Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Painting the Target On Ohio

Could Obama have misspelled his    chances for victory in Ohio?

The eyes of the nation are riveted on the State of Ohio.  Most commentators of both stripes predict next week’s Presidential election hinges on who carries the State.  All four candidates (Obama/Biden, Romney/Ryan), their spouses and their surrogates have spent so much time in Ohio that the State Auditor will probably send them a state income tax return form.  Party advocates from around the country are working the suburban neighborhoods around Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland with missionary zeal.  As a lifelong resident of Ohio I have mixed emotions.  While the attention is interesting and arguably flattering, I could do without the hourly phone calls, the glossy mailers stuffing our mailbox, and strangers knocking on my door.  So what is it about the State of Ohio that makes it so darned hard to decipher who will carry the day next Tuesday?   Why is the State so stubbornly torn down the middle?  As a veteran observer of politics in the Buckeye State, please allow me to add my two cents.

Ohio is almost a perfect microcosm of the country.  Fast-food and other consumable companies love to test market their products in Ohio because time and experience has shown the reactions of the targeted consumers virtually mirror those of the country as a whole.  (Not surprisingly, consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble and fast-food titan Wendy’s and White Castle are headquartered in Ohio.)  Ohio has large urban metropolitan areas and their surrounding suburbs (Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati); medium-sized metropolitan areas (Dayton, Toledo, and Akron); smaller metros (Canton, Mansfield, Youngstown, Warren, Springfield, Hamilton, and Middletown); and many Norman Rockwell-like small towns and county seats that support surrounding rural areas (VanWert, Minster, St. Henry, Tiffin, Wooster, etc.).  Historically I-70, which divides the State almost in half, served as a mini Mason-Dixon Line in Ohio.  The areas north of I-70 have more of an industrial and East-Coast feel and typically vote Democrat (with the exception of rural areas in West-Central Ohio and ‘along the spine’ of the State of Indiana) while those south of I-70 have more of a Southern heritage and lean Republican (with the exception of the City of Dayton, Athens, and counties in far Southeastern Ohio).  Columbus and Franklin County were once reliably Republican, but have recently trended Democrat. 
 Did Eisenhower know he built a mini Mason-Dixon  Line when I-70 was created as part of the interstate system?
This near perfect schism makes Ohio almost perfectly reflective of national polling results (recent polls showing at most one to two point leads for either candidate) and makes it difficult enough for a candidate and/or a party to generate break-out momentum in Ohio.  Other states with large population (California, Texas, New York, Illinois) seem to be more easily predictable on Election Day.  Recent events have made it even more difficult particularly for Team Romney to get traction.  These include the GM Bailout, Senate Bill 5, the HHS-Catholic Church dispute and Federal Court decisions relating to early voting.  
GM Bailout.  General Motors (Dayton, Defiance and Warren/Lordstown) and Chrysler (Toledo Jeep factory) have a major presence in Ohio.  Many mid-sized and small Ohio companies are links on the automotive industry’s supply chain.  Obama has successfully socialized the fraudulent notion that he saved and a Romney Administration would have ‘liquidated’ the American auto industry.  We know that is not the case, and Romney has the evidence with his NYT editorial from November 2008.  That editorial hurts as much as it helps, however, primarily because the title of the NYT editors: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”  Romney had no control over the headline, and anyone reading the editorial would agree it could have just as easily been titled “A Better Way to Save the American Auto Industry.”  In reality, the Obama bailout was structured more as a lifeline to the UAW than to GM or Chrysler; non-union retirees and corporate bondholders were effectively shut out in the process.  The bailout Obama and Biden tout as a huge success has been a financial disaster for U.S. taxpayers.  Senator Portman – who is at the top of Romney’s A-List surrogates – is effectively neutering the Obama Bailout propaganda at Romney’s frequent Ohio rallies.  A wild card here is that a large number of GM employees in the Dayton area were members of the IUE and not the UAW, and they did not receive the same sweetheart deal as the UAW.  Still, with a large number of auto and auto-related families in Ohio, the notion that 1) Obama saved GM and Chrysler, and 2) Romney would have chloroformed GM and Chrysler is proving to be a stain that is stubborn to remove.  
SB-5 Hangover.  Shortly after the 2010 election of John Kasich as Governor and a Republican State Senate and House, the Republicans enacted their version of collective bargaining reform.  The initiative, which came to be known as SB-5 (after the Ohio Senate Bill which gave it birth) was, in retrospect, an overreach.  Veteran Republican pols and sympathetic commentators counseled Governor Kasich and the Senate sponsors of SB-5 to start out with half a loaf rather than the whole enchilada.  But (reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi and ObamaCare) they made an ill-advised decision to go for the Golden Ring while they had the votes.  SB-5 was hammered through the Legislature with no Democrat support, and ultimately awoke the Sleeping Giants of the public employee labor unions which had been humbled by the 2010 electoral results.  The opponents of SB-5 secured 1.3 million signatures to get its repeal on last year’s ballot as a referendum.  They heavily advertised with the support of the police and firefighter unions, and achieved an impressive 62%-38%victory to overturn the legislation.  It was now Governor Kasich and the Republican legislature who were humbled. (To his credit, Kasich ate crow after the election, rolled up his sleeves and whipped Ohio's budget into shape.  Recent polling suggests he has rebounded from the SB-5 repudiation). 
