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The Worst Predictions Of The 2012 Election Season

Jason Linkins   |   November 6, 2012    9:45 AM ET

Tonight, barring some unforeseen horrible event (or a completely foreseen Ohio outcome that puts the fate of the presidency into some sort of weeks-long legal limbo that will have us all crying out for the sweet release of the Mayan Calendar prophesy), the two-year campaign for the White House will conclude and the winner will, in all likelihood, be President Barack Obama or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Assuming this holds true, there will be nothing left to do but to assay the various predictions made by pundits, pollsters, and prognosticators, and see which ones hold up, and which ones don't. Fortune and glory, maybe, await those who come through in the clutch. Take the case of Nate Silver, for example. Over at Business Insider, Henry Blodget reckons that if "Obama wins relatively easily, as Silver's model is now predicting, Silver's reputation will become gold-plated." On the other hand, if it doesn't pan out for Silver, his "reputation will take a severe hit."

Well, maybe. As it turns out, there have been a lot of terrible predictions made already during the course of 2012. Before we get to what's to come, let's review a year of terrible political soothsayers.

Americans Elect: The silly little Americans Elect project launched with a lot of fanfare, most notably from metaphor mix-master Thomas Friedman: "Write it down: Americans Elect. What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in. Watch out." Yep, watch out, because you guys are about to lose millions of dollars on a website full of candidates no one was interested in!

Bill Kristol: By now, you've probably learned how to approach a Bill Kristol prognostication: always assume the opposite is true. That's why we all knew that Rudy Giuliani was definitely not going to run for the GOP nomination when Kristol wrote: "I'm told by two reliable sources that Rudy Giuliani intends to run for the GOP nomination for president in 2012. He may throw his hat in the ring soon."

Charles Krauthammer: Charles Krauthammer took a phone call from Donald Trump back in April of 2011 and somehow, against all good sense, came away with the impression that Trump was absolutely going to make a bona fide run for the White House. Stunningly, Krauthammer's reasoning was this: "But as a person, I thought more highly of him ... because of the gracious way and the calm and courteous way he discussed the issues." A year and a half later, no one associates the words "grace," "calm," or "courteous" with Donald Trump.

Chris Matthews: Chris Matthews has this thing he does on his eponymous Sunday morning show where he asks other reporters to tell him something he doesn't know. And lest you think he's not being entirely earnest about this, consider the fact that this year, he predicted that Rick Perry would not run for President. What's more, Matthews predicted that Michele Bachmann would win the GOP nomination. Granted, he did so on Bill Maher's show, so he might have been either high at the time or otherwise trying to be satiric.

Dick Morris: Dick Morris is maybe the wrongest pundit in Christendom. He's got a lifetime "F" rating from PunditTracker, with seventeen live calls about the 2012 race that haven't come in yet. (More on those in a minute.) Already this year, his predictions have been among the most laughable. Like Krauthammer, he predicted Trump would run for election. He also predicted that Mike Huckabee would run. Both wrong, but the latter pick was, perhaps, forgiveable. His take on the post-convention bounces? Well, he predicted a 5-6 percent bounce for Romney coming out of the Republican convention, and no bounce for Obama coming out of his. This was pretty much perfectly wrong.

George Will: There are a lot of things that Will claims to know "with reasonable certainty." ("Climate change is not happening" is typically one of those things, but he underpins that claim by lying about the work of climate scientists, bamboozling Washington Post readers with the permission of editor Fred Hiatt.) How did he apply "reasonable certainty" to the 2012 race? Quoth Will: "I think we know with reasonable certainty that standing up there on the West front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2013 will be one of three people: Obama, [former Minnesota Gov. Tim] Pawlenty and [Indiana Gov. Mitch] Daniels. I think that’s it." If tomorrow's election turns out the way Will hopes, it will be to the detriment of the one remaining third of his "reasonable certainty."

Herman Cain: Here's how Cain gamed out Super Tuesday: “A Super Tuesday prediction is that first, Speaker Newt Gingrich is going to do better in some of the states other than Georgia than most people believe." Well, score one, anyway, for "most people."

Jeffrey Toobin: This isn't an election prediction per se, but Jeffrey Toobin's (prematurely) pronounced death of Obamacare after the second day of oral arguments before the Supreme Court predicted an outcome that would have fundamentally reshaped the entire election year debate. Immediately after the court wrapped for the day, Toobin declared the day to have been "a train wreck for the Obama administration," and decried the performance of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli as "awful." (In fairness to Toobin, our own Mike Sacks said pretty much the same thing, and is perhaps just fortunate in this case that Toobin is the guy everyone remembers.)

Jennifer Rubin: Following Mitt Romney's speech at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reckoned that Romney had "strengthened his hand" ahead of the year-long battle for the GOP nomination. His Post colleague Rubin disagreed: "However, if there is one point of consensus among plugged-in Republicans on the 2012 field, it is that Romney can't win unless he does a mea culpa on Romneycare. Since he didn't and he won't do that, he's not going to be the nominee." Not only did Romney not offer a mea culpa and became the nominee, Rubin went on to be his most reliable media shill.

Jon Huntsman: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was pretty sure his surrealist presidential campaign had the race right where he wanted it in New Hampshire. “I can forecast how this thing’s going to play out ... This wave is going to continue to build by the end of the month. It’s going to spill over into early January. It will be a two-man race, I can tell you that right now.” “I’d put 10,000 bucks on it if I were a betting man,” he added. Well, hopefully, Huntsman's dad covered any or all bets: Huntsman finished third in New Hampshire and dropped out before the South Carolina Primary.

Michele Bachmann: Michele Bachmann, naturally, predicted her own success in the Iowa Caucuses, because of galactic math her campaign did: "We're going person to person, mapping who will come out on caucus night. We've already identified more people than Mike Huckabee [who won the 2008 caucus]. It will be a shock." It was not a shock.

Newt Gingrich: Newt Gingrick, naturally, predicted his own success in the 2012 GOP primary because of his own galactic self-regard: “I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.” Someone was "odd" and/or "high," anyway.

POLITICO: Institutionally speaking, the fevered mind of POLITICO thinks far too many different things at far too many different times to truly make a big deal of any of their "predictions." But when POLITICO really gets way out over their skis is when they claim to have intimate awareness of a portion of the electorate about which they know nothing at all: common people. So, in their weird estimation, "Pawlenty and Huntsman have an informal style that appeals to economically downscale voters." Well, Pawlenty maybe, but as a general rule, "economically downscale voters" are not drawn to the inscrutable campaigns of Chinese-speaking rich dudes who like Captain Beefheart. As Elspeth Reeve put it: "Huntsman appealed only to media people, especially fancy media people, most notably when he was profiled in Vogue."

Rick Scott: Florida's grifter governor was pretty sure that his state was the sine qua non of election year bellwethers: "I personally believe whoever wins [the Florida P5] straw poll, they will be the next president of the United States." Herman Cain won the Florida P5 straw poll.

Rob Portman: Actually, Rob Portman was a man more sinned against than sinning when it came to predictions. Michele Bachmann, Rich Lowry, Paul Begala, Mort Zuckerman, John McLaughlin, Eleanor Clift, and Mark Shields were just some of the many people who predicted Portman would be chosen by Mitt Romney to be his running mate. (One mitigating factor: he probably should have been chosen by Mitt Romney to be his running mate!) Dick Morris, Charles Krauthammer, and Robert Reich all figured Romney would tap Marco Rubio. David Axelrod and Dick Armey came together to wrongly predict that Mitt's VP would be Tim Pawlenty. And numerous people speculated that Joe Biden would be kicked off the ticket in favor of Hillary Clinton, proving that there are no ideas too zany to end up as the matter of dumb speculation.

Steve Forbes: Every once in a while, we are reminded that people sometimes turn to Steve Forbes to suss out what's going to happen in politics. And just as often, we wonder why so many people make this mistake. “I think at the end of the day Perry will win the nomination," Steve Forbes predicted, "I think he'll win the election.” Better luck in 2016, Steve.

Suffolk University Polling: For reasons that basically didn't make any sense, unless Suffolk University's pollsters blew through their 2012 budget on bulk orders of caramel corn and schnapps, Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos decided in the beginning of October to stop polling in North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia, because “I think in places like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, we’ve already painted those red, we’re not polling any of those states again.” Their last polls of Florida and Virginia had Obama ahead. Both campaigns continued to commit resources to win those states' electoral votes, and those states remain very competitive on Election Day.

Walter Shapiro: "Gingrich also boasts unusual financial and institutional advantages that his rivals lack." Ha, ha: no.

Those are just some of the many really bad predictions that lit the way to Election Day. And, to put it glibly, it's pretty clear that if today's election goes one way in particular, those who have made their careers in analyzing polls and modeling their outcomes are going to spend the rest of the week staring into a deep, existential void. Fortunately for the Nate Silvers of the world, everyone on the list above will probably continue to be allowed to ply their prognostication trade. (Fortunately for me, as well: I picked Kelly Ayotte to be Mitt's running-mate pick. Yikes!)

But there are a lot of folks who have made their own bets on tonight's results, and some of their predictions are not particularly sound.

Take the aforementioned Dick Morris, who predicts a Romney landslide of epic proportions. Morris is on fairly safe ground predicting Romney wins in North Carolina and Indiana, but from there, gets steadily overconfident:

Then, in October, Obama lost the Southern swing states of Florida (29) and Virginia (13). He also lost Colorado (10), bringing his total to 255 votes.

And now, he faces the erosion of the northern swing states: Ohio (18), New Hampshire (4) and Iowa (6). Only in the union-anchored state of Nevada (9) does Obama still cling to a lead.

In the next few days, the battle will move to Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (15), Wisconsin (10) and Minnesota (16). Ahead in Pennsylvania, tied in Michigan and Wisconsin, and slightly behind in Minnesota, these new swing states look to be the battleground.

Or will the Romney momentum grow and wash into formerly safe Democratic territory in New Jersey and Oregon?

No, it wont. Morris has sort of hedged his bets a little since then, claiming Hurricane Sandy as an out for his bad prediction (and also as a means of getting gullible people to send him more money to be wrong all the time). By contrast, Michael Barone is downright sober in his landslide prediction -- describing it, at least, as "going out on a limb."

The worst single Election Day prediction made by any Romney supporter, however, is the one made by Michele Bachmann, who is pretty sure that California is a red state: "I believe 2012 will be a wave election that goes all the way across the United States, it will even take in the Golden State, I am so excited."

And when it comes to terrible predictions by those picking Obama to win, no one beats CNBC's Jim "No, no, no, Bear Stearns is fine" Cramer, who says, "The presidential race is nowhere as close as the polls suggest." O-kay, how not-close are we talking? Cramer says Obama wins 440 electoral college votes, to Mitt Romney's 98.

I actually pulled out the electoral map and worked very hard to come up with a scenario where Obama walks away tomorrow with 440 electoral votes. And what I came up with was just straight-up cuckoo-bananas:

jim cramer electoral map

I suppose that if I start playing with the split-able electoral votes in Kansas Nebraska and Maine I can get something slightly more plausible, but it would still be way-ridiculous.

If Cramer's prediction turns out to be correct, I pledge to slather Sriracha sauce all over my laptop, eat it whole, and -- later -- die in the emergency room of massive internal trauma as the doctor on call shouts, "He did what now?"

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

Then We Came To The End: The 2012 Speculatron Weekly Roundup For Nov. 2

Jason Linkins   |   November 3, 2012    9:00 AM ET

And so it has come to this, our final dispatch before Election Day, and the nagging obligation to "sum it all up" and "bring it all back home." The 2012 presidential campaign, between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the close race that the media "always expected it to be." But it has also evolved. For a long while, it was also the close race that the media coveted, with clear panting desire. And now, it is apparently the close race that is totally perplexing the media for being so close.

