A Last Dispatch From Battleground Ohio

The soldier, winded and hunched, ran the last few yards before leaping into the Foxhole that had been dug behind the carcass of Big Bird.  “Sergeant Jones, I’ve got bad news,” he said.  “I think we’ve lost Nesser.”

Dammit!  What happened, Private Ujay?”

“He was trying to weave through that field of empty chairs when he was knocked down by a fusillade of negative TV ads.  He wasn’t wearing his ear plugs or a gas mask, and he started retching after hearing about the President’s economic record.  The last I saw of him, he was being dragged away by a team of pollsters to participate in a focus group.”

What the hell!  I’ve told everyone that they need to keep the masks on, because the noise and poisonous messages are more than any man can bear.

“He said he wanted to breathe free and watch the Buckeyes game on TV, sir.”

Well, there’s no saving the poor bastard now,” Sergeant Jones said.  She peered over Big Bird’s soiled yellow feathers, scanning the terrain.  “Get down!” she barked, as a fusillade of binders full of women rained down.

“I’ve got more bad news, sir,” Ujay reported.  “Some of the members of the platoon are saying there’s nothing to worry about and no need to get ready for the next attack.”

Blast!  Didn’t they watch that first presidential debate and see what happens when you start to take things for granted?

Another soldier appeared and saluted.  “Message from Captain Duhamel, sir.  He says the Bain Capital Brigade is approaching from the east.  He thinks they’re hoping to outsource us all to China.”

Thanks for the warning, Private Jeff — but we all know that those briefcase-carrying Bain bastards are ruthless.  They’ll stop at nothing once they’ve decided to downsize.”  The sergeant paused for a moment.  “Well, we know that we don’t have enough horses and bayonets to make a stand here.  Time to move out.

“But Sarge — if we move we’ll lose the cover we’ve got here in this Foxhole.”

You didn’t build that, Mack!  Now move!

The bedraggled platoon scrambled out of the Foxhole, past the hulk of Big Bird.  Nearby, hordes of “ground game” campaign workers were dragging reluctant Ohioans to the polls for a final day of early voting.  A black motorcade barreled past, hurling campaign literature about a five-point plan at passersby trying to dodge the Obama volunteers talking about how a 7.9 percent unemployment rate means the economy is on the road to recovery.  A crowd of “campaign surrogates” traded punches on a street corner, and a phalanx of Jeeps carrying members of the 47 Percent Regiment were advancing from the west.  Overhead, the voices of pundits filled the air, raining invective and talking points on the few remaining civilians not under cover.  And Bill Clinton and David Axelrod were spinning like tops, knocking people down as Joe Biden’s Cheshire Cat grin blinded the soldiers and his maniacal laugh echoed off the downtown office buildings.

“My God!  It’s carnage,” Private Ujay shouted, as he ran after Sergeant Jones.  “We’ll never survive this, never!”

Yes we will,” Sergeant Jones bellowed.  “We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.  It’s what you get when you live in Battleground Ohio.”

Dodging Incoming Fire In Battleground Ohio

Here in Battleground Ohio, we’re hunkered down.  For months, we’ve been battered by the attack ads, the ceaseless motorcades, and the haphazard, inexplicable appearance of a TV anchor or minor celebrity.

But now, with the end of the campaign in sight, it looks like the fight over Battleground Ohio is going to get even more fierce — and that is a scary proposition for those of us in the field of fire.  The ad spending in the Buckeye State has been nothing short of extraordinary, as the National Journal‘s ongoing chart indicates, and it obviously is growing.  The reason is that the roster of “swing” states seems to be narrowing, but Ohio remains squarely in the crosshairs.  With Mitt Romney’s recent surge, the Republican ticket is increasingly focused on Ohio as a state that might be the difference maker, and the Obama campaign is doing whatever it can to hold onto our state’s precious electoral votes.

So here in Battleground Ohio, we’re steeled for the next wave of attack.