Governor Romney is experiencing a hangover from last year’s SB-5 controversy.  The Republicans rolled the SB-5 grenade in the public unions’ tent, and unfortunately it blew up in their face.  A retired firefighter, who supports Romney, tells me he is a political pariah when he talks politics with his firefighter friends.  He attributes it in large part to SB-5 fallout.  This is disappointing because by nature firefighters and police officers are socially conservative (quintessential ‘Reagan Democrats’).  But the SB-5 campaign last year galvanized the public employees and their families against Republicans of all stripes. 
Last fall Obama came out in full-throated support for the repeal of SB-5.  Romney wisely played his cards close to his vest on the issue when he visited the State.  But the firefighters and police officers and their families remember who they think had their backs.  Some even think Romney, if elected, could enact something akin to SB-5 on a national level.  The ability of a President Romney (or any other President) to intervene or influence relationships between a State and its public employees is essentially nil. 
There’s a long backstory on SB-5, and the Republicans definitely overplayed their hand (an interesting state-level parallel to Obamacare).  Unfortunately, Romney may be paying the price for the political malpractice of the Ohio State Senate. 
The Catholic Vote.  Ohio has many Catholics, both in the urban centers and the rural farmlands (especially in West-Central Ohio).  Despite the best efforts of many articulate and enthusiastic spokesmen, publicity regarding the controversy with the HHS mandates seems to have diminished.  I know many Catholics who are voting for Obama.  When I discuss the impact of the mandates on religious freedom and Obama’s extreme position on abortion they don’t seem to be moved.  I’m frankly surprised how many churchgoing Catholics are unaware of the HHS mandates (it’s hard to imagine how any Catholic could be unaware of Obama’s extreme position on abortion).  The typical rejoinder of pro-Obama Catholics is an expression of support of ‘social justice’ and the possible impact of ‘Paul Ryan’s Budget.’  These are the standard liberal talking points.
The Ohio Catholic leadership can and should highlight the religious freedom and pro-life issue in the remaining week of the election, much as Archbishop Chaput has done in Philadelphia.  National Review reports that the leadership in the Cleveland Diocese spoke to these issues this past Sunday.  Romney must get the majority of the Catholic vote to win Ohio. 
Court Decisions.  Ohio has a very generous early voting period.  Applications for absentee ballots were sent to every registered voter in the State.  A few months ago John Husted, the Secretary of State, decreed there would be no early voting on the final weekend preceding the election for anyone but active military personnel so that County Boards of Election can prepare for Voting Day.  The Obama Election Campaign promptly filed a lawsuit to overturn his decision.  The Federal Court agreed and reinstated the last weekend of early voting, a decision which was affirmed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Supreme Court declined to consider Husted’s appeal.  The same District Court issued decisions requiring Boards of Election to accept provisional ballots when a voter votes in the wrong precinct, or even when the voter casts a ballot at the wrong polling location altogether as long as he is in the right county.  Husted is appealing the last decision, but it is doubtful the Appellate Court will reverse that decision at this late date.   (Thursday postscript: on Wednesday the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the last decision, which would have effectively enabled Ohio voters to show up at any polling location in their county and cast a provisional ballot.  This could have resulted in Election Day chaos.  To its credit, the Court ruled that voters bear some responsibility for at least locating their polling location.  Chalk at least one up for common sense.)
In 2008 the Obama Campaign jammed the polls on the last weekend of voting season, often busing voters directly from Sunday religious services.  Obama’s Ohio margin over McCain was fueled on the strength of early voting turnout.  Anecdotal and some polling evidence supports a possible enthusiasm gap for Obama from 2008 among college-age voters.  Current polling also suggests Team Romney is holding its own on early voting.  But it is difficult to overcome an early lead.      
I’m confident Romney will overcome these headwinds and win a close election in Ohio.  There is lasting enmity for ObamaCare in the State; in last year's election, even with the SB-5 referendum on the ballot, the same voters overwhelmingly repudiated ObamaCare by a 2:1 marginThe state Republican party holds virtually every constitutional office and is in firm control of both chambers of the Legislature.  Romney’s top surrogate is a seated U.S. Senator from Ohio.  John Kasich is reanimated and regaining popularity.  Ohio voters are generally sensible midwesterners who know we cannot tax and spend our way out of the current malaise. 