We really can offer no succor to those who have a desperate need for certainty they have no right to expect. In a few days, actual voters will render their final presidential tracking poll, and hopefully, that will be it. As Nate Silver has been saying all along, both Romney and Obama have a good chance of winning. Of the many billions of people on this planet, they are definitely in the top two, or so, in terms of the likelihood that they will be the "leader of the free world" come late January of next year.

If you want something you can be dead certain of, however, we'll offer you this: if there is one thing that both the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign have in common, is that both, right at this very moment, just cannot believe how it's come to pass that they aren't beating the other guy like a drum.

Mitt Romney came into this campaign looking at the sort of dreadful economic fundamentals that should all but guarantee his success. Yes, lots of people find Barack Obama to be a likeable guy. But at the time Romney officially became the GOP's nominee, the country was mired in the sort of high unemployment numbers, and the sort of anemic GDP figures, that have, historically, all but kneecapped the ambitions of incumbent presidents. The hard part, for Romney, was getting through his primary. And that wasn't all that hard! From there, the whole plan was to lie low, keep it vague, and use a titanic war chest to seal the deal in the end. And that's the plan they followed.

It didn't end up going anywhere in particular. The economy, for all its woes, managed to struggle upward, with incremental improvements. It shouldn't have been enough to capsize Romney's approach entirely, but for whatever reason, the Romney campaign simply kept suggesting that there were cracks in the foundation of the Obama recovery, without actually explaining to America where they were, and who was getting ground up in the fissures. Romney presented himself as a "turnaround artist" -- the guy with the quick fix for certain resuscitation -- but instead of laying out a mission, he kept his details hidden. And when pressed for details, Romney gave the sort of answers that led Henry Blodget to opine: "One of the most telltale signs that a company is about to blow up is when its CEO gets indignant at anyone who dares question his detail-free assertions that the numbers will work."

Part of Romney's problem is that the best argument to mobilize the populist masses to throw Obama out of office is to point out the numerous occasions that the Obama White House put Wall Street ahead of Main Street while managing the recovery -- an argument that Romney is congenitally and ideologically unable to make. Another part of the problem is that Romney, apparently had no other plan. In the late stages of the election, Romney's "plan B" became prosecuting the Obama administration for the Benghazi attacks. You saw how that went: he boldly stepped into the fray to politicize the incident, got caught out in the second debate whilst needlessly arguing semantics, and then dropped the matter nearly entirely in the third debate, opting instead for a sustained jag of agreeing up and down with Obama's foreign policy.

Meanwhile, over at Team Obama Re-Elect Headquarters, Romney's nomination felt like a boon to them as well, because he was precisely the sort of candidate they wanted to draw in order to turn the competition from a "referendum" election to a "choice" election. Romney, they quickly surmised, was a politician without a "core" -- utterly lacking in convictions, ready to alter his positions on a dime for the sake of political expedience. And this wasn't something they had to spin from cotton. There was already a substantial body of work available that firmly confirmed this supposition -- a body of work that was being added to by the very Republicans Romney was competing against in the primaries. Plus, as a bonus, there was Romney's Massachusetts health care reform initiative, which begat Obamacare. And every time Romney vowed to repeal Obamacare, as he was obligated to do by his party, it was going to add to his soulessness.

Then, to the eyeball-popping astonishment of nearly everyone who watched, Barack Obama came to the first debate and was utterly, hopelessly flummoxed when the very Mitt Romney they'd spent all summer warning America about -- the guy who shifts his positions on a dime, the guy without a core -- actually showed up for the debate.

There he was! In the living flesh! Exactly as advertised. And yet somehow, Obama was completely unprepared to contend with Romney's suddenly moderate posturings, despite the fact that Romney's own consigliere, Eric Fehrnstrom, said months in advance that Romney was going to take all of the hard-right positions he'd adopted to win the primaries and shake the Etch A Sketch. At the first debate, Mitt shook and shook, and Obama didn't realize until the following morning what was happening. Obama's mistake allowed Romney to do the one thing he hadn't been able to do on his own -- clear the bar of plausibility.

With this in mind, it shouldn't be surprising that the election has retreated to its initial fundamentals. The economy is bad, but Romney is strange, and so the popular vote is a wash while Obama enjoys a firewall in the battleground he conquered in the first place. The sugar rush of Obama's convention wore off. Mitt's post-first debate momentum ended when he failed to build upon it. Each man has a decent shot of prevailing on Election Day. You don't need a complicated explanation for why the race is as close as it is.

Besides, there is a more interesting question to be asked. What was this presidential campaign about, exactly? Was it really, in the end, about anything at all? America is still enduring one of the most persistent economic calamities in recent memory, with a hurricane's devastation now piling on additional misery. Obama says we can't afford to go back. Romney says we can't afford to go "Forward," to use the Obama campaign slogan.

So where are we going? No one can tell us. Obama wants to press ahead with his "plan A," but can't explain how he'll overcome the structural impediments thrown in his way by a hostile Congress. Romney wants to switch tracks to his "plan B." Maybe it's Paul Ryan's plan! Maybe it's not. No one is saying for sure. And no one wants to explain how the un-mathable math of his phantom plans actually adds up.

And neither candidate is exactly dazzling the electorate with a vivid picture of what the future might look like, or enlisting the electorate in a national mission to bring about those ends. Obama's got Michael Bloomberg endorsing him on the grounds that he's the candidate of sound climate science -- a topic he's not even broached on the campaign trail. Romney's got the "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" line from "Friday Night Lights" -- which if his base had watched in the first place, might have been a more successful television series.

Somewhere, between one candidate's warnings about returning to the past, and the other candidate's fears of persisting on the current path to the future, is a here and now filled -- like a binder -- full of people, who have not figured into the campaign conversation at all. For these people, Romney offers a bunch of vague plans and a sack full of wild lies, while Obama counters with a bunch of vague plans and a passel of Internet-ready meme-zingers. (Of course, in fairness, there is actual political science that suggests that vagueness and deception have a decent amount of utility. The jury is still out on whether Binders Full Of Big Bird's Bayonets move voters to the polls.)

And bless them all, but the political media doesn't get out of this election clean, either. If you've been wondering why a universe of political reporters and pundits seem to be blissfully unaware of the problems that ordinary people are facing -- almost as if they are content to reduce huge calamities like the pervasive unemployment crisis to mere obstacles that block the ambitions of affluent, celebrity politicians -- you should know that the media gave up on covering the lives of Americans in the Crisis Years a long, long time ago. They had their reasons, as they'll readily admit: all of the powerful political figures they had "access" to stopped talking about it, so what were they supposed to do? Talk to some poors? No one covets access to poor people.

And so we arrive at the end to this campaign about nothing at all. An electoral season that is somehow simultaneously incomprehensible and yet exactly as expected. Full of sound and fury, yada yada. It was supposed to be "The Most Important Election In Our Lifetime," but it's become "The Election That Has Horrified Children Into Sadness And Tears."

Lord only knows if next week's election night will finally put this campaign to bed, or if fate has some more terrible nonsense in store. As they say, if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. It has overstayed its welcome.

THE SINGLE DUMBEST THING WRITTEN ABOUT POLITICS, 2012 EDITION: It was a hotly contested race this year. After all, David Brooks alone wrote thousands and thousands of words. And we had to nominate ourselves for saying, "Rick Santorum is the candidate in the race that every conservative likes, but no one wants to particularly vote for." Or something along those lines. Hey, we're admitting it, trust us, we wrote it! [Ed. note: You wrote it, anyway. --Elyse Siegel] Sorry, Rick!

But in the end, there's Politico, and this: "Pundits and reporters are naturally wary of picking a winner in a tight election, because getting it wrong is a nightmare scenario."

No, there isn't. There is no nightmare scenario, at all. That is just blitheringly stupid. As Alex Pareene says: "There are no penalties in American punditry for being disastrously wrong. You can be wrong all day long, on matters as minor as running mate choices or matters as consequential as whether it is a good idea to invade and occupy a nation that poses no threat to the United States, and even if you end up ousted from your current position, there is always another network, another newspaper, another magazine, or, if you’re in truly dire straits, a prominent think tank, that will cheerfully take you in."

We're all just peddling thought-farts, here, folks. And that's okay. But no one who does so should be pretending that they are in some high-stakes reputational game, courting terrifying consequences at every turn. They aren't, they never are, they never will be.

TEN THINGS WE NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN, AFTER THE 2012 ELECTION IS OVER: You know, every election year is filled with important discussions of the issues that affect the American people. Ha, just kidding! Actually, what most people remember from elections are the new ways we manage to drive our political culture ever further into the future depicted in the film "Idiocracy." Remember how we spent a whole day in 2008 pretending that the phrase "lipstick on a pig" was sexist? When stupid fires the starters' pistol, it's a headlong sprint down the steeplechase of inanity. So let's nip some stuff in the bud, and agree to never speak of these things again.

1. 'DOUBLING DOWN': We get it, political writers. Some guy went out and said something, and you were all like, "Did you really say that?" and then they come back and say it even harder. But "doubling down" is a term from blackjack, and it is pretty clear that you do not actually know what it means. Unlike successful political writers, successful blackjack players have impressive mental acuity and nerves of steel, so let's defame their great works no longer. There are perfectly good words -- amplify, escalate, expand, extend, intensify -- just waiting around, hoping you will use them.

2. ALTITUDE SICKNESS AS AN EXCUSE FOR POOR PERFORMANCE: Politicians are not members of the defensive backfield facing the Denver Broncos. They are well taken care of members of the privileged elite who talk for a living. Barack Obama did a whole speech in the stadium named ... well, it was named "Invesco" at the time, but he did a whole speech near the area where the former stadium named for being a mile-high once stood. So, if Obama was terrible in Denver at the debate this year, it was because of something else, making him terrible.

3. THE UNSEEN POWER OF LADY HORMONES: Given the fact that CNN spiked that weird story about how the hormonal condition of women shaped voter preferences, we can officially put that matter to bed. And I hope we can all agree that "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

4. SPEAKING OF RAPE ...: Stop speaking of rape, politicians, unless you're on board with the simple concept that rape is when anyone is coerced, in any fashion, into a sex act of any kind. The key consideration is always, always whether enthusiastic consent is obtained. There are no varying degrees of significance or legitimacy or seriousness. Even if you believe otherwise, it would seem to be well and nigh proven that opening your pie-hole and opining about it is unwise for your careers.

5. HILLARY CLINTON IS GOING TO REPLACE JOE BIDEN ON THE TICKET: Actually, temporal reality and the inevitabilty of the coming election result should put paid to this little bit of high-toned nonsense. Let's just say that this is a stirring example of the kind of cocktail-circuit crap that reporters should not be putting out there. Let's also say that the fact that so many idiots promulgated this idiotic rumor should firmly establish the veracity of Alex Pareene's earlier point -- "There are no penalties in American punditry for being disastrously wrong."

6. THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES: They aren't coming back, and they weren't all they were cracked up to be, anyway. Let's stop remembering these so fondly. (This is also an urgent request to just jettison Newt Gingrich from the world of political roundtable discussions entirely.)

7. 'I WILL CHANGE THE TONE IN WASHINGTON': Obama made this stupid promise as a candidate, and boy howdy, has the media ever filleted him for failing to deliver on this impossible pledge. Of course, we're not stupid, and we know that "changing the tone" doesn't happen when one whole faction of American politics greet your hopes with howling bloodthirst and intractable obstruction. But that's why you should never make this promise. If you really want to "change the tone in Washington," don't send us a president, send us a trio of agile serial killers with a thirst for the flesh of legislators and lobbyists.