We recognize that if you are going to walk outside, you have to be prepared to dart across a no-man’s land of pollsters, candidates flipping burgers at your favorite diner, random campaign “surrogates” cluttering every street corner, and insistent campaign volunteers.  We understand that the next call on our phone will almost certainly be part of a broad-based robocall assault and that the next commercial on the football game will be part of a new offensive.  We know that we can’t express any political opinion without catching some serious flak from friends and colleagues who support the other guy.  We’re tired and shellshocked, and when you walk down the street you see fellow citizens with that grim-faced, wild-eyed, had-enough-with-campaigns-and-ready-to-snap-at-any-moment look about them.  We just want the fighting to stop so we can be relieved of our hellish duty and go back to our normal lives.

I’d say we’re all in our foxholes, but some of my Ohioan friends on the left might take offense at being associated with a TV news channel they despise.

The Veep Candidates Square Off

Tonight the second of four national campaign debates takes place.  Vice President Joe Biden and Republican candidate Paul Ryan will go at it for 90 minutes.

I know many conservatives have been slavering for this match-up, and I imagine many Democrats are hoping that Biden can right the ship after President Obama’s underwhelming performance during the first presidential debate.  The veep debate will cover both domestic and foreign policy issues, and will consist of nine 10-minute segments.  The moderator will ask a question, each candidate will have two minutes to respond, and then the moderator will guide the discussion of the issue for the remainder of the time period.  Martha Raddatz of ABC News is moderating, and given the uproar about Jim Lehrer’s laid back approach during the first presidential debate, I expect that she is getting lots of free advice about how she should discharge her moderating duties.

Conservatives are looking forward to this match-up because they believe that Ryan is knowledgeable and capable and Biden is a gaffe machine who inevitably will stumble into some blunder.  That could happen, of course, but I think it’s equally likely that Biden will more than hold his own.  He’s an experienced national figure who’s been through lots of debates before, whereas this will be Ryan’s first time all alone on the big national stage.  If the Democratic ticket wants to bounce back from the President’s poor showing in the first debate, Biden needs to deliver a strong performance.  I’m sure he’s been very focused on making sure that he is adequately prepared.

In the end, I’m not sure that the vice presidential debate means much of anything.  I don’t think anyone votes for a ticket based on the veep — but tonight’s debate should be interesting.

On Early Voting In Ohio

In Ohio, early voting already is in full swing.  Voters here will have more than a month before Election Day to cast their ballots.  It’s one of the reasons why the Obama and Romney campaigns have been so active here recently, with visits from the candidates and their surrogates, lots of TV ads, and extensive “ground games” and door-knocking efforts.  (For an interesting Cleveland Plain Dealer article that attempts to assess the relative strength of the Romney and Obama “ground games” in Ohio, see here.)

According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, in 2008, more than 1.7 million Ohioans cases either early “in person” ballots or traditional mail-in absentee ballots.  That’s about 30 percent of the 5.77 million votes cast overall in Ohio in 2008.  The conventional wisdom is that early voting favors Democratic candidates, because Democrats tend to have jobs that cause them to work odd hours.  (How would anyone test that little bit of CW, by the way?)  Given the size of the “early voting” bloc, is there any wonder that the campaigns are trying to make sure that they maintain a strong presence in Ohio throughout the early voting period, in hopes of catching wavering undecided voters who can be persuaded by the dedicated campaign volunteers at their doors to fill out and send in their ballots?

I like voting in person on Election Day.  It’s one of the true common communal experiences we have in our diverse and sprawling nation, and the quiet act of voting with my fellow citizens always makes me feel good about living in a democracy.  But I also think that early voting is curious, because it means that citizens are voting on the basis of different sets of information.  People who vote on October 7 obviously can’t consider what happens in the remaining month before Election Day.  What if there were some huge scandal, or game-changing incident during that intervening period?  Wouldn’t you want to wait until you have all of the relevant information before you cast your ballot?

This year, I wonder how many people have cast their ballots on the basis of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.  If you’re President Obama, aren’t you hoping that early voters at least hold off until after the second debate, when you have a chance to improve upon your initial performance?

A Big Audience For A Big Debate

Last night’s debate was popular with viewers — which probably is good news for Mitt Romney, who is generally regarded as having performed very well