With the speedbumps discussed in this article, if Romney achieves the coveted Ohio electoral vote prize he will certainly have earned it. 
Romney and Obama are duking it out in Ohio with the ferocity of other traditional fall rivals.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Benghazi Post Script

Fox News is now reporting the two former Seals who were killed in the 9-11 attack at Benghazi were at the CIA annex a mile away from the U.S. Mission when the assault began.  When they heard the shooting activity at the Mission, they contacted their superiors to find out what was going on and were told to 'stand down.'  As the assault continued they again contacted their superiors and were again told to 'stand down' and not assist those at the Mission.  Don't expect Navy Seals to obey a stand down order when fellow Americans are in danger.  These brave men went to the Mission and evacuated personnel and the body of one of the already dead diplomats.  The U.S. Ambassador was not at the Mission.  The Seals returned to the CIA annex where they again encountered enemy fire and tragically died in the exchange.

Fox also confirms that video drones were feeding the action live to D.C., likely including the famous Situation Room, the CIA and the State Department.  Administration officials knew exactly what was going on almost from the time the seven-hour assault began.  Three times the Seals and others requested military assistance and three times they were denied.  A military strike team was an hour's flight away, and could have assisted these brave men and women who were under siege.  The CIA states no one in its organization denied a request for assistance.  Someone at a high level -- a very high level -- knew of the pleas of assistance from these brave warriors and chose to ignore them. 

In the 2008 Primaries, Hillary Clinton ran an effective ad with the phone ringing in a dark bedroom in the middle of the night and the suggestion that then Senator Obama lacked the experience and was ill-equipped to respond as Commander-in-Chief to the inevitable '3:00 a.m. phone call.' 

                                           With what we know, who do you want to answer the call?
                                                                                     Obama or Romney?                                                                                 

Hillary's vision was prescient.  While brave Americans defended their countrymen and their diplomatic mission in Libya, President Obama and his Administration chose not to respond.  In fact, Obama went to bed and, following a perfunctory Rose Garden quasi-campaign appearance the next day in which he assured those responsible would be 'brought to justice', he jetted to Las Vegas for a fundraiser.  His Administration then misled the public and disgracefully even the family of one of the deceased on the nature and source of the assault.  President Obama and his Administration could not let the inconvenience of an attack by Al Qaeda on a U.S. diplomatic outpost disrupt a carefully orchestrated reelection campaign. 