8. 'AMERICANS ELECT': The notion that America craves a non-specific third party movement that has no platform or candidates and is funded by a bunch of hedge-fund managers under the direction of Thomas Friedman is something that we can cover in six cubic feet of graveyard dirt. So, when it comes back in 2016, recognize it for what it is -- a zombie -- and aim for the head.

9. 'AS SARAH PALIN SAID ON FACEBOOK ...': Come on, now. Surely we are all grownups.

10. 'WHAT ABOUT YOUR GAFFES?': Come on, now. See above, and "double down." (There, that's the last time.)

ELECTORAL PROJECTION: It's time once again for your Speculatroners to end the week with our trademarked Electoral College projection, which is -- as always -- a mix of careful poll study, analysis of prevailing economic trends, pundit speculation, and the knowledge that if we get this wrong, we will probably be put to death, immediately.

As we've been saying, the 2012 race has certain inescapable economic fundamentals that have sapped some of the vitality that an incumbent president might otherwise enjoy. We do not deviate from the consensus that the popular vote is likely to be close, nor do we dismiss the notion that Obama enjoys a still-sturdy electoral college firewall. Which, we know, implies something, but we do not preclude the possibility that Romney might win. Indeed, he has a relatively easy lift, compared to many challengers, going into election night. If he manages a higher turnout, if the polling has this wrong, if there are unseen or uncalculable factors in this election that will be built in to the statistical models of the future, he'll earn his inauguration.

To our minds, the shaky states right now are Ohio, Nevada, and Iowa. We actually think there's more reason to be uncertain about Iowa than there is about Ohio, but we can all remember how badly the Buckeye State has undone the hopes of presidential aspirants. Nevertheless, our hunch is our hunch, and so we're going to lay the map like this.

final electoral college projection

FINAL NOTE: Barring some unforseen disaster, like an Electoral College tie, this will be the final weekly roundup of the 2012 Election season. We hope that we have delivered what we promised -- some relief from the blather and an furtive effort made to demystify the political process, so that ordinary readers, tired of elite pronouncements, can get a sense of what is going on during the election year. If we've failed at this, we hope you at least found our horsecrap to be relatively enjoyable.

Part of the code that bloggers live by is that if you stop by our place, we have to send you somewhere else. So we hope that during this journey, you've followed our links to other sources of great political writing. If we've done that, please continue to give those folks your custom.

Everyone should go vote! No matter who you are or what you believe, we hope that you make it out to your polling place and make your choice, if you haven't already done so. Participatory democracy neither begins nor ends on Election Day, but on this one day, your country really needs you to do this one thing, to keep this nation of ours going. Go, then, with our gladdest thoughts.

And finally, your Speculatroners would like to thank the honorary third member of this team, Paige Lea Lavender, who has labored behind the scenes to make this little project of ours an enticing destination on the web, and who -- as her name implies -- matriculated at Hogwarts (Ravenclaw House).

The Final Week Of 2012 Political Advertising, And Its Effects

Jason Linkins   |   November 1, 2012   10:37 AM ET

Yesterday, I found myself curious about what the world of political science had to say about the final week of the campaign and the last-minute advertising blitz that's coming to the battleground states, and whether or not all of the money behind the deluge was well spent. Happily, the good folks at the award-winning, campaign season-calming blog The Monkey Cage were but a tweet away, and they take requests. (It's a privilege I shall try not to abuse.)

John Sides has taken up the inquiry and informs me that "The Most Important Ads of the Campaign Are Only Airing Now." Sides says that political advertising, in general, has a fairly quick rate of decay in the consciousness of voters -- like the effects of a "dose" of medicine. He cites a pair of studies that generally conclude that the effects of a piece of political advertising have largely passed within a week, and have faded completely inside a fortnight.

Per Sides:

The rapid decay of advertising effects makes it hard to understand why, as Ryan Lizza describes, the Obama team was confident that their early advertising in the summer of 2012 would be so effective. And it makes the Romney campaign’s strategy of waiting and spending a lot of money now seem sensible.

But the ultimate effect of these late ads depends on whether one side will have a definitive advantage. As I noted in my earlier post, advertising effects emerge most clearly when one side can out-spend the other—and by a lot. There are reports that Romney and his allied super-PACs will outspend Obama by 2-1 in the final week of the campaign. But up until now, the cash advantage hasn’t translated into an ad advantage: Romney and the super-PACs have been paying higher rates and not necessarily putting their ads in front of more viewers.

Ultimately, Sides says, this is "probably the most important" week of political advertising, but it's not certain which side has an outright advantage. CNN reported Wednesday that for "ad time running from Monday through Election Day, the Obama campaign bought $24.2 million compared to $21.2 million for Romney," and that the spending will likely continue -- the cited figures only account for spending planned "as of late Wednesday." CNN goes on to report that the Romney campaign will attempt to "expand the map of where they are competing because of encouraging polls," while the Obama campaign plans to "match any new spending."

The bottom line is that any theories you may have of late-stage political advertising having some diminishing returns because of the year-long saturation are likely incorrect, and there will be no let up on the bombardment between now and Election Day. (Also, you should read The Monkey Cage on the regular!)

GO READ THE WHOLE THING:
The Most Important Ads of the Campaign Are Only Airing Now [The Monkey Cage]

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Political Reporters, Pundits Unmoored By The Uncertain Election They Wanted Yielding So Much Uncertainty, According To Politico

Jason Linkins   |   October 31, 2012    5:10 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Politico has figured it all out. There is an election happening, and it could result in one guy being elected president, unless it doesn't, in which case it won't. And you need to take the media off the hook for knowing who is going to win, one way or the other, because while they all like to front as if so many things in politics are dead-certain (Politico chews up Internet bandwidth like a pack of pissed-off beavers on meth chew up cherry trees to offer grave verdicts on whose "messaging" is "winning") they are just at a complete loss to tell you who is going to win -- not that you ever asked them to provide that service:

Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign says it still has momentum. President Barack Obama’s campaign says that’s all spin.

Meanwhile, there isn’t a single well-informed pundit between them who can tell you who’s right.

Clearly, the full stop in the second sentence there should have come after the word "pundit," but that would have probably brought this lengthy musing on the certainty of uncertainty and mankind's helplessness in the face of it to an abrupt end. Instead, we learn the following things:

--"There are so many variables." There was like, a hurricane, and stuff? And it raised so many concerns, mostly having to do with the lives and well-being of so many of our fellow citizens and the ongoing matter as to whether we can preserve our great cities from the harm of increasingly devastating storms, but also there were at least five questions it raised about the Obama-Romney horse race that no one was asking and yet Politico tried to answer. Also: what good are polls, if they are merely well-gardened statistical models, and not feats of magical pre-cognition?

-- "Pundits and reporters are naturally wary of picking a winner in a tight election, because getting it wrong is a nightmare scenario." Says who? Quick, somebody get me the official list of pundits and reporters who have paid a price for getting an election prediction wrong? (You'll probably find it in the same place as the list of pundits and reporters who paid a dear price for cheerleading our way into the pointless Iraq War.) Dick Morris has a piece up at The Hill today predicting a Romney landslide -- he suggests Obama will lose Oregon! -- and I'm pretty comfortable predicting that when this does not come to pass, Morris will continue to have columns in The Hill. But I am prepared to face the "nightmare scenario" of "nothing whatsoever happening to me" if it turns out I'm wrong and Morris is, I don't know, pushed out to sea on an ice floe, or something.

-- "The campaigns’ respective strategies don’t provide much clarity, either." Yeah, that's because ..."campaign strategies" don't reveal winners of elections. Why did you expect them to?

-- "In addition to tight poll numbers, pundits know that the trajectory of the campaign can turn on a dime." Actually, if you were to add it all up, pundits are way too promiscuous in their assessments of what can alter the race, and they make too many confident assessments. No matter what is happening, they see these game-changing dimes everywhere they look. Here is a short list of things that lots of people said ended the election this year: Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention, Mitt Romney's "47%" remarks, Obama's "you didn't build that" remark, Romney's decision to politicize the Benghazi attacks, the Benghazi attacks themselves, Romney picking Paul Ryan as veep running mate, Barack Obama not picking Hillary as his veep running mate. Andrew Sullivan has written that the election was over, in two different ways, in two different columns.

So, media, you say that you have no idea what's going on in the election? No worries, bro! We've already figured that out by reading all of your silly election year pronouncements.

Maybe this article is just another piece of Politico's "Let's troll the bejeezus out of Nate Silver" strategy, which Silver has totally brought upon himself -- uhm ... for what sin, exactly? Continually suggesting that Mitt Romney has a really decent chance to win the election? By all means, burn the witch. But what's rivetingly stupid about this is that close elections are precisely what the political media covet. So I'm at a loss as to why so many people are all sad and complainy and worried about the non-existent costs they may endure as pundits and reporters if the uncertainty they were so desirous of makes it so hard for them to be certain.

The good news here is that the headline Politico gives to this story -- "Media stumped by 2012 outcome" -- is one they can re-use the day after Election Day. Meanwhile, you should file this under: "I can't even, with this s--t."

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Niall Ferguson Has Some Lu-Lu October Surprise Suggestions For Newsweek Readers

Jason Linkins   |   October 31, 2012    3:15 PM ET

Over at Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner has gotten a look-see at the latest Niall Ferguson column in Newsweek, and finds that the "Civilization" author happily assisting the magazine's print edition in going out in a blaze of trollgaze. "Everyone knows there could be a surprise before Nov. 6," Ferguson writes, "a news story that finally makes up the minds of those undecided voters in the swing states and settles the presidential election." What sort of surprise does Ferguson have in mind? Some cray-with-a-zee, surprises, as it turns out:

If the White House could announce a historic deal with Iran—lifting increasingly painful economic sanctions in return for an Iranian pledge to stop enriching uranium—Mitt Romney would vanish as if by magic from the front pages and TV news shows. The oxygen of publicity—those coveted minutes of airtime that campaigns don’t have to pay for—would be sucked out of his lungs...

Does Ferguson really think that Mitt Romney and his foreign policy team wouldn't immediately take to the airwaves to describe this arrangement as "appeasement," rightly or not? He really must have a low opinion of the neo-conservative foreign policy publicity-seeking machine. But never fear, because Ferguson has an "alternative" -- by which I mean even dumber -- musing to offer:

[There is] an alternative surprise—the one I have long expected the president to pull if he finds himself slipping behind in the polls. With a single phone call to Jerusalem, he can end all talk of his being Jimmy Carter to Mitt Romney’s Reagan: by supporting an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

So, let me get this straight. Right now, most of the swing state polls suggest that President Barack Obama has got at least half-a-buttock up on the catbird seat at the moment, so now is definitely a good time for him to pursue a course of actions that will destabilize the world and terrify his base, who will rightly imagine that Obama has taken complete leave of his senses? It almost makes too much sense.

Drezner offers, "Here's a pro tip: if your foreign affairs observations represent a reprise of wacky Donald Trump musings, maybe it's best to take your ball and go home." And he only gets more magnificent from there, so go read the whole thing.

READ THE WHOLE THING:

Does the international affairs community need some Razzies? [Drezner @ Foreign Policy]

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The 2012 Presidential Campaigns Basically Now Have More Money Than They Can Possibly Spend Sensibly

Jason Linkins   |   October 31, 2012    2:00 PM ET

It's a common complaint to say that there is too much money in politics, but as both presidential campaigns come into the final few days of the election season, we seem to have reached the point where there is now, actually, too much money in politics than even politics knows what to do with. And so now, the campaigns are essentially unloading campaign cash as if they've reached the climactic part in the plot arc of "Brewster's Millions."

