One of the very best moments of the campaign so far is this video:
I am not at all sure which part of it was funnier, the pathetic clip of Romney trying to get people to chant his name too or the Scarborough reaction to it. But suffice to say that it is a really bad sign when your own campaign crowds are that apathetic about your candidacy, and when the VP nominee gets more enthusiasm than the top of the ticket (see McCain-Palin for how well that works).
Here's another sign that things are going badly: when your TV ads have to defensively explain how you actually agree with the other sides values. Check out this ad from the Romney campaign:
This is the classic "I really am more like my opponent than you think I am" commercial, one that, as a Democrat, I am way too familiar with our own party running. For 30 years, scared Democrats have been running ads talking about how much like Republicans they really are: fiscal conservatives, won't raise taxes, tough on crime and welfare cheats. They were defensive ads that accepted the Republican framing and assumed voters wouldn't accept Democratic/progressive message and issue and values and ideas. Now the tables are turned, and Romney is resorting to having to run ads that say "I really do care about people who aren't rich!"
The reason this is happening isn't just that Romney has to play defense because of the infamous 47 percent video (which around 90 percent of voters in swing states are saying they have heard about). It is because the Republicans have lost the central debate in this election. An evenly divided, frozen-in-place electorate spent the two weeks of the conventions getting the chance to take a long look at both parties' central arguments, and the result was a tectonic plate shift. It wasn't huge, but it was decisive. Went from an electorate that had been absolutely stationary in their voting plans for several months, practically dead even with the margin barely changing, to an electorate that suddenly moved a very solid 4-5 points not just at the presidential level, but in virtually every competitive race around the country. And that change in numbers has only been reinforced and hardened by the 47 percent video.
Even in the face of a weak economy and the huge money edge the Republicans have, voters have heard the case for Romney-Ryan economics and values, and they are rejecting it. They don't believe that people who need a hand up from the government are lazy moochers who have grown too dependent. They don't believe that Medicare ought to be privatized and turned into a coupon. They don't believe that women should have no right to contraceptive coverage, or that students should only go to college if they can borrow money from their parents. We are winning this debate and we'd be winning even bigger without a weak economy and the boatload of special interest cash.
Here's the key: since we are winning, let's not back down. When you have the other team on the run is not the time to back off and give them a breather. It's not the time to play prevent defense, to get mealy-mouthed and cautious the way some campaigns do when they are ahead. We are winning this debate: let's keep confidently making our arguments and pushing this pro-middle class, pro-investment in our people message.
Let me close on this note: the other thing that happens when campaigns are losing the central argument in the race is that they get desperate. They start trying to change the subject and throw dumb stuff in the air to distract people. And they start ginning their team up to do desperate things. The best example of that in the last few days: Scott Brown and this Indian BS. This isn't an issue, it is the kind of tactic Karl Rove teaches his mentors about. And now, his campaign staff are proudly doing dirty little crap like this:
Instead of firing those staffers, Brown did a breezy one sentence pseudo-apology and then started attacking on the Indian stuff all over. Those staffers should have been fired immediately, but they weren't because they were just doing as they were told. Brown is losing the essential issue debate in this race, so he is trying to change the subject. We are going to see a lot more of this from Republicans in the weeks to come.
This election isn't over. World events or mistakes on the campaign trail could still change things. But the debate has been won by the Democratic side, and now the Republicans are left with ads apologizing for being Republicans and Rovian tactics designed to distract the electorate. It is time for the Democrats to press their case.