For the first time since his poor debate performance on October 3, President Obama has regained the momentum in the race. Obama’s attacks on Romney’s foreign policy flip-flopping and ignorance accomplished something that he was unable to do even after his strong second debate performance: raise doubts about Romney’s ability to handle the presidency. Few expected a foreign policy debate to draw 69 million viewers, particularly against Monday night football and the 7th game of the National League playoffs. And even fewer thought that the debate’s often obscure topics could give Obama or Romney any boost. Yet Obama schooled Romney on foreign policy, leaving the GOP nominee hanging on for dear life. The debate and a better ground game puts Obama in a strong position to win.
I recently wrote that this was the most surprising presidential election
in decades, and this again proved true following this week’s debate. After winning the first debate and maintaining his momentum following his losing second debate, Mitt Romney could not maintain his effort and badly fell apart.
Some compared Romney’s performance to a boxer clinching and holding on for dear life while waiting for the bell to end the fight. But there are still nearly two weeks before Election Day, and Romney lacks the lead that would allow him to run out the clock to victory.
Obama (Finally) Changes Tone
For the first time, Obama used the debate to bluntly and powerfully tell Romney that he has no idea what he is talking about. He went beyond criticizing Romney’s positions on issues to make a big picture attack on Romney’s ignorance. It may be that this approach could not work on domestic policies because Romney is better prepared in that area, but Obama did not miss the chance to show the nation that Mitt Romney is not prepared to be Commander in Chief.
Campaign momentum means more than the latest polls. It requires enthusiasm, and the willingness of volunteers to make calls and walk precincts for the extra hour that can make a difference.
I sensed Obama lost a lot of volunteer enthusiasm after October 3. While he regained some of it after the second debate, the real resurgence did not occur until Obama’s commanding performance this week.
We are now seeing Obama enthusiasm levels that remind us of 2008, with large early voting margins in North Carolina, Iowa and other states indicative of this. And with Indiana’s Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock announcing this week that “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen,” GOP extremism is reemerging just as Romney tries to hold the center.
Comparing Ground Games
Where is Romney’s ground game? Romney has 40 campaign offices in Ohio
to Obama’s 131, and 47 in Florida to Obama’s 106. This is a far cry from the remarkable ground operation Karl Rove put together for President Bush in Florida in 2004, an effort that the GOP began building in 2005.
Romney’s Super Pac’s are pouring money into television ads not field operations, and effective electoral outreach campaigns cannot be created overnight. And while many believe that Republican voters don’t need reminders to get to the polls, Romney needs less fervently committed independent voters to win.
Obama’s ground game advantage is particularly strong in Ohio.
In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry had no real field operation in Ohio prior to September. While the Ohio economy was hurting, Kerry had done nothing in particular to help the state while serving in the Senate. Despite this, and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell’s shenanigans, Bush barely won the state.
Obama had a huge Ohio field campaign in 2008 and it is even bigger this year. He has two other key advantages: his saving the auto industry provided a major boost to Ohio workers, and early voting---barred in 2004---will continue in the days leading up to the election.
It’s hard to see how Romney can match Bush’s Ohio performance, and we know that Obama’s field campaign is much stronger than Kerry’s. Considering that no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio, Romney’s weak field campaign in the state could decide the race.
Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook
and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century