Most of the rush to unload cash on hand is being paced by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's campaign, which is now pumping all sorts of money into states that he is not likely to win, like Minnesota and Pennsylvania. There is some utility to the strategy -- money spent on ads in certain geographic areas of those states allow some bleed into the crucial state of Ohio, where there are probably no television ad spaces left to buy, unless the campaign wants to establish it's own pop-up television channel to tell lies about the auto bailout for the last few days. Additionally, the Romney campaign's decision to spend money in an illusory effort to "expand the map" in an investment of keeping its bluffer's strategy alive.

But let's swing through the new non-battleground. Despite the fact that the Romney campaign is mounting a surrogate-heavy, flood-the-zone style swing state tour to close out the campaign, money spent on ads in Minnesota is not being matched with any in-state appearances from the campaign -- despite the fact that former Republican Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman will be among those stumping for Mitt. And that tour will bring the Romney campaign back to North Carolina, a state his campaign was at one point supposed to be confidently wrapping up.

Other states seem like a further stretch. Nate Cohn has everything you need to know about the hard road Romney has in front of him if he wants to win Pennsylvania -- the short version is that the math just doesn't work. And competing in New Mexico, at this point, is nothing more than burn off. Polling in the Land Of Enchantment has given Obama a wide, comfortable lead.

If Romney has a quasi-legit opportunity to expand the map, some recent polling in Michigan may be tempting. And Romney's wasting no money at this point by spending to lock down Florida and Virginia, two states he needs to carry but hasn't fully gripped yet. But that's when you run into the Obama campaign, trying to get rid of its war chest -- it's prepared to match the Romney campaign's spending, and has no reason to save for the future.

Of course, it seems that the consensus is that the race mostly hinges on Ohio. Greg Sargent has the essential snapshot of what Romney is facing in the Buckeye State:

Romney is not winning over blue collar whites in Ohio at anywhere near the rate he’s winning them nationally. The poll finds that Obama is running nearly even with Romney among white Ohio voters without college degrees. It’s always dangerous to read too much into one poll. But it seems fair to speculate that Obama’s auto-bailout — which helped save an industry linked to one in eight Ohio jobs — and the Obama camp’s nonstop attacks on Romney for opposing it could help explain these numbers, and Romney’s general inability to close the gap.

Romney is trying to deal with this by running new ads touting himself as the true friend of the auto industry and casting the auto rescue as a sellout to China. But fact checkers — and the Ohio press — have widely called out his ads as false. And another finding in today’s NYT/CBS poll suggests this could be problematic: Only 45 percent think Romney is honest and trustworthy, versus 50 percent who don’t; for Obama those numbers are 54-42.

Here, the money Romney is spending seems to be turning into a net-negative investment in ads that no one believes. One has to wonder if this is bad money chasing after good -- offsetting whatever cases the Romney-affiliated super PACs may be attempting to make on his behalf.

In 2008, the combined campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain spent more than $1 billion, and never managed to convince anybody that it was the best use of all that money. Flash-forward to 2012, and the combined campaigns of Obama and Romney have already sailed past the $2 billion mark. It's possible that the Obama campaign could have done more to stimulate the necessary amount of economy-boosting aggregate demand to secure election by simply burying most of their money in the ground and telling people to go look for it.

Maybe this last week of the campaign, as the candidates try to spend what they have left so neither can be accused (by their big money donors) of not trying as hard as they could to win, is their version of burying money. Nevertheless, one of the supreme ironies of Mitt Romney staging a food drive in Ohio, ostensibly to benefit the storm-ravaged denizens of New York and New Jersey (somehow?) is that he only managed to stack up additional campaign assets that he now has to find a way to unload.

[NOTE: This post orginally failed to designate Norm Coleman as the former Senator from Minnesota. It has now been updated to reflect this. We regret any confusion.]

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Bob Schieffer Wants To Have More Presidential Debates

Jason Linkins   |   October 29, 2012    1:07 PM ET

Now that the presidential debate season is over, don't you miss it? And don't you wish there had been more of them, so many more, each more different from the last? No? OK, well, feel free to skip all this and just return to your hurricane shelters and/or lives.

CBS News' Bob Schieffer -- who, if the world ends this week, will be the last human being to moderate a U.S. presidential debate -- has posted a brief item in which he expresses his gratitude at having the opportunity to serve as moderator and makes suggestions about how the debate season might be improved:

Instead of three, I'd propose six, with the first one immediately after the political conventions.

Starting early and sitting the candidates down face-to-face could change the entire tone of the campaign.

An argument with someone you know -- even just a little -- is generally conducted on a higher plane than an argument with a stranger.

I'm not sure that doubling the number of debates would be the answer, but I submit that an interesting and untried format would be to stage a town-hall-style debate with reporters and editors of swing-state newspapers taking the role of interlocutors. My operating theory here is that these questioners would have an intimate awareness of how national politics affect their local constituencies, and as a bonus, they would be a few steps removed from the silly-season-obsessed, talking-points-prone cable news media.

Schieffer isn't too bullish on the town-hall format, however:

They seem to work best when the candidates are seated at a table rather than behind more formal podiums or wandering around the stage in a town hall format.

Come on, Bob Schieffer! Surely you of all people know that podiums are walked upon, not stood behind?

You know what, that's another debate format I'd like to see: one in which the two candidates had to cower behind a podium while standing on a lectern. Just to drive the point home.

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Our Ever-Loosening Grip On The Commonest Courtesies Slipped: The 2012 Speculatron Weekly Roundup For Oct. 26

Jason Linkins   |   October 27, 2012    9:31 AM ET

At about this time in the 2008 presidential election season, a young woman named Ashley Todd went crazy in Pittsburgh. Todd, a volunteer for John McCain's campaign, got Pittsburgh's law enforcement authorities, and the entire political media, into a hot and bothered lather after she went to the police claiming to have been the victim of a violent mugging. According to her account, an African American supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama attacked her, and having identified her as a McCain supporter, carved the letter "B" on her face. The story blew up on -- where else? -- Matt Drudge's website, and it became one of those quasi-October surprises for about a hot minute.

Of course, after that hot minute had passed, it all came out that Todd had basically snapped, and the whole thing had been made-up -- literally engineered, with Todd using Twitter to "set the scene" before the "crime" took place. Of course, the biggest clue that Todd was perpetrating that hoax was the carving on her face -- the "B" was backwards, as if it had been done in a mirror.

In a funny way, the Ashley Todd story is a bit like the Benghazi story -- the political world ran away from reality on a raft of sketchy details before all the facts were known. The McCain campaign, believing themselves to have lucked into some sort of eleventh-hour game-changer, stupidly pushed an embellished version of the story, well ahead of the fact-gathering process. But in the end, the story didn't alter the election in any significant way. Ashley Todd was just someone who had gone nuts in the last two weeks before the election.

If you're wondering, "Where is Ashley Todd now?" Well, we have an answer for you -- part of her lives in all of us. And when the presidential debate season winds down, and the "substantive" (using that term very loosely) portion of the campaign season starts to fade, and we're staring down the final, desperate fortnight sprint to destiny -- that's when that little bit of bonkers loves to pop out. This is the season of the twitch, so let's take a moment to pick up every stitch.

Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray, one of our nominees for the It-Getter Hall of Fame, gets it -- noticing right off the crack of the week that the campaign season was quickly tilting in the direction of madness. We had Gloria Allred attempting to gin up an "October Surprise" on Mitt Romney -- a convoluted bit of junk pertaining to an old divorce trial, in which Romney offered testimony on behalf of former Staples CEO Tom Stemberg that might have been fact-fudgy, but doesn't seem to offer any compelling reason for the Romney campaign to worry. Of course, we also had Donald Trump's dumb extortion stunt, which if anything, made Allred look positively Atticus Finchy by comparison.

In addition, we have Ginger White returning for a second bite of the 2012 meta-scandal apple. Do you remember who that was? You'll have to think way back! Sarah Palin chimed in on Libya, because she noticed no one was asking for her opinion and she felt left out. Ann Coulter decided to gratuitously insult the developmentally-disabled, we suppose because no one had done so yet, and someone had to check off that box.

Romneyville is starting to show some cray-cray cracks as the final stretch begins. Witness the bizarre reactions of campaign surrogates to the utterly banal news that Gen. Colin Powell decided to ...do something he's already done once before -- endorse President Barack Obama. It's no mystery why he's done so: Powell is historically on the outs with the foreign policy philosophy that's come to dominate the contemporary Republican Party, and he prefers Obama's approach.

Everyone knows this. But Romney backers John McCain and John Sununu decided to set their hair on fire, all the same. McCain -- who is clearly deep down a 2008-flashback K-hole right now, insisted that Powell "harmed his legacy." (Ironically, the reason Powell is endorsing Obama is because he is trying to atone for his Second Iraq War legacy, but you can't expect McCain to appreciate this.) Sununu, on the other hand, took it much further, alleging that Powell's support is solely melanin-based. This says a lot more about Sununu than it does about Powell -- after all, Richard Danzig supports Obama for the same reasons as Powell, and has been far less kind to Romney, but Sununu isn't stepping on his Caucasian brother over it.

McCain and Sununu are talking like loser campaigns talk, and Romney, who is trying to project the idea that he is secretly winning the race, isn't aided in this effort by his campaign surrogates broadcasting their bitter, petty resentments. But Romney is getting some help from the Obama campaign people themselves, who are giving into the madness of the final fortnight in their own way.

One of the other things that Rosie Gray observed, was that the Obama campaign is once again, trying to make Seamus happen. This is part of a larger trend of Team Obama Re-Elect's overall messaging strategy degenerating into a silly meme-engineering operation. They, too, are carving the letter "B" into the face of America -- it this case, it stands for Big Bird, Binders, or Bayonets, depending on what day it is. It makes for good news cycle sauce and Twitter retweets and viral joke-Photoshop collages, but it comes at a cost. As John Cook explains, you can't even recognize the old Obama anymore:

Obama has taken to using "Romnesia" to describe Romney's inability or unwillingness to hew to a policy position for more than two weeks. "He's forgetting what his own positions are, and he's betting that you will, too," Obama said at a rally in Virginia last week. "We've got to name this condition that he's going through. I think it's called 'Romnesia.'" Today, summing up the debate, Obama called Romney's performance "at least Stage 3 Romnesia."

This is very, very dumb. Maybe "Romnesia" is a funny, handy term that usefully carries an important anti-Romney message. But even if it is, it is just too juvenile and jokey to be coming from the president. He shouldn't be making jokes based on his opponent's name. That's what vice presidents are for. Put it in John Kerry's mouth. He'll say anything.

But when Obama says it, it comes off as unserious and jocular. It's the kind of joke that, had a speechwriter proposed it four years ago, 2008 Obama would have smirked and said, "OK guys, let's get down to work." The term, it bears noting, was apparently coined on Twitter by a guy going by the name of @breakingnuts. This is not how you put away childish things.

It also doesn't make sense from a political strategy standpoint, because the audience for political memes are those who have already made up their minds on how to vote.

People like Mark Halperin really love this time of year, because the horse race manure they've based their career panning through is now in super-abundance. But there's a real dark side to this time of year. You see it in Ashley Todd, the woman who went crazy -- not in a fun way -- in the final two weeks of the campaign. And you see it in what happened to Sean Kedzie, son of Wisconsin state Sen. Neil Kedzie, who was beaten to a pulp by two men he confronted after he caught them trying to steal his Romney lawn sign. There's no words that describe Kedzie's assailants better than "sick" and "depraved."

