09.24.2012 0

Will there be an October surprise?

Photo courtesy of League of Women Voters of California (Flickr)

By Rick Manning — Is it any wonder that decent people refuse to run for elective office?

It is common for Americans to bemoan their choices at the ballot box with the refrain that they are voting for the lesser of two evils.

This sense that those on the ballot fall far short of our expectations is a direct result of three simple reasons:

First, we hold candidates to impossible standards with every wart exposed, expanded, and analyzed to such an extent that by the time we reach October it seems that we can only see the blemishes and no longer can find the man or woman.

Second, campaigns know that people tend to vote against someone rather than vote for them.  With suspicions about politicians running wild, it is far more likely that swing voters will end up focusing on the relative negatives rather than the policy differences that divide the candidates.  This is somewhat fueled by a sense (that I think is wrong) that there is little difference between competing candidates or political parties.

If you don’t believe there is a hair breadths of difference in what the two candidates will do, the election becomes a personality contest akin to a high school class president race.

The final reason is due to the nature of late deciding voters – they don’t pay much attention to politics until October when they awaken from a three-year, 11-month slumber to stick their heads up and decide who gets to be president or control Congress.

These late breaking voters are vaguely ideological, have a sense of how they feel the country is going and tend to vote against the incumbent if they aren’t happy.

And this is Obama’s big election problem.  Undecided voters have really decided that they don’t like how things are going in the country, because if they were satisfied, they would be Obama supporters.

Both campaigns know this, and that is why the Obama campaign has engaged in a withering attack on Romney.  Obama’s campaign knows that they have to accomplish two things to win – depress the anti-Obama turnout by demonizing Romney, and get undecided voters to throw up their hands and determine that there is no lesser of two evils.

As president, Obama has a huge problem.  He is the incumbent.

He owns the economy which is in the tank in spite of his stimulus, cash for clunkers and unprecedented monetary intervention by the Federal Reserve, all which has failed to revive it.  In fact, all of the above have actually exacerbated the federal debt drag that is decimating the flow of private capital and the job creation which results.  Obama’s approach has been tried, has failed and everyone knows it.

He also owns a middle east which became his when he went to Cairo and promised a relationship reset.  The site of American flags being burned all over a region with an American ambassador dead on the eleventh anniversary due at least partially to a head in the sand approach by Obama’s State Department is devastating to Obama’s biggest claim to fame – the killing of Osama bin Laden.

As the incumbent this leaves Obama with a thin reed to cling to as he asks America to go forward, because forward looks pretty bleak.

So instead, October will become a deluge of negative ads from a president who doesn’t have a positive message of hope to share.  He dare not mention the word change, and hope went out the window with 23 million people who are either unemployed, underemployed or have just flat out given up on getting a job.

Political pundits often talk about so-called October surprises from an incumbent.  Whether contrived or not, many old time Republicans still muse in wonder why President Kennedy suddenly discovered missiles in Cuba in October of 1962 when his party was projected to get creamed in congressional elections.  After all, Republican Senators had been warning America about the threat for a year before the crisis.


Personally, I don’t believe that Team Obama will embark on a cynical foreign policy raid to rally the country around him.  Not because they wouldn’t do it, but because I don’t think they believe it would work.

What Team Obama is likely to do is take a page out of Ted Kennedy’s playbook when he faced Romney in a race for the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat in 1994, a very good year for Republican candidates.  In the last few weeks of the campaign, Kennedy incredibly played the religion card, attacking Romney’s Mormon beliefs.  With most people completely unfamiliar with the tenets of the Church of Latter Day Saints, many of these beliefs seemed strange, and in the liberal state of Massachusetts, out of sync.

Romney ended up defending his faith, and in the end lost the race.

And that is exactly what Team Obama will do.  And they will target the very evangelical voters who Obama has shown disdain for with both his policies and his statements.

Team Obama will not make a case for these voters to pull the lever for him, but instead will attempt to convince them to stay home.

Because Obama’s campaign knows, unless they change the voter turnout patterns that internal polling suggest will occur, Obama will lose this election.

This onslaught will be coming to a television, radio, mail box and website close to you.  Expect it, get informed and be smart.  You know what you are going to get if the president is re-elected.  If that is what you want, vote for him, if it isn’t, vote against him.

But don’t be swayed by the predictable garbage that will be thrown in the last weeks of the election to not vote at all.  That would prove the point once and for all, that the dirtier the campaign, the more likely a candidate is to win, and that would be a disservice to everyone who hopes for better candidates who talk about the problems facing the country rather than peripheral issues that don’t matter.

Rick Manning is the communications director of Americans for Limited Government.

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