I didn't choose to accept the challenge of serving our country in the military, which I regret.  I honor and admire those who served.  Based on the history of my friends and family who have served I know the military is a brotherhood/sisterhood, and no brother is left behind.  The ethos of the Armed Services, as articulated famously by Douglas MacArthur, is "Duty, Honor, Country."  We know these lessons were lost on (or never learned by) the Obama Administration who left their Ambassador and their other representatives dangerously twisting in the wind while under enemy assault.  This is disgraceful, and voters should take these shameful events into account as they decide who will lead the country for the next four years.

The Obama Administration was quick to trumpet the killing of Osama Bin Laden as demonstration of the bona fides of the President.  (Remember that clever campaign slogan of Joe Biden, "GM is alive and Osama Bin Laden is dead.")  Yet they show no sign of owning up to their laconic reaction as their own people were under attack in Libya. 

But what ever was there about the background, experience and personality of Barack Obama that would lead anyone to think he could effectively manage the U.S. Government and serve as Commander-in-Chief, the first Constitutional responsiblity of the President?       
Shamefully, it appears the team wasn't as concerned about the  lives of a U.S. Ambassador, two Navy Seals and a diplomat.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Four Dead in Benghazi

On May 2, 1970, Ohio Governor James Rhodes ordered the Ohio National Guard to the campus of Kent State University as a show of force and to quell student demonstrations against the Vietnam War and President Nixon’s decision a few days earlier to invade Cambodia.  The demonstrations became increasingly violent and dangerous, with student protestors throwing rocks, tear gas and other projectiles at police and civic officials.  On May 4th, the demonstrations culminated in the tragic killing of four Kent State students, almost certainly from panicked fire of members of the National Guard.  The event sparked national outrage and a nationwide student strike at colleges and universities across the country.  It was perhaps the seminal moment of the era of campus rebellions which started some five years earlier.  Rhodes, who was at the time an extremely popular Ohio politician and considered Presidential timber, was forever branded as the author of the “May 4th Massacre.”  A few weeks later the group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young released the song “Ohio” which chronicled the killings and became an anthem for the counterculture and student protestors.  Neil Young’s mournful refrain of “Four Dead in Ohio” throughout the ballad is a tragic reminder of a horrific and tumultuous age. 