Everyone likes to talk about a deeply polarized electorate, but the way people talk about it makes it sound like we all went out one day and decided to get polarized. The truth of the matter is that this long, dumb, substance-free process of petty politicians, cheap-minded proxies, debased campaign strategies, and impossible-to-escape attack ads are what does all the polarizing. Yes, there is a horse race, but we have become the horses, and our long, protracted campaign seasons are bad for America.

THE INERT ARGUE MOMENTUM: Meanwhile, as the country started to tip, slightly, in the direction of end-of-the-election insanity, the political media sort of took leave of their senses, and pitched themselves a weird little internecine war over which media outlets were being worked by whose campaign, for the purpose of spinning a narrative of "momentum."

Alec MacGillis essentially got the ball rolling with a lengthy critique of Politico and others, in which he accused these frantic-pants political chum-swallowers of allowing a false narrative of Romney having all this crazy game-changing momentum to "congeal" at a time when the evidence suggested that the race had actually fallen into a gravitational orbit with various fundamentals. Various Politico voices responded with objections -- the most natural one being that Romney did, nevertheless, exhibit some palpable momentum as a result of performing undeniably and objectively better in the first debate.

MacGillis went back in for another round, saying that these "retorts" were "bewildering" and looked past the point he was attempting to make. All the while, he was getting backed up by The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky, who declared that the day after the final debate to be "the most important single day of the campaign." Why? Well, it wasn't because of any issue of material relevance to the electorate. It was because it was a critical point in the media's narrative: would everyone finally get on board with the notion that Obama now had the "momentum?" Because, apparently, Americans save all of their thinking about the future, until they become convinced of the future's inevitability.

If this is the first you've heard of these people, and the veritable cloud-atlas of media meta-criticism they decided to crochet out of their feelings, do not feel bad. That you've not heard about any of this is pretty much the most important detail. Yes, both campaigns are spinning their success stories to places like Politico. And to a certain extent, getting a winning narrative planted can result in positive outcomes, if only because there are lots of voters who prefer to vote for the side they think is going to win.

But what all these insular media types are missing here in their arguments is that they are all insular media types, and if the grand narrative is being planted in Politico, then they are the ones who are affected by it most, because they are the audience for Politico's content. Its content is not for ordinary Americans, it is for cloistered Beltway insiders who think they understand ordinary Americans, and who happen to be seriously wrong about that.

Sure, details from a Politico story might ooze to local newspapers or cable news shows and thus create some near-indelible impressions about the state of the race. But real "momentum" in the electorate is stirred by other means -- people share opinions between each other in conversation and on Facebook, or they argue politics at the dinner table, or pals talk about election news during the football game. Ordinary people talk about the plant that just closed, or the local zoning crap that kept a business from opening, or their kids who are stuck overseas fighting a war.

And, yeah, sometimes your company's CEO emails employees a form letter telling you how to vote. So it goes.

And the campaigns, of course, stir this pot with their ground game -- door-knocking, phone banks, meet-ups, and the like -- where they try to provide a facsimile of this peer-to-peer contact, because they realize that all politics are personal. If this isn't where real "momentum" in the electorate is achieved, then every single campaign in America needs to rethink things, because it is at ground level where they are spending millions and millions of dollars to move handfuls of votes. If all it took to win was to get Mike Allen to say positive-sounding things about your campaign, we wouldn't need fundraisers -- Mike Allen will carry your water for free.

Naturally, if more political reporters took an active interest in the lives of ordinary Americans, no one would be fooled into thinking that they, somehow, as an occupational fraternity, are the sole keepers of the mysteries that cause election results to happen. But they by and large don't care about ordinary Americans, so they persist in this delusion.

Just leave them to this argument they are having with themselves and let it run its course.

SO, YOUR BOSS SENT YOU ONE OF THOSE EMAILS: As has been reported here and elsewhere, there have been many instances where the CEO of a company has sent a letter to their employees, darkly warning about grave repercussions if the results of the election do not turn out to the CEO's liking. (This is, naturally, something the Romney campaign has encouraged.) If you received such a missive, you may be wondering, "What should I do about it?"

We at the Speculatron are not in the business of telling you how to vote. In fact, we hope that all of you will vote according to your thoughts and beliefs, no matter who you select to elect. Many people will try to persuade you, and that's okay, but the only person who can convince you is you. So, state your convictions, knowing that even if you come to regret your decision, you still have those convictions in hand.

But you should really get a new job as soon as you can! We are as serious as a stroke about this.

Presidential elections happen every four years. And elections that could significantly alter the power structure in Washington happen even more frequently. All of these elections have consequences: laws get made or unmade, policies get pursued or dropped, and trajectories, priorities, baselines -- they all can change. But despite all this, one phenomenon we don't observe occurring every two years is the sight of a bunch of businesses or institutions collapsing overnight as a result of democracy's banalities.

If your boss tells you that the company you work for is not stable enough to survive an election, then the company you work for is not stable enough to survive stress of any kind. Successful CEOs say, "Come what may, this organization is prepared to adapt and pursue growth and profit." The CEOs that tell you otherwise are not particularly good at their jobs. And the more pressing problem is that the letter you got, urging you to vote in a certain way or you will lose your job, is your canary in a coal mine, telling you that there is some other fatal dysfunction happening at your workplace that's liable to put you out of work anyway.

It's a real tough economy to be switching jobs, but if you have been the recipient of one of these emails, you should nevertheless do what you can to extricate yourself from what is likely going to end badly. Get to know your company's competitors, and if they've not sent similar company-wide emails, consider making a move to a more stable environment, before you have to compete with all your current coworkers.

TWILIGHT OF THE BIRTHERS, MAYBE: You know, it wasn't too long ago that your Speculatroners would sit up late at night, bemoaning the fact that we didn't have much intimate contact with those Americans who devote their lives to sniffing household solvents recreationally. Then, like a bolt of joy into our lives came the swoony-loon birthers, with their bright ideas and their daffy emails and their willingness to fall behind Donald Trump -- a man who the rest of the world recognizes as a reality-TV clown with the belly-hair of a cocker spaniel glued to his scalp.

Should Obama win election, we've got four more glorious years to enjoy. But if he doesn't, we could be mere weeks from these glorious tin-foil hat days that we've long enjoyed. (A few birthers will stick around to harangue Marco Rubio, but it will probably feel like the Velvet Underground's 1993 reunion -- you'll recognize the parts you loved, but it just won't feel the same.)

And so their latest round of kooky-foo, here curated by Dave Weigel, is potentially their swan song. If that's the case, they go out as they came in: easily fooled, easily led, and eminently debunkable. This curio was originally sent to Vice Magazine, and it has an astonishingly hilarious interview with the person who is trying to pawn this off as real.

SUPER MEGA IMPORTANT ELECTION BELLWETHER DRUDGE SIREN OMG: Bad news for the Obama campaign this week -- potentially game-ending, in fact. Why won't the media discuss this? Per ABC News:

The president made a quick stop in his hometown of Chicago this afternoon to visit his local polling site. Obama, visibly exhausted from his dizzying campaign schedule, chatted with election workers as he filled out his paperwork.

[...]

The president then headed to the electronic voting booth across the room, saying a quick hello to the man in the booth next to him. After several minutes an election official came over and showed him how to submit the ballot electronically.

Afterward, the president made a quick sales pitch for early voting. “I just want everybody to see what an incredibly efficient process this was thanks to the outstanding folks who are at this particular polling place,” he told reporters. “Obviously folks in Illinois can take advantage of this. But all across the country we’re seeing a lot of early voting.”

Game, set, and match to Mitt Romney! Why? Well, it is a well known historical fact that no incumbent president who cast an early vote in his own election has ever gone on to be re-elected. This is just firm electoral precedent.

For more on firm electoral precedents, here is XKCD.

ELECTORAL PROJECTION: It's time once again for your Speculatroners to end the week with our trademarked Electoral College projection, which is -- as always -- a mix of careful poll study, analysis of prevailing economic trends, pundit speculation, and assurances from the Weather Channel that enough of the Eastern Seaboard will survive the coming "Frankenstorm" to allow "an election to occur" and for us to "keep having an America."

We return this week, to our very close-down-the-stretch election, and the unusual phenomenon of Romney remaining in good standing nationally, while Obama's electoral college firewall remaining mostly intact. Of course, those intact parts are really looking more and more like the bare-minimum needed to ensure election night success. Where once a mightly firewall stood, we see Nevada, Iowa, and Ohio being the strongest parts of that bulwark. And that's in order of strongest to weakest.

The state polls have performed with middling generosity to Obama this weekend, but we feel one of those states will naturally succumb to the overall national trends. Similarly, the polls in Virginia have had more to offer the incumbent, but word around the campfire is that Democratic turnout in high-volume blue vote places like Arlington, Fairfax, and Richmond is off 2008's trend. If so, that's good news for Romney. And we continue to just not like the look of Florida in general (though we might be somewhat swayed in our thinking by this week's episode of 30 ROCK).

Suffice it to say, we find the race to be bordering on wafer-thin. No one is safe! All may be doomed! (We are referring the coming terrible storm, here. Please, everyone, stay safe this weekend!)

electoral projection

Why The Timing Of The Foreign Policy Debate Favors Romney

Howard Fineman   |   October 22, 2012   12:38 PM ET

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Rahm Emanuel has often told the story, when early in his days as White House chief of staff, he mused aloud to President Barack Obama about the tough hand they'd been dealt. "Sir, this would be a lot easier if you didn't have a giant recession and two wars to deal with," he said.

To which Obama is said to have replied, "Rahm, if it weren't for the recession and the two wars, we wouldn't be here in the first place."

Four years later, the president may be denied a second term because of the lingering consequences of the same forces that got him elected -- and his own failures to master them fully.

After walking all over the president in the first debate and counter-punching his way to survival in the second, Republican nominee Mitt Romney has matched Obama in popularity polls and on projected Electoral College maps. More ominously for the president, Romney now has a personal "favorability" rating that matches Obama's. Timing is everything in politics, and Romney is peaking at just the right moment.

Obama's luck, on the other hand, seems to be running out, and at a very bad time: As he prepares for the final debate with Romney, he is looking ahead to the last two weeks of a 2012 campaign in which Romney's allies will have more money and more paths to an Electoral College win.

As luck would have it, tonight's debate here at Lynn University at 9 p.m. EDT, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS, is about foreign policy: once, but no longer, an area of acknowledged strength for a president dealing with the toughest economy in decades.

It was President George W. Bush, not Obama, who launched the fateful project of toppling Sunni strong men in the Middle East in the name of spreading freedom and democracy. That grand strategy, and the regional leaders' inability to adapt to it, has helped turn the Middle East into a more uncontrollable, dangerous, unpredictable place; fear and chaos in countries such as Syria, Egypt and Lebanon are winning out over hope. And although the man who helped to set that process in motion was Bush, Republicans will try tonight to pin the blame on Obama.

The president's answer is clear: Osama Bin Laden was killed under his watch, he managed the draw down troop levels in Iraq and has pledged to do the same in Afghanistan. He can also point out that the American homeland has not been attacked on his watch -- and that his administration has foiled numerous plots to do so.

That, in turn, is why the sustained, war-like attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others were killed, looms so large over tonight's debate -- and Obama's fate.

The incident itself has not been a centerpiece of national concern: Voters care about jobs and the economy here, not the souks of the Middle East. But the administration's handling of the incident and the events leading up to it -- not to mention the various conflicting stories afterward about what happened -- have drawn legitimate scrutiny.

