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2012 Election Update: Summer Politickin’

We at The Harbus get it—it’s been a busy summer. And like most sane people, HBS students tend not to follow every single twist and turn of American Presidential campaigns. But with a scant 10 weeks left until Americans go to the polls, it’s high time to take a look at where we’re at and what’s ahead for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election.

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Campaigns can get ugly when an incumbent is presiding over a bad economy. This campaign is widely considered thus far to be one of the nastiest Presidential campaigns—ever.

It’s bad out there. How bad is it? Well, if it gets any worse, we could see the candidates accused of committing a felony, causing the death of a factory worker’s wife, or running a campaign of hate. It could get so bad we could see an ad depicting one party pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.

Surprise! All these things have already happened. Don’t expect it to get any better. Think happy thoughts.

It’s the economy, stupid replica breitling Aeromarine .

Let’s set the stage. Lots of people are broke: The Pew Research Center reports that the 2000s has been the worst decade for the middle class in modern history. The government is broke: The Fiscal Year 2012 budget deficit, at $1.3 trillion, is the fourth consecutive year of trillion dollar-plus deficits. The economy sucks: Unemployment is at 8.3%. No President since the Great Depression has won reelection with unemployment above 8%.

Observing these grim statistics in the context of James Carville’s well-worn aphorism about the economy, one would be forgiven for concluding that “Obama’s toast, stupid.”

Not so fast, for two reasons. One, the economy is in a recovery, albeit a weak one. Two, Obama possesses exceptional personal likeability among wide swaths of voters www.replicaforbest.co.uk, which may be enough to overcome the weakness of the economic recovery. Mitt Romney’s campaign gets this. The evidence is his selection of Vice Presidential nominee.

Veep.

For an office that John Nance Garner, a sitting Vice President, referred to as “not worth a bucket of warm [spit]” the Vice Presidency has taken on outsized importance in recent years, at least in terms of electoral politics. Governor Romney’s nomination of Paul Ryan, Republican Congressman from Wisconsin and Chair of the House Budget Committee, accomplishes nothing short of fundamentally shifting the set of national issues over which this election will be determined.

This is because Congressman Ryan wrote and promoted his plan, “Roadmap for America’s Future,” a controversial fiscal reform agenda based on Conservative principles. Okay, it’s basically like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged turned into public policy proposals. Whether you find Ryan’s ideas toxic or electrifying, this campaign is no longer purely about pocketbook considerations. It’s also about fundamental political philosophies and vastly different visions of America’s future.

And Ryan faces off against Joe Biden! This is such a great matchup. Joe Biden is an immensely talented politician with substantial governing experience. But sometimes he gets a little carried away, like a few weeks ago when he said that Republicans “want to put y’all back in chains” in front of a majority African American audience. These are the moments when The Honorable Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. turns into “Uncle Joe.” Uncle Joe is like your whacky uncle who has one too many scotches at Thanksgiving dinner and makes your relatives blush with his unfiltered verbal improvisations.

The fact that his counterpart is Paul Ryan, who’s like your goody-goody, know-it-all cousin, makes this one of the most interesting Vice Presidential debates in recent memory. Too bad there’s only one of them. It’s on October 11th at 9:00pm ET. Be there.

Medi-scare.

Scaring the bejesus out of senior citizens during an election is a venerable tradition in American politics. Both sides do it every election, because it works. Old people vote at high rates, and they jealously guard their Federal benefit programs, especially Medicare, the program that provides medical care to Americans 65 and older.  As such, Medicare is often referred to as part of the “third rail” of politics—touch it and you get electrocuted.

Paul Ryan is the leading Congressional proponent of reforming Medicare. Through his “Roadmap” plan, he has proposed to fundamentally transform Medicare over time into something like an optional voucher system. In so doing, he has not only touched the third rail; he’s proposed to rip it out and put in a new one.

So whereas the Medicare issue is often used by politicians in last minute whispering campaigns that seek to frighten senior citizens, this election offers us something different: a full-fledged, wide-open debate about Medicare reform. Which state has the largest number of Medicare beneficiaries? Florida.

Sunshine and a little math.

Florida’s a kind of a big deal. The magic number in Presidential elections is 270, the number of electoral votes required to secure a majority of the 538 electoral votes up for grabs. Recent polling indicates that 237 electoral votes are in Obama’s “likely” column to Romney’s 191. That leaves 110 electoral votes from nine states in the “toss-up” category, including Florida.

Look what happens if Florida goes to Obama: he picks up the state’s 29 electoral votes and brings his total to 266. Of the eight remaining toss-up states, New Hampshire possesses the least electoral votes, at four, which means that if President Obama retains support in his “likely” states, he only needs the Sunshine State plus any other toss-up state to secure a second term.

Wildcard: Congress Gone Wild!

According to Gallup, an all-time low of 10% of Americans approve of Congress. Which begs the question: Who on Earth are these 10%? In the last couple weeks we’ve had a group of Congressmen on an official trip to the Holy Land take a midnight, post-dinner dip into the Sea of Galilee, including one Member of Congress who chose to do so as naked as God made him.

Or take Congressman Todd Akin, please. The Missouri Republican’s statement about abortion, the female body, and “legitimate rape” are by now well known, and his comments sent the entire Republican Party into complete DEFCON 2 crisis mode. Voters endured an entire week’s debate over rape and abortion instead of the economy and the budget.

And if there’s a lesson in what Akin said, it’s not a public policy, female anatomy, medical, political, religious, ethical, or moral lesson. It’s that it only takes one moronic comment from someone with an election certificate and a live microphone to change the course of this too-close-to-call election.

What to watch for.

So there you have it. The economy, the Paul Ryan effect, the Medicare debate, Florida, and last-minute political surprises are some of the main things that will help determine the outcome.

A few others. The empathy gap: Polls show Romney, despite a strong showing on ideas for and handling of the economy, lagging the President badly on whether he “understands problems of people like you.” Closing this gap is crucial to Romney’s chances.

Women voters: Obama has a double digit lead among women voters according to recent polls, slightly higher than his edge in 2008. This gap can again tip the balance in key swing states.

Ohio: In addition to Florida, Ohio is, as always, the other key state. Indeed, no Republican has ever won the Presidency without taking the Buckeye State. Most recent poll: Obama 45%, Romney 45%… stay tuned.

August 28, 2012

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