Romney pulls out a win (especially with Wisconsin), he’ll be lauded for picking Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate.
If Romney falls short (especially if he loses Ohio), he’ll be trashed for not picking Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
All of this, of course, is silly. There is no guarantee, for example, that putting Portman on the ticket would make Ohio easier or that a few policy ideas would have boosted the president. And once you change one element (e.g., selecting Portman, putting out new proposals), you introduce new challenges (e.g., plastering Romney to George W. Bush, getting the tax-and-spend label).
Nevertheless, as things played out, each side ran the race it wanted to. Obama always believed that he could disqualify Romney. Romney always believed that Obama couldn’t run from his record and that when presented with a credible, alternative vision voters would side with him. Who’s right, and who best executed his game plan, remains to be seen. This is a big race with a narrow margin for error, both in the polls and by the candidates.