                                          A Tragic Day in Ohio's History
Fast forward forty-two years.  On September 11, 2012, the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi, Libya was attacked.  Four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, a career diplomat and two former Navy Seals.  The available evidence points to the fact the assailants were a trained, organized branch of Al Qaeda.  The date of the attack was not a coincidence; Al Qaeda seems to have wanted to send a message to America and the world that it is not ‘on the run’ despite the death of its leader.  The Obama Administration initially attributed the attack to a protest gone awry.  An obscure American filmmaker produced a seventeen minute video critical of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.  The video was loaded on YouTube in the summer, where it had limited viewing.  Administration representatives claimed the video stoked the fire of Muslims who turned their ire on the U.S. Mission.  This charade continued for almost ten days, with Jay Carney (Press Secretary), Susan Rice (Ambassador to the U.N.), Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), Joe Biden (Vice President) and Barack Obama (President) all attributing, at one point or another and in different venues (including Hillary Clinton at the ceremony in which she and Obama received the caskets of the fallen and Obama in a speech before the United Nations), the YouTube video as the precipitating event for the attack.  
Facts can be a stubborn thing, however, and as the facts of this event trickle out the Administration finds itself on its heels at a most unfortunate time, two weeks before the election.  We now know Ambassador Chris Stevens made repeated requests of the State Department for increased security, as he sensed – most likely knew – he and the consulate were at risk of attack.  We know the State Department denied these requests.  During the attack itself, recently released emails demonstrate the CIA, the State Department and likely the White House itself were all aware of the dire situation in real time.  We know a drone was dispatched over the consulate and fed video of the events live to the White House Situation Room and other locations.  With all this technical gadgetry at its disposal, and a military strike force an hour’s plane ride away, it appears the Administration sat on its hands while Ambassador Stevens, its sovereign representative, and three other American citizens were brutally murdered during a seven-hour siege.  Another email sent shortly after the attack suggests the White House and the State Department knew within hours that an Al Qaeda affiliate cell named Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit for the attack.  Still, the Administration perpetrated the YouTube hoax on the public and more importantly the families of the brave deceased Americans for up to two weeks following the attacks.
Some commentators suggest Chris Stevens may have been involved in running weapons to the Libyan and possibly Syrian rebel forces, and ended up on the wrong end of a business deal with disgruntled buyers.  (This scenario gives new meaning to the plaintive words of newscasters of ‘a gun/drug deal gone bad’ as if such deals can in some way turn out ‘good.’)  Perhaps Ambassador Stevens was cavorting with the wrong team.  Perhaps the Administration put too much trust in Islamic rebel groups which seem to be assuming leadership of the various Middle Eastern countries which are toppling like dominoes.  In either event, it feels like we’re not getting all of the available information and probably for good reason.  I’ll give you a hint: it begins with “Election” and ends with “Day.” 
For his part, President Obama bristled and feigned outrage when Governor Romney intimated at the Town Hall Debate that his Administration may not be playing it straight with the American people about the Benghazi attack.  As further emails and other information come to light, will Obama apologize to Romney -- and the American people --for bullying Candy Crowley into confirming his false version of the story at the Town Hall debate?     
Questions remain.  How much political fallout will the Administration incur from the tragedy in Benghazi?  What was Chris Stevens doing in Benghazi, and why did he intrinsically know his life was at risk?  Who and why did the State Department deny his request for additional security?  Will this attack and the apparent cover-up impact the election?  What member of the Administration will take the fall for this?  You can rest assured it won’t be veteran political survivor Hillary Clinton, who has outlasted Monica Lewinsky, Vince Foster, Whitewater, CattleGate, Records Gate, TravelGate, and untold other ‘Gate’ scandals in her career.  

And what current singer will be the Neil Young of this generation and pen an ode to the “Four Dead in Benghazi”?

  The charred remains of the Benghazi U.S. Mission

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Hunt For An October Surprise

Will one of the campaigns torpedo the other before Election Day?

With the debate season over, one might think that this election season will begin to wind down—at least, as much is possible for our modern political environment: advertisements from both sides of the aisle will continue to flood media markets in swing states (particularly swing counties within swing states, such as the one in which we live); President Obama and Gov. Romney will continue to campaign in those states while fundraising mostly in others; and other statewide races—such as those in the Senate and the House—will play themselves out. It all sounds very normal…

…but too normal, perhaps? For there is one thing that my cursory list failed to mention: the possibility for a so-called “October surprise,” which conventional wisdom holds must occur soon, since we have not had one yet. But what is an October surprise? Loosely defined, it is any sort of development late in a presidential race that evokes significant enough controversy possibly to alter said race’s fundamentals. We have had both successful and unsuccessful examples of these in recent times. In 2000, in the weekend before the election, the country was suddenly and conveniently made aware of then-Gov. George W. Bush’s citation for driving under the influence many years prior. In 2004, Al-Qaeda released a video featuring Osama Bin Laden that thrust terrorism and national security issues into the public mind even more prominently than before, this time (possibly) to Bush's advantage.

When an October surprise emerges domestically and intentionally (unlike the Osama video), it comes from a source not necessarily affiliated with either presidential campaign, yet one that still holds an interest in seeing the other candidate diminished in the public eye. Thus, at this time, it is unlikely that the day-to-day operations of either presidential campaign involve directly digging for dirt to promulgate as a surprise, as opposed to the more routine duties of advertising and campaigning. But there are other ways. In the past week, rumors have ascribed to two individuals the possibility of releasing such a surprise: Gloria Allred, the Democratic lawyer and famed dirt digger whose allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain (remember him?) forced the erstwhile candidate to suspend his campaign last winter; and Donald Trump, who probably requires no description.