It is the kind of story tailor-made for Romney, whose preferred mode in debates has been one of attack. Schieffer, a solid newsman of the old school, is likely to be wary of overdoing a topic that could benefit Romney, but he will want to probe the matter in depth. If Schieffer asks -- and he will -- righteous indignation from the president in defense of himself and his administration may not play well with voters, even if Obama has a new CIA report to back up his narrative.

The president's account of events in distant Benghazi -- a place most Americans had never heard of -- may well decide who "wins" the debate. If Obama can't be convincing, he'll lose.

For the president, the timing is not in his favor.

Presidential Debate Tonight: All Eyes On Obama, Mitt Romney

Elyse Siegel   |   October 22, 2012   11:41 AM ET

The presidential debate tonight marks the final standoff between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ahead of election day on November 6.

The showdown starts at 9:00 p.m. ET and will air on major television networks.

The latest polls out on the presidential race show an increasingly tight fight shaping up between the presidential contenders. HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reports:

The latest tracking surveys continue to show a remarkably close race between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, with Obama maintaining very narrow advantages in crucial battleground states like Ohio that will likely decide the election.

Eight new national tracking polls released since Saturday reinforce the conclusion that the race for president remains at a near deadlock nationwide. Three of the surveys give a slight edge to Romney, three give the edge to Obama and two show an exact tie, including the latest from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

The debate on Monday night will focus on foreign policy.

Presidential Debate 2012: Obama, Romney Have Final Showdown In Boca Raton

Jason Linkins   |   October 22, 2012    7:31 AM ET

Monday night, the Commission On Presidential Debates wraps up the 2012 series of debates with its extra special season finale. When we last left our protagonists, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, they were, basically, yelling at each other about a host of issues before an audience of undecided voters from whom the questions of the evening were extracted. It made for a sharp series of exchanges and an emphasis on the theatrical.

The president, having decided to ditch the somnambulatory techniques he used in his first disastrous debate, showed substantially more verve in his second outing, and has been generally characterized as the winner, on points. But Romney held up decently as well, turning in a performance that conservative pundits could continue to support. Now, they meet one last time, in a debate that decides everything. We guess? Let's just go with that.

THE VENUE AND TOPIC AREA: This year's season of debates has ended up in the city where everything, eventually, goes to retire -- Boca Raton, Fla., at the campus of Lynn University. Lynn U. is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and boasts that it is "the youngest school to ever host a modern presidential debate." One of the fun facts about Lynn: "Lynn University is across the street from where IBM invented the first PC." We live across the street from a pawn shop, so we'd say Lynn is doing pretty okay.

If you'd like to hear more from these candidates on domestic policy, well, you are out of luck, my friends. Monday night's debate will be strictly about foreign policy. At least, that's what's expected -- we wouldn't be surprised if either candidate slipped in some points on economic matters if the opportunity presented itself. And because we're in Boca, the temptation to offer up some promises on Medicare and Medicaid will be great.

THE DEBATE FORMAT: Good news for people who liked the unstructured discussion of the first debate, if any such people actually exist: this final debate will also feature six questions, and candidates will have fifteen minutes to answer each, the same format that was attempted, rather unsuccessfully, in the opening round.

Those six question/discussion sections will encompass the following themes, barring any news event that intervenes between now and then:

  • America's role in the world
  • Our longest war - Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Red Lines - Israel and Iran
  • The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - I
  • The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - II
  • The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World

(Yeah, we sort of feel we're getting cheated with two sections on the same topic, too. It is what it is.)

THE MODERATOR: Moderating the final debate will be "Face The Nation" host Bob Schieffer, whom we notice has not yet been subjected to the same amount of pre-game scrutiny and controversy as Candy Crowley, because Schieffer isn't a woman, and so no one questions why he is speaking aloud in public. But there are some concerns, nonetheless. Tim Noah, for instance, writes that he "in no way intend[s] to suggest that ... Schieffer, who’s a few months shy of 76" is "any less good [at his] day job than [he was] 20 or 30 years ago," and, in addition, contends that he does not "mean to suggest that older people in general are any less fit to perform journalism than younger people." "If anything," he says, "it’s the opposite." So, what is he saying? This, apparently:

There isn’t anybody presiding over this year’s presidential and vice-presidential debates who isn’t AARP-eligible. But Raddatz’s and Crowley’s mental agility is very likely speedier and more limber today than it will be 15 years from now. It is also, I suspect, speedier and more limber than Lehrer’s and Schieffer’s is today. And if I’m wrong and it isn’t, it’s still a cinch that it is speedier and more limber than that of most other men—and women—of Lehrer’s and Schieffer’s ages. I’m not suggesting an age limit. I don’t want to get hauled in before the EEOC. But I do think age is a factor that determines how good a debate moderator you’re likely to be.

Dissenting from this view is Paul Rainey, who says that viewers should not "expect Schieffer ... to deliver a performance nearly as passive as Lehrer's," and insists that Schieffer "has remained probing and even a bit feisty" and thus could "throw more curves." As Rainey relates:

Reuters commentator Paul Gough wrote four years ago that Schieffer presided over the only one of four presidential debates between Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that “had any life.”

“Schieffer learned the lessons of the three other debates and also was determined not to settle for the same pat answers,” Gough said. “He dug, and pressed, and wouldn't let the candidates off the hook easily -- all of which made for a more interesting 90 minutes than its predecessors.”

So, Bob Schieffer may be too old to moderate the debate, unless it turns out he's as good at debate moderation as he is at his "day job." Which, last time we checked, was moderating a debate every single Sunday morning.

THE PRE-GAME: Romney's attempt at mounting an argument against Obama's intervention in Libya, and the concomitant tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, ran aground when he opted to fight the matter on the basis of semantics -- what Obama said in the Rose Garden, in response to the attacks that claimed the lives of four Americans, and what specific words he used during that address.

That line of attack proved to be perilous, and the temptation could return on Monday if Romney gives in to the umbrage over Obama's "Daily Show" appearance, which, as Dave Weigel explains, is wrongheaded. This is where a "fiesty" Bob Schieffer, who wants the candidates to go deeper and broader during a fifteen-minute discussion, can steer things away from the inane focus on words -- and, potentially, tougher sledding for Obama. Points are there to be scored by Romney if he's able to summon the discipline to take them. (Joshua Hersh's piece, "Libya Debate Controversy: The Many Assumptions Of Romney And Obama," is a good debate audience primer.)

Of course, there's perhaps far too much attention being placed on Libya -- you'll note that the intended subjects also include discussions on "red lines" with Iran and our perpetual wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here, there should be a high demand for distinction between each candidate's plans; it will be interesting to see if we emerge from this debate with any greater clarity on these topics.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: Foreign policy had been seen as a fairly strong area for Obama in the broader electorate before Benghazi went sideways and took some of the bloom off the rose. Romney, on the other hand, has been largely presented as the savvy, CEO "turnaround artist" -- the balm for what ails you in this bad economy. From time to time during the campaign, the Romney camp has had an internal debate over whether it should make a bigger deal out of foreign policy -- the argument against being that the economy is more important to Americans right now, foreign policy matters having slipped down the list of popular concerns.

But, as Richard Clarke points out, there's a classic Rovian strategy to be executed here:

Karl Rove, the Republican evil genius of campaign slurs, is famous for advising candidates to attack an opponent’s strong suit. If Sen. John Kerry is a decorated war hero and your guy avoided going to Vietnam, then attack Kerry’s service record. If Sen. Max Cleland lost limbs fighting for America, question his patriotism.

The problem is that those two outrageous attacks worked, as have many others like them.

Why is the attack on Benghazi being talked about so much? It is not because the Republicans have a long record of caring about embassy security. House Republicans cut $128 million in fiscal year 2011 and an additional $331 million in fiscal year 2012 from what Secretary of State Clinton requested for embassy security.

No, it’s because their polling and focus groups show that voters believe that President Obama has done a very good job fighting terrorists. Therefore, the Rove theory says, you attack Obama on terrorism.

Knowing this, the losing hand for Obama is if he comes in planning to wave Osama bin Laden's bloody shirt and call it day. He should expect Romney's argument to be pointedly critical and personal. The usual caveats about parrying an attack without losing your temper completely apply.

In addition, this debate, being the last, will likely serve as the candidate's final statement-slash-closing argument. So, if you win that coin toss, you'll want to go last.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

Winning On Semantics, Missing The Point: The 2012 Speculatron Weekly Roundup For Oct. 19

Jason Linkins   |   October 20, 2012    9:38 AM ET

You're no Jack Kennedy. Who am I, and what am I doing here. I am paying for this microphone. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

Presidential debates have, over the years, produced many "frozen moments" that have permanently wormed their way into our cultural and political lexicon. We all have memories of a witty quip, or a tense exchange, or that time President George W. Bush asked, "Need some wood?" Sometimes we remember a moment where the civilized form of forensic combat turns into something strange -- like former Rep. Rick Lazio unexpectedly advancing into Hillary Clinton's personal space. Or we recall an instance where one competitor flusters so noticeably that we attribute the moment as the beginning of their electoral downfall -- like the aforementioned Clinton's struggle to stake out a position on New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's policy of extending drivers' licences to undocumented immigrants.

But the interesting thing about all of these examples is how little they inform anyone about what was at stake in these debates, or about what was authentically going in America. Clinton's struggle with the drivers' licence question had almost nothing to do with enunciating a sensible position on the issue -- it was Clinton, caught in a sticky trap between the governor she supported and the way his policy played with the broader electorate, unable to find the right combination of words needed to cook up a politically acceptable escape hatch. These moments, then, are sort of "pseudo" in nature -- a hard shell of importance with shiny veneer, wrapped around nothing at all.

The second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney yielded a classic of the genre.

ROMNEY: I -- I think interesting the president just said something which -- which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.

OBAMA: That's what I said.

ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.

It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?

OBAMA: Please proceed governor.

ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CROWLEY: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror ...

OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

CROWLEY: He -- he did call it an act of terror.

For the sake of fairness, we'll point out that Crowley continued here, saying to Romney, "It did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that." But that line is destined to not be remembered, because this moment will be known -- perhaps forever, perhaps only until Monday's third debate, as the moment Obama smacked Romney down on Libya.

Now, we will concede that in a limited sort of way, Romney conceded some points here. But by and large, the above exchange -- an argument of who used what words when -- is brutally meaningless. That Obama gave a certain incantation in the Rose Garden, and was able to demonstrate that he had done so after Romney denied it -- that's swell. But it doesn't elucidate any reality, it doesn't confirm the wisdom or efficacy of any policy, and it doesn't provide any insight as to whatever lesson could or should be extracted from the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi. The points scored here are merely theatrical ones, over a matter that entirely lacks materiality.

But this is sort of how debates work. On Friday morning, MSNBC briefly showed a clip from the debate between Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin, vying for a Wisconsin Senate seat. In that clip, Thompson interrogated Baldwin over contributions she had supposedly received from the "Council for a Living Earth." Baldwin denied she had ever received contributions from any such organization. Thompson insisted otherwise, Baldwin denied it again, et cetera. The big reveal here is that Thompson was confused -- he meant to say "Council for a Liveable Planet." Oh, boy, ha-ha, big mistake, implied MSNBC.

But if Thompson got a name wrong, so what? This sort of thing can happen to people in high-pressure situations. What point was Thompson actually trying to litigate? Was it a good point? Was it a stupid point? MSNBC either didn't know or didn't deem it worthy of telling their viewers. As it turns out, the rub was that the Council for a Liveable Planet opposes the sanctions that have been levied against Iran.

