Sunday, August 19, 2012

A week in review

I have seen electoral future, and its name is Kathy Hochul.

Sorry, I could resist the chance to borrow a line from the most quoted rock music review in history, Jon Landau's description of Bruce Springsteen in concert, and apply it to the current political race.

We waited a long time for some actual news to come out of the Presidential campaign. It came when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate. It was a fine choice for analysts, because it gave them something to discuss for weeks on end on the all-news channels.

After hearing all of the analysis for the past week, it seems as if Mitt Romney has made an interesting gamble that probably will end up backfiring.

Romney has essentially campaigned on the idea that Barack Obama has done a poor job, and he's not Barack Obama. He hasn't offered a great many alternatives yet, thus building up the perception this this is just another bored rich guy who having made millions in business thinks it would be fun to be President. This approach is a contrast to the Obama's campaign, which as Jon Meacham said, comes down to "it could have been worse under anyone else."

The problem for Romney was that it wasn't working particularly well. Most of the data indicates that all but a few percentage points of the electorate have made up their minds, and Obama right now has about a 70 percent chance of winning. (If you aren't reading Nate Silver's blog regularly, you should be. He's about the smartest guy out there.) Times are indeed tough, but Obama has retained a good portion of his personal popularity. What do you do under those circumstances?

You try to shake up the dynamic with your biggest card, the vice presidential choice. Ryan is clearly a thoughtful man of substance, and he offers a point of view that tries to put the rage of some Republicans into practical solutions. It's quite a chance from four years ago. As Jeff Greenfield said, no one has to ask Ryan what newspapers he reads, because he seems to read all of them.

The fabled "Ryan budget" offers plenty of particulars to the Romney campaign. The biggest centers around Medicare, which under Ryan's plan would switch to a voucher system at some point down the road.

Which brings us, finally, to Kathy Hochul.

When there was a special election last year for an open Congressional seat in upstate New York, Democrats ads pounded the Republicans for their position on changing Medicare. Anyone who has dealt with Medicare -- and that includes looking over the forms with Mom and Dad and trying to figure them out -- knows it's difficult now, but it does offer help to those that need it. The voters like it.

Now Ryan comes along, and offers to make it more complicated by changing the rules down the road. It was a big factor in Hochul's somewhat surprising victory (admittedly, a three-way race didn't hurt her either).

Ryan's pick offered a change of subject to the Democrats, who haven't done a great job of defending their actions in the last four years. The economy is sputtering, but we've had more growth than any other Western nation in that time -- fueled in part by deficit spending, but clearly the government needed to take strong action under severe circumstances.In a country where hospitals must accept any patient regardless of their ability to pay, universal health care is at least an attempt -- a poorly explained one, but an attempt -- to make the system more efficient.

I would suspect we'd see bunches of ads about Ryan's Medicare plan in the weeks to come. That might be enough to push Florida into the Democratic column, and maybe Ohio too -- although Ohio's relatively good economy ought to help Obama as well. If both of those states turn blue, it's almost impossible to see a path for Romney to get to 270 electoral votes.

I'm not sure if there was a better choice out there for Romney; a Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty wouldn't changed the campaign picture much. And I know vice presidential picks usually don't matter much; if Sarah Palin didn't move the needle much in the other direction, no one would. But it's tough to picture the Republicans getting any boost from Ryan, and one was definitely needed.

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