What these two have in mind—if anything—is, at this point, unknown. Trump, for his part, plans to release his findings tomorrow at some point; speculation is pointing to the possibility that he has obtained divorce records for the Obamas, whom one book has claimed almost divorced in the turmoil after Mr. Obama’s congressional defeat at the hands of Bobby Rush. As for Allred, speculation exists that she endeavors to make public the sworn testimony of a woman a young Mitt Romney talked out of anabortion. Neither of these potential scoops has much potential to change the race at this point. But that we are still talking about the potential emergence of October surprise ignores a likelier possibility: we have already had it. What, then, could it be? Well, take a look at the Real ClearPolitics poll of polls. Notice an inflection point around October 3rd. Gee, what happened then?

If the first presidential debate was the October surprise, then the Obama campaign can look up and down Mitt Romney’s peculiarly unblemished record (the man doesn’t even drink coffee, for goodness sakes), and probably not find anything better than the infamous “47 percent” video released by a liberal publication several weeks ago. Interestingly, the masterminds of that video failed to realize that putting it out too early would dilute its effectiveness (or perhaps they just wanted to help Obama escape gravity).

Even so, don’t put anything past Team Obama--again, not his "regular" campaign, but his "oppo researchers." They’ve been playing dirty for years now, having shepherded the release of embarrassing, previously private information about their political opponents at electorally convenient times for two weeks now. And now that President Obama is now lagging in many polls, prepare for some good old-fashioned desperation. My guess? Somehow, somewhere, someone in the progressive movement will attempt to bludgeon Romney with his Mormon faith. But wait…the guy who came to Washington as a bipartisan—nay, a postpartisan healer would never let that happen….right? Right? Right?

Hang in there, folks. It's going to be a long two weeks. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Last Debate

In keeping with our recent "Star Trek" kick.

With the completion of Monday night's Presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, this presidential debate season is now at an end. General comments about all the debates will appear at the end of this post. As for this debate, allow me to begin by saying that moderator Bob Schieffer, long a staple of the Sunday morning political talk shows, performed admirably tonight. His questions were pointed yet sparse; he was firm when he needed to be, but also content to let President Obama and Gov. Romney spar in a vigorous yet civil fashion; and tended to permit the debate to proceed as it did while interrupting mostly only when necessary.

But readers of this blog, I imagine, are not nearly as interested in moderators as they are in the debaters themselves, so let us turn now to them. President Obama came into this night still reeling from his unexpectedly decisive loss in the first debate--a loss that has "fundamentally transformed" (to coin a phrase) the nature of this campaign (more on that below). The President and his team have been hoping ever since that first loss for a performance of similar magnitude against either Gov. Romney or Rep. Paul Ryan. Vice President Joe Biden attempted this in his debate with Ryan by being rudely aggressive, and ended up having little impact; Obama himself attempted a similar aggression in last week's town hall, though again to little avail.

This night, therefore, provided Team Obama with its last chance for a game-changer. And this debate, with its focus on foreign policy, gave the President a distinct advantage: to put it bluntly, he is the President. In other words, he is the one reading intelligence briefs, talking to the joint chiefs, executive sanctions, etc. For a president not to seem presidential during a debate would have been a difficult feat indeed, and Obama didn't manage it. In a sense, then the burden was on Gov. Romney, as challenger, merely to appear presidential, and he did manage that. His strategy for doing so, however, was probably not the one many on both sides of the aisle expected. Romney actually ended up agreeing in principle with President Obama on most of the foreign policy issues--the need to put pressure on Iran, the importance of an alliance with Israel, etc--but instead focused on a broader picture of the world Obama's policies have, if not necessarily given us, at the very least allowed to form.

