Ignore everything about the 2012 election prior to today. Before this point, ignore every poll, every positive and negative ad, every gaffe -- because none of it matters. Now, 25 days before the election, is when our presidential candidates' actions matter. This is when those highly sought after swing voters will be influenced and decided. This is when Romney and Obama need to be on their A games.
Up until today, the candidates have spent their time cultivating their bases, winning their party's nomination, building momentum, and of course, fundraising. $1.25 billion dollars (Candidate fundraising; outside group fundraising) has been spent building the Romney and Obama brands -- and another $1.25 billion is expected to be spent in the next three weeks to cross the finish line and win the remaining voters. Read that again: $1.25 billion dollars will be spent in three weeks to win 12% of voters. (And another $3.25 on Congressional races.)
Here we are, 21 months into the election and Romney and Obama are exactly where they started -- tied in a dead heat to influence that 12% that will tip them over the edge.
Going into this final round, the round that matters, who has the advantages and disadvantages? Who has the burden to overcome? And how do they overcome it?
And what actually influences those swing voters (vs. what excites base voters, who have decided already)?
While usually incumbent presidents have the leg up in a race, President Obama the bigger burden to overcome. Here's why:
- Romney may not be raising as much as President Obama on his campaign, but he comes in with a conservative Superpac buffer, which is out raising progressive Superpacs 5:1 Get ready because Superpacs are about to unleash their negative ad-buying fury -- and conservative Superpacs have a huge leg up.
- The country still feels the hangover from the recession, and Romney is (and should continue) to tap into the country's vulnerabilities. Romney can use his messaging money to put Obama on the defensive and paint President Obama as a failure who hasn't made the country "feel better."
- The 12% of swing voters that need to be persuaded, are swayed more by negative attack ads than positive ads Since conservatives have more money to buy these ads, and their focus is on attacking the state of the economy and blaming it on President Obama, they have a leg up.
Although the Obama administration has gotten us out of the recession, pushed unemployment below 8%, passed health care and killed Osama Bin Laden, he has struggled with messaging his policy successes to voters -- especially the 12% of undecideds who disproportionately feel "disappointed" in the President's performance, thus hurting his incumbency advantage. To win, he has a bigger burden to overcome winning back swing voters who once trusted him. And he must do so with 1/5 of the SuperPac money that will influence those voters.
- The President has no choice but to change the narrative. When Romney attacks him, the President should NEVER, EVER act defensive or ignore the attack. He must, learn the art of spin. He must take Romney's words and flip them over in his favor. Most importantly, President Obama needs to clearly show America the difference between him and Mitt Romney. He must show America that he felt and understood the pains caused by Bush's failure at managing the economy. He spent every moment of his presidency fighting to get us to this point: just past the recession with unemployment back down to 7.8%. And there is still work to do. But, do you want a President who understands your pain and the policy, or do you want a president who has been wealthy since birth? Obama is great at saying these things on the train, but again, none of that matters. He and his team need to hammer this message home during the debates.
- Obama must clearly articulate, through stories, how bad it was when he entered office; what his administration has done to get us out of that hole; and what we are in the process of achieving to make our country prosperous again.
- Obama must steer the debate. With the financial power (and messaging purchase power) in Romney's hands, he must use the power of his Presidency to steer the course of the debate.
- Attacks sway swing voters. President Obama must rise above attacks; focus on the future, thus changing the narrative.
The big question, we as political enthusiast must ask ourselves is: will we allow money to dictate this election or will we let leadership? Mitt Romney, sadly, does not need to be on his A game given the advantages he has in this game; President Obama, once labeled as Superman, needs to channel his inner 2008 candidate, but on steroids. The only way for President Obama to counter the power of negative attack ads in the final hours, is to remind the country why he was the candidate of hope and change. Then again, every once in a while, those negative ads backfire...we can only "hope" for that!