Posted by Bob Lord
As AZBlueMeanie has pointed out, this was quite a week in the Presidential campaign. I found the analysis of the “thinking right” particularly interesting. The Wall Street Journal noted the political risk that Obama was taking, especially in North Carolina, where voters adopted a constitutional same sex marriage ban on a 60-40 vote. In today’s NY Times, Ross Douthat contended that Obama was winning the news cycles but losing the campaign. In Douthat’s opinion, Obama was taking a page out of the Republican playbook by trying to distract voters with social issues so they vote against their own self-interest. This strategy would fail in 2012, according to Douthat, because voters were too focused on the economy.
I may be missing something, but it seems like the analysis by the main stream media on the right (and the left, for that matter) is about a millimeter deep. Is Obama’s strategy really just to “win the news cycle?” Why does Obama’s stance constitute such a political risk? Is it simply because approximately half the voters oppose same sex marriage? Shouldn’t the analysis include an evaluation of how this fits in with Obama’s overall strategy? And shouldn’t the analysis of the political risk include an evaluation of the risk of not taking this stance and an analysis of where voters on each side of the issue would be without regard to same sex marriage and whether Obama’s stance has the potential to move them one way or the other?
Start with North Carolina. I was on the treadmill one morning watching Morning Joe, and they took it as a given that Obama’s announcement of his stance on same sex marriage effectively was a concession of North Carolina in November. That would be true only if over 80% of the yes votes on North Carolina’s constitutional amendment were those of one issue voters, or at least voters to whom same sex marriage is a high priority issue. But polls of Black voters indicate that community is generally opposed to same sex marriage. So, should we really be taking it as a given that the Black voters who supported the constitutional amendment will vote for Romney? How about North Carolina’s Latino voters? And how about the remainder of that 60%? Which of them otherwise would be voting for Obama but now will support Romney? The bible thumpers? No, they wee already supporting Romney because they think Obama is a baby killer. The gun nuts? No, they wee already were supporting Romney because the NRA and Ted Nugent told them to. Those racists who are neither bible thumpers nor gun nuts? You answer that one. Those homophobes who are neither bible thumpers, nor gun nuts, nor racists? Maybe, but how large is this demographic, and didn’t Obama already lose them with his stances on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and DOMA?
Seems to me that it’s hard to make the argument that Obama’s stance will cost him many votes he otherwise would have had. Yes, it will cost him some votes, but if there’s not an identifiable prototype voter he'll lose, the number of actual votes lost will be relatively small. The real risk involved is that his statements could energize the homophobic crowd the way Karl Rove did in Ohio in 2004 and that they otherwise would not have been energized. So, how large is that risk, and is taking it justified by the potential reward? As for the risk, the focus should be the group of social conservatives that was not otherwise energized but will be because of Obama’s pronouncement. Polls indicates consistently that the population as a whole is moving towards acceptance of same sex marriage. In all likelihood, that would mean that at the same time voters are moving into the “support same sex marriage” column, others are moving from the “strongly oppose same sex marriage” to the “moderately oppose same sex marriage column.” Once that happens, a voter may not move into Obama’s column, but also won’t care enough to do much more than vote, and may not even vote if busy on election day. As for those voters still in the “strongly opposed” column? In all likelihood, they already were energized against Obama. Yes, this may energize them even further, but it seems the difference will be oh so marginal.
The last piece in the analysis is the upside of Obama’s pronouncement. This is where I think Douthat and others are really missing it. The significance of Obama winning the news cycle is how it fits into the overall campaign strategy, which by all appearances is to chip away, voter block by voter block, at the groups from whom Romney can find support. In this one week, Obama took the following groups and move them further from from Romney’s reach, in many cases irretrievably: fiscally conservative gays and gay friendlies; fiscally conservative parents of gay children who care deeply about their children’s happiness; people who were bullied in school; and parents of children who have been bullied at school.
This I believe is a taste of what we’ll see over the coming months. The bullying story was taken from an opposition research book that probably is four inches thick. If you consider that Romney was so careless and so lacking in foresight that he didn’t even move his investments out of Switzerland and the Cayman Islands in time to avoid them showing up on his 2010 tax return, it’s hard to believe there are not items from decades ago that will cast Romney in a poor light. The release of the bullying story was exquisitely timed to contrast with Obama’s empathetic statement about gays, but it also could very well reflect a decision to paint a picture of Mitt Romney’s life, over the coming months, starting with his early years. Don’t be surprised if the next bomblets are related to his college years or his years as a missionary. By the time we get to October, the Obama campaign will have introduced the voters to a Mitt Romney who is offensive to pretty much every voter who was at one time in both his and Obama’s reach.