And it's not a pretty picture, as Romney made clear throughout the night. To cite just two of his examples: Iran--a quasi-theocracy that fully intends to wipe Israel off the map when it can--is four years closer to nuclear capacity, and the Middle East itself is in chaos. Romney also made effective use of what he called President Obama's "Apology Tour"--a trip through the Middle East that Obama made in the first months of his presidency not only to break from the Bush years by, Romney claimed, placing the brunt of the world's problems on the United States. Obama partisans and spinners may say that he "won" the foreign policy portion of the debate, but, as was said above, he is the president. Romney "wins" simply by making himself seem worthy of not merely discussing these issues but by executing his vision prudently, and that he did tonight.

Interestingly, unexpectedly, and--perhaps--fortunately (let's be honest, foreign policy is a bit of a bore), this debate strayed significantly from foreign policy. Obama was the first to insert his plug for "nation-building at home"; Romney quickly followed suit by citing Adm. Mike Mullen's assessment that our national debt is America's greatest national security threat; and the pattern of drift into domestic policy continued from there. Obama managed a few zingers here and there in this area, but Romney has the failed record of the Obama presidency so far down pat, and rehearsed it to great effect. There were several interesting exchanges during this part of the debate; perhaps the most interesting concerned the federal government's 2008-2009 bailout of the U.S. auto industry. The President's actions on it are a point of pride for him, and he uses them in much of his swing-state campaigning and advertising. Yet Romney finally managed to fight back on this point, clarifying that he supported a managed bankruptcy of GM, not the "liquidation" that Obama has attempted to pin on him. 

Taking the debate as a whole, President Obama and Gov. Romney seemed evenly matched. Neither managed a significant attack on the other that is likely to outlast coverage of this debate. One of the night's few remarks likely to escape the news cycle's undulations is Obama's snide remark about "horses and bayonets," in response to Gov. Romney's noting that the number of ships in the U.S. Navy is down to its lowest level since 1917. A la Joe Biden, it may have been a good point--had the President chosen a better delivery. As I would gladly tell anyone of any political stripe: it does not behoove political discourse to treat serious issues snidely and in talking points. (That being said, Obama's "the 1980s called, they want their foreign policy back" seems straight out of the 9th grade.)

That this debate, then, resulted in Romney's seeming more like a potential commander-in-chief, and produced no gamechanger for Obama, is, in effect, a victory for Romney. Even if Romney doesn't win in two weeks, historians, pundits, and others will look at the first debate of this presidential election season as an incredible shift in the race's momentum toward Romney. The Obama team had three chances to work back the gains Romney made that day, and none succeeded. Now, only two weeks of campaigning and advertising remain, and we shall see whom voters decide is worthy of being the next President of the United States.

One final note: the split-screen did not play well to the President tonight. When not speaking, he was giving Gov. Romney a glare icy enough to confirm in and of itself all of the reporting suggesting that Obama strongly dislikes Romney on a personal level. Take a look, via the Weekly Standard:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Debate #3 Primer

Our candidates will want to project a talent for strategic thinking at tonight's debate.