It makes you wonder, what would have happened if, in that moment, Thompson had managed to call the correct name from memory? One thing we think is likely: it wouldn't have been the moment from the debate MSNBC would have clipped. And we similarly think that if Romney had not chosen to respond to Obama's answer on Libya by getting bogged down in the semantics of the Rose Garden speech -- had he instead attempted to engage the topic in any other way -- who knows? Maybe that part of the debate would not have been shown a half-million times the next day on cable news.

Here, of course, is where we get to the part where Romney did concede some points. Obama, we'd wager, baited the hook for Romney -- pointedly bringing up what he said in Rose Garden because he knew Romney would be unable to resist countering on the matter. All the while, Obama knew that he had the goods on this (Dave Weigel has the complete exegesis of what words Obama used when) and could spring this trap. "Please proceed, Governor," said Obama, knowing that you never interrupt your opponent as they are about to make a mistake.

Romney, clearly, should have not been suckered into this pseudo-debate over semantics. There are any number of more material things to discuss about the consulate attacks and the Libyan intervention in general. So why did he naturally ease into what turned out to be a losing battle over what was said in the Rose Garden? Erik Wemple offers a compelling argument that Romney's response may have been too informed by the right-wing media, which have gone overboard on some of the more picayune matters to be discussed in the overall world of the Libyan intervention.

But the weird emphasis on "magic words" and superficial semantics has become a continual reference point in the right vs. left battle over foreign policy and war-making. Romney didn't need much prompting from Fox News -- he's internalized the war over words himself with the "No Apology" argument he's advanced throughout the campaign.

And even before Romney surged back into the newshole, the battle over who uses the more belligerent vocabulary has become a mainstay. Obama's speeches on the War in Afghanistan are subjected to the "word find" test, where his opponents search for certain terms and then try to make news about which ones didn't show up in the speech. "How can Obama talk about war without mentioning the word 'victory?'" goes a familiar refrain. But why are we talking about that at all? Any speech on Afghanistan has important goals and policies to analyze! (Does an objectively stupid strategy work any better because it includes the word "victory?" If you actually believe that, please step away from the Situation Room.)

We should be asking ourselves why the need to assess terminology for its extremity, and the way in which certain words are used on certain days, as opposed to other words on other days, has lately become something that matters so damned much. Because it seems to us that the underlying issue here is that on key matters of foreign policy and war, there is no longer any way to discern a material difference between the two sides.

What we can tell all Americans, straight up, is that if you vote for Obama, we will be in Afghanistan until 2014 and change. On the other hand, if you vote for Romney, we will be in Afghanistan until 2014 and change. And as far as our policy on Iran goes, we can discern no substantive difference between the two candidates in terms of their "red lines" or what it is we are perpetually putting "on the table" so that Iran totally knows what's what! The only clear difference is that when Romney puts the same stuff on the table, he will plop it down with a louder bang, and perhaps use a more bellicose set of vocabulary words. (We are pretty sure that if you want to vote for a candidate promising something materially distinct from any of this, you should check out what Gary Johnson and Jill Stein have to say about it.)

Rather than hype the theatrical victory that Obama scored during the debate, when he successfully parried the immaterial point of what words he used in the Rose Garden, we should extract some lessons. First, let's recognize the tendency of these candidates to go right to dumb semantic arguments, because that's the path of least resistance. Second, let's steer these discussions to better places -- or ask better questions in the first place.

We would like this query to be put to Romney, "The nation is obviously tremendously concerned with the deaths of our diplomats in Benghazi, but knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?" We're generally curious about how Romney thinks about the matter. Would his answer start with how we would respond after an attack? Would he talk about what he would have done to prevent the attack? Would he discuss whether he would have intervened in Libya in the first place? Does his foreign policy have an entirely different set of holistic strategies that could prevent these sorts of failed-state meltdowns in the first place? And then we'd ask Obama, "Do you regret not doing more of what Romney suggested should be done?" and we'd see how Obama discussed the matter.

See, we wouldn't be looking for zingers and slams and swag -- we want to evaluate how these men approach (or would approach) a complicated problem with no perfect answers, and in what dimension they consider their answers. And we should ask the media to broadcast these larger discussions, instead of sexy frozen moments that ultimately do not inform.

One final note on this: we were a little dumbstruck by the number of people who commented that Obama had managed to definitively parry the issue or put Libya to bed. No, no! It really is more than what phrases were used in certain speeches, we're afraid. There is a whole debate coming on Monday, exclusively about foreign policy. That debate's moderator, Bob Schieffer, is absolutely going to want to earn his stripes. He will absolutely re-raise the question. If he doesn't he will be pilloried. So the matter has not been put to bed. Hopefully, Schieffer will manage to steer the discussion to more substantive grounds.

MEDITATIONS IN AN EMERGENCY: In addition to avoiding any further debates over vocabulary words, it's arguable that conceding the fact that the aftermath of a terrorist attack doesn't yield the sort of clear information that some are arguing the Obama administration should have immediately had and immediately broadcast to the country. Here's Richard Clarke, making that argument:

I dealt with scores of incidents and military operations over 30 years in the Pentagon, State Department and White House. I never saw a case where there was initial and accurate clarity about what happened.

In the case of TWA 800, the FBI thought for months that it had been shot down by a missile, only to learn much later that it was a maintenance problem that caused the fuel tank to explode. When the destroyer Cole was attacked in Yemen, it took the CIA director weeks to decide that the attackers were from Al Qaeda . The Iranian hand in the attack on the U.S. Air Force barracks at Khobar, Saudi Arabia, did not emerge for months.

News media and members of Congress may want instant answers when something explodes, when Americans die, but national security professionals know that "first reports are always wrong." That is why, when pressed by reporters to say what had happened, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice qualified her response by saying that the investigation was ongoing. She then said what the intelligence community had reported to her at that time.

There's a perfectly decent chance that Romney could get elected. If so, he'll inevitably have crises of his own to deal with -- perhaps even tragedies. Knowing that, it would seem pretty unwise for him to box himself in and present himself as the guy who'll head an administration that will cut through the inevitable chaos and fog and deliver clear explanations within 24 hours of an emergency. But if that's what Mitt wants to do, we'll be happy to hold him to that standard.

HOW TO LOSE AN ARIZONA SENATE RACE: So, Richard Carmona was the Democrats' best hope at maybe prying away an Arizona Senate seat from the GOP. And fairly recently, he's been able to brag about the occasional edge in polling and fundraising. But his opponent, Representative Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has taken a swing at Carmona's reputation with some brutal attack ads that suggested Carmona had a mean, misogynist streak.

Basic rule of politics: Don't confirm what your opponent implies about you in his attack ads! But here was Carmona, in Thursday night's debate:

After a difficult stretch in the debate, moderator Brahm Resnik quipped "Geez, now I know how Candy Crowley felt."

"You're prettier than her," Carmona responded, eliciting a nervous laugh from the moderator. "I'm not sure how to take that," he then said.

We're not precisely sure how to take that either, but it's somewhere in the range of "not well" and "badly."

And that's how you lose a Senate race in Arizona.

RETHINKING 'BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN': The whole world had fun with Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" statement, making it all but certain this Halloween, there will be about seventeen "binders full of women" at every party you attend, with each person so bedecked believing that it was their super-creative, original idea. But Amanda Hess would ask you to rethink this a little bit, saying, "Amazingly, Romney is now being criticized for the idea that achieving parity in political appointments requires effort."

I agree that Romney's positions on health care, contraception, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will do nothing to help women in jobs across America. Binders stocked with intelligence on top-shelf female candidates, though? I'm cool with those. In a rush to discredit Romney's position entirely, commenters are strangely spinning his underlying point--when female candidates don't apply for jobs, employers should find them, and hire them about half the time -- as somehow anti-feminist.

"Binders full of women mean cabinets full of women," argues Hess. And she's correct. The real problem with Romney's story is that he's mischaracterizing himself as the person who "went to a number of women's groups" to obtain those binders. That is not true.

ELECTORAL PROJECTION: It's time once again for your Speculatroners to end the week with our trademarked Electoral College projection, which is -- as always -- a mix of careful poll study, analysis of prevailing economic trends, pundit speculation, and PURE ANIMAL PANIC. Sweet, sweet, freaking right-the-hell out, over the Gallup polls, specifically!

We have panic on the streets of Madison! Panic on the streets of Pittsburgh! Oh, will life ever be same again, on these rolling poll averages we track down? We wonder, to ourselves.

Now, every sane person who writes about what's going on in the polls has cautioned their readers to keep an eye on poll averages, remember that the fundamentals dictate a close race, and that, frankly, both Romney and Obama have a good chance of winning. But what if we tuned out the experts and went full nigh into utter madness? Well, then we'd give every toss-up and near toss-up to Romney and basically declare the election over. So, in a one-time denial of good sense and cool reason, we'll just give you a map that reflects what the world looks like when we let Gallup freak-out guide our senses. Some of you will love this! Others, not so much.

Whence is that knocking? How is't with us, when every noise appalls us? What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out thine electoral votes. Will all great Nate Silver's models wash this blood clean from our map? No! This our map will rather make the multitudinous states incarnadine, making the blue ones red!

electoral projection october nineteen

What To Watch For In Tonight's Debate

Jason Linkins   |   October 16, 2012    7:25 AM ET

Tuesday night, the highly successful season of "The Commission On Presidential Debates Presents: These Presidential Debates That We Were Commissioned To Have," moves into its third episode. And with the loose, ragtag melee that was the Vice Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan still alive in our memories, we return once more to the more tightly-wound candidates at the top of the ticket: President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. You might recall how their first debate went, actually! (Badly, for Obama.)

This is the second of three debates that Obama and Romney will have, and it's being universally characterized as a big turning point in the race, because the political media basically calls whatever is just about to happen a big turning point in the race. But the middle parts of trilogies have a hallowed place in pop culture -- like "The Empire Strikes Back" -- that people end up remembering with real clarity, as opposed to the final chapter in the story -- think "Return Of The Jedi" -- which people largely think of as sort of a let-down, with Ewoks.

There's no telling if this second meeting between Obama and Romney will follow this same pattern, but there are enough wrinkles to this second debate to make it very interesting.

THE VENUE AND TOPIC AREA: The second debate returns to Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. -- the site of one of the 2008 debates between Obama and Sen. John McCain. The venue presents challenges not just for the two candidates, but for all the reporters who are not familiar with the workings of the Long Island Railroad. ("Take the LIRR to Hempstead Station and transfer to the N70, N71, N72 or the Hofstra Shuttle Bus," advises the MTA.)

Once again, the topic area will be a mix of domestic and foreign policy questions, but the real story here is the unique format of this debate.

THE DEBATE FORMAT: This second debate is a "town hall-style" debate, in which both candidates will answer the questions of undecided voters who have been assembled by the Gallup organization for this one-night-only, talk-to-average-Joes-and-Janes debate. This format presents unique challenges. Primarily, the candidates will have to prove that they can engage with voters. Manifesting empathy is key: Romney and Obama will be demonstrating how they relate to ordinary people on national television. This may be the one opportunity many voters have to see their candidates involved in that sort of exchange.

The town hall format also requires the candidates to handle the space in a different way. Rather than sitting at a table or locked behind lecterns, the candidates will be able -- encouraged, really -- to move about the space, engage in close conversations, and break "the fourth wall" and draw the whole audience into the discussion. This act creates pitfalls of its own -- four years ago, John McCain made a lot of trouble for himself when he was caught wandering through the camera frame on multiple occasions. Back in the 2000 debates, the town hall format was perilous for Al Gore, when -- in a moment he probably immediately regretted -- he moved in on George W. Bush's personal space in a vaguely threatening matter. It didn't play well in the hall, or on camera.