Tonight is the third and final Presidential Debate.  The topics are intended to cover Foreign Affairs.  This topic occasionally leads to fairly obtuse questions for the candidates.  We thought it might be helpful to provide a scorecard for those of you who will be ‘keeping score at home.’  So here are some of our tips on what to look for in tonight’s Debate.
Benghazi.  This is the hot topic, and I would not be surprised if the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, leads off with this.  For those who are not following along, here is a brief summary of the issue.  On September 11, the U.S. Ambassador (Chris Stevens) and three other Americans were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  Governor Romney took some criticism for issuing a press release during the attacks.  In the release, the Romney campaign took issue with a release from the State Department which referenced a YouTube video which is a trailer of a movie critical of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.  Representatives of the Administration criticized and for roughly two weeks attributed the attacks which resulted in the deaths of Stevens and the other three Americans to rage over this video.  Recent information suggests that intelligence on the ground knew the attacks had no relationship to rage over the video, but were likely a coordinated attack by an affiliate of Al Queda.  So expect questions of 1) Obama about why his Administration either misled the American public or didn’t know the reason for the killings, and 2) Romney, as to whether his campaign’s press release demonstrated appropriate leadership.  Also, expect questions of Obama about why the State Department didn’t respond to Ambassador Stevens’ repeated requests for beefed-up security at the U.S. Consulate prior to the 9-11 attacks.
Iran.  This will be another hot area of discussion.  Romney’s campaign is critical of seeming indifference or inability to halt the steady progress of Iran towards the development of nuclear weapons.  For his part, Obama will claim his Administration has crippled Iran with sanctions, and has the global community on the same page about preventing Iran from securing nuclear capability something he will claim Bush was unable to do.  (Underlying this question is the rumor of a possible “October Surprise” Deal with the Iranians about halting/slowing nuclear development in exchange for lightening of sanctions.) 
Israel.  Romney will claim Obama is not a strong ally of Israel, and he has the relationship with Netanyahu and concern about the Israeli people to secure their existence.  Obama will claim he is the best friend the Israelis have ever had in the White House.
China.  Romney has made China’s alleged manipulation of its currency as a dominant theme in his campaign.  Expect Romney to hit this hard.  He will state he will declare China a currency manipulator ‘on the first day of my Administration.’  Obama will claim his Administration has been tough on China, and Romney talks tough but would not have penalized the Chinese tire industry like he did.
European Union.  The past summer has seen hints (if not downright threats) of the dissolution of the European Union.  Schieffer will likely weave into his questions the stability of the EU, and the effect its possible dissolution would have on the Global Community.
Syria.  Romney has talked tough on Syria, claiming that Obama has not sufficiently supported the Syrian rebels in their battles against the existing government.  Obama will play the statesman here, counseling patience and the virtue of isolation of the Syrian government without putting American ‘boots on the ground.’ 
Russia.  Obama has wooed the Russian government since his first day in office, famously offering a ‘reset’ of American-Russian relations and whispering off-mike (but not off-mike enough) to the Russian President that he can be more ‘flexible’ in nuclear disarmament after he is reelected.  Romney will attack Obama as a quisling on Russia, whom he views as a threat to global security and whom he believes is interested in resurrecting the Soviet empire, albeit under a different banner.
Defense Spending and the Role of the U.S. in the Geopolitical world.  Romney will likely come out swinging on planned cuts to the Defense budget.  He will claim that Obama is projecting weakness on the world stage, and apologizes for the global positioning of the U.S.  Obama will claim that Romney wants to institute programs the Defense Department doesn’t even want, and will imply that Romney has a Cold War mentality where everyone is a potential enemy.
We can also expect questions about Afghanistan (the wisdom of setting a withdrawal date), and a wild card could be the issue of Communist/Socialist influence in the Western Hemisphere.
General Demeanor.  This is Obama’s last chance to make up ground lost from the first Debate in Denver.  Polling suggests Obama and Romney roughly broke even in their Town Hall Debate last week.  The nature of the topic of the Debate makes it ill-advised for either candidate to come across too aggressively.  First, the public is generally not as knowledgeable on these topics (see this video of students from Ohio University at a recent Obama rally responding to questions about Benghazi).    Second, the public wants a steady hand at the helm of our foreign relationships.  It is especially important to ‘look Presidential’ in a Debate about Foreign Affairs.  Romney would be well-served to continue his air of competence and knowledge.  (hint to Rob Portman: tell your guy to slow down, and use the cadence he demonstrated in his speech at the Al Smith dinner.)  He should not overplay his hand on what appears to be an Achilles Heel for Obama on Benghazi.  However, he should carefully outline the facts, which we can be sure Obama will want to conceal and mislead.  For his part, Obama will want to project an air of authority on these matters, and emphasize what he considers his ability to heal strained relationships with allies and enemies from the Bush Years.
As fate would have it, the public will have two other options with the Cardinals-Giants NLCS going to a Game 7, and the Monday Night football game features traditional and popular rivals, the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions.  These alternatives, along with the nature of the Debate topic, may limit viewership. 
Get your popcorn ready.  It should be a good one.  And if you'd like to do more than watch, download our scorecard from this link.