If you've made a habit of reading a lot of the post-debate critiques, you've probably stumbled across critics of the first two bouts who cite the issues that didn't come up. Immigration reform, for example, hasn't gotten debated yet. We've heard very little about the foreclosure or student loan crisis. The bad news is that the final debate is a foreign policy debate, so this might be the last opportunity to pose questions about these and other domestic policy topics. The good news, however, is that ordinary people think differently from political reporter types -- the amount of untrod ground they cover, along with the quality of their questions, could surprise you.

THE MODERATOR: Following on the heels of Martha Raddatz, CNN's Candy Crowley is the second of this debate season's two glass ceiling-shattering women of Debate Moderation. Unfortunately for Crowley, she's not stepping into the spotlight without becoming the focus of some heavy-duty ref-working from the campaigns. These reactions from the Romney and Obama camps have been elicited, in large part, because of comments that Crowley has made that intimate she might try to mount some sort of "journalism" or something. As Mark Halperin reported:

While an early October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns and the bipartisan commission sponsoring the debates suggests CNN‘s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “Once the table is kind of set by the town hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about x, y, z?’”

In the view of both campaigns and the Commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the two campaigns agreed to which delineates a more limited role for the moderator of the town hall debate.

From our standpoint, we think that Crowley has precisely the leeway she describes. In her conversation with our own Jack Mirkinson, she essentially clarifies her role in this way: "It's kind of organic. I don't have this, 'no matter what, I'm not going to say anything,' or, 'I'm going to interrupt any time I think they say something.' That's just not how I'm parsing it out. I think you have to just go with what's happening at the moment." She has also said, "I want to hear less from the moderator than I do from the candidate."

So it doesn't sound like Crowley has much intention to steal the spotlight -- she just wants to credibly perform the roles of journalist and moderator. (As for the candidates, perhaps they are worried she will point out when they dodge questions or tell falsehoods, hence the attempts to rein her in, in advance.)

THE PRE-GAME: We all know the deal. This is the do-or-die moment where Obama erases the memories of his listless performance, or he manages to find a new way of screwing up and compound his problems. In general, Obama fans have tremendous expectations going into the second debate. Critically, it should be pointed out that satisfying the expectations of Obama fans does not necessarily translate to satisfying the expectations of voters, who may be more open-minded in their evaluation of who deserves to be the chief executive. But in general, it's expected that Obama will be firmer in defending his record, and more willing to call out Mitt Romney for any falsehoods or position switches or mischaracterizations. And folks like Andrew Sullivan expect Obama to work back to some of the Romney critiques that staggered Romney -- like his 47 percent remarks -- and expose the flaws in his policy prescriptives.

Here, that town hall format could be an impediment. The biggest task for the debaters Tuesday night will be relating to the audience members and answering their questions. Not every moment is going to be ripe for an attack, and even if one does arise, it can be tricky being overly aggressive in this setting. The presence of these undecided voters will create a demand for basic politesse -- it's not the sort of environment where Joe Biden's withering, expressive criticism of Paul Ryan plays well. Rather, he'll just want to find a way to present himself as a hero to the Democratic base, and restore the faith in independent voters that he's a credible choice for president. And navigating the pitfalls that the town hall format presents may be just as important as taking a fight to his opponent.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: What's Romney's goal? Keep on keeping on. The best outcome from his first debate is that he gave the conservative commentariat, finally, something to believe in after a summer in which they were some of Romney's loudest critics. Silencing their carping seems to have had a correlation to Romney's recent advances in the polls. Keeping this dynamic going simply requires Romney to keep on walking and talking and looking like a credible president.

For Obama, stakes are high. There's an eternal argument over whether debates ultimately move the electoral needle, and whether they do so with real significance, but there's no denying that Obama started taking a beating in the polls around the time the lights went down in Denver. There's no getting around the fact that he'll have to come to Hofstra as a reinvigorated, better prepared debater. If he's smart, he's been studying tape of his "Secretary Of Explaining Things," Bill Clinton, who thrives in this sort of setting. (The Obama campaign might even want to consider somehow astrally projecting Bill Clinton's consciousness into Obama's body, if there's not already a debate rule barring that.)

The unavoidable bottom line? If he flops a second time, he'll be characterized as a goner, and like it or not, that characterization will hang around his neck like dead weight.

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Let's Talk About What A Hilarious Disaster It Would Be If We Had An Electoral College Tie

Jason Linkins   |   October 15, 2012    5:42 PM ET

At a certain point during the home stretch of an election, attention tends to drift from the big national head-to-head polls to the more granular polling snapshots of the swing states. Perhaps we should not do this, argues Jonathan Bernstein. But eventually, we all give in, because we want to game out what might happen in the electoral college. And in a tight race such as the one that's unfolding between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, eventually we start wondering: hey, what about an electoral college tie? Oh, yes. That would be a pretty fitting end to this election, wouldn't it?

A few weeks ago, New York Times polling guru Nate Silver basically trolled the world of political reporters with a post titled, "New Polls Raise Chance of Electoral College Tie." Ermahgerd, right? It depends on how you look at it, sure! For instance, Silver's model found that the odds of a tie in the Electoral College had "roughly doubled from a few weeks ago." But, you know what they say: lies, damn lies, statistics. The rest of that sentence informs "...when the chances had been hovering at about 0.3 percent instead." So, now they had increased to 0.6 percent. If I show up at a DC United game, the odds that I will start in goal probably go up from 0.3 to 0.6 percent, too. Don't worry though: No one in their right mind wants to see me start in goal for the DC United, including me.

But there is a heavy dose of "electoral college tie" intrigue just because of the way the swing state battleground is stacking up. Back on August 23, Ezra Klein took a look at First Read's analysis of the swing states that were in play and the way it ranked them in terms of likelihood they would move from Obama's 2008 column to Romney's 2012 slate of electoral college wins:

1. North Carolina 2. Iowa 3. Florida 4. Colorado 5. Virginia 6. Nevada 7. Ohio 8. Wisconsin 9. New Hampshire

Looking at it now, that still, arguably, feels right. Ohio is still touted as the state where Obama's "firewall" begins, with New Hampshire and Wisconsin on the other side of it. Most have considered Iowa, lately, on Obama's side of the wall as well, but polling there has not been conducted as robustly as it has in other swing states. So, if the state ends up in Romney's hands, the observation that First Read made in August becomes interesting:

What’s striking about this list is if you give Romney the Top 4 (NC, IA, FL, and CO) that only gets him to 250 electoral votes. And if you give him the next two on the list (VA and NV), he’s still one short of 270 (bringing us to that 269-269 tie). That means he has to put one of Ohio, Wisconsin, or New Hampshire into the mix to get past 270.

Emphasis mine, to illustrate how the long shot chance of an electoral college tie suddenly looks plausible.

Now, several factors help break against the possibility of a deadlock. In Nebraska and Maine, the electoral votes are awarded to the winners of the states' congressional districts. These states don't often end up dividing their electoral votes between competitors, but in 2008 Obama stole an electoral vote from Nebraska. That's not, however, seen as a likely outcome in this election.

Another factor that guards against the possibility of an electoral college tie are "faithless electors" -- that is, electors who show up to vote in the Electoral College and unexpectedly flip the vote they are expected to make. This, also, does not happen that often -- indeed, many states now have laws forbidding it. (You can read a concise history of faithless electors in American politics here.) But the campaign season has already featured a story about some possible faithless electors in the 2012 mix. As you might expect, Ron Paul is involved:

At least three Republican electors say they may not support their party’s presidential ticket when the Electoral College meets in December to formally elect the new president, escalating tensions within the GOP and adding a fresh layer of intrigue to the final weeks of the White House race.

The electors – all are supporters of former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul – told The Associated Press they are exploring options should Mitt Romney win their states. They expressed frustration at how Republican leaders have worked to suppress Paul’s conservative movement and his legion of loyal supporters.

“They’ve never given Ron Paul a fair shot, and I’m disgusted with that. I’d like to show them how disgusted I am,” said Melinda Wadsley, an Iowa mother of three who was selected a Republican elector earlier this year. She said she believes Paul is the better choice and noted that the Electoral College was founded with the idea that electors wouldn’t just mimic the popular vote.

There is no way to determine if any of the people who showed up in that story are really intending to carry out this plan, so I wouldn't put too much stock in it. (In fact, the original story from the Star-Tribune seems to no longer exist.) But it could happen, maybe to Mitt Romney, maybe to Barack Obama. It would end someone's presidential hopes, but it would spare us the misery of an electoral college tie. (Although to be fair, faithless electors might just as conceivably deny a candidate the requisite 270-vote simple majority and plunge us into the same situation that we'd face in the event of a tie anyway.)

And it would be miserable, mark my words! Per the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, here is how electoral college ties are resolved, for all of you who thus far have never had to worry about it:

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.

The short version is that the delegations of each state will meet and vote, with the winner being the person who earns the most votes in each state delegation. From there, whoever has the most states wins, and becomes president. And I'll remind you that it will be the new House of Representatives, voted into office this November that will make the choice.

Now in the case of a tie, the scenarios that will unfold all favor Mitt Romney -- the GOP will, in all likelihood, enjoy a raw majority and the ability to vote by state delegations, in this fashion, to elect Romney to the White House. But there will be all sorts of miserable pain to endure! What if you are a Republican, who won office in a district that voted for Obama? Or a Democrat who did the same in a district that went for Romney? It's been known to happen, and if it comes to that, those representatives will have to choose who they will tick off -- their party, or the voters in their district. It seems pretty certain that they will mostly align themselves by party, but who knows? You could get someone with idiosyncratic principles in the mix.

Regardless, it's a choice that none of them want to have to make if they can avoid it. (In general, members of the House lack the courage to make any difficult choices, which is why we ended up with a super committee.)

But your reasons to question the mental fitness of the Founders do not end there. For some reason, they decided that when it comes to electing a vice president in the case of an electoral college tie, it just would have been too easy to let the president's chosen running mate assume office. So in the case of the vice president, a similar vote is conducted in the Senate. And,as Philip Klein related last week, this is where things get really FUBAR:

Given that it’s quite possible (arguably likely) that Democrats will retain control of the Senate, it means that they could vote for Biden to remain on as VP, even if the House elects Romney as president.

In theory, if the election outcome is a 50-50 Senate, Biden could be the tie-breaking vote for himself. This would allow him to remain on as VP and for the Democrats to retain effective control of the Senate. It would also usher in the Romney-Biden administration.

And from there, Capitol Hill might as well begin every day with Hank Williams Jr. singing, "Are you ready for some nonsense!" If you want to imagine what a Romney-Biden administration would be like, here's how it would go:

1. Romney does a thing, or says a thing, or makes some decision.

2. Every reporter immediately seeks out a reaction from Joe Biden, who probably has his own opinion on whatever thing, statement or decision Romney makes.

3. Forever and ever, punctuated where applicable by Biden breaking Senate ties.

It would probably be the most dysfunctional government in human history, with Vice President Biden essentially running an Avignon Papacy from Number One Observatory Circle. It would probably be hilarious to watch, but also awful. (Though Thomas Friedman will write a hundred columns about the tremendous opportunity for "bipartisan civility" that America has just been handed.)

So, I'm not sure if this is an outcome you want to root for or against, with tears and crossed fingers. But doesn't it sort of seem like it's the outcome we deserve, somehow?

Clarification: Language has been added to the article to expand on the role that faithless electors could play in the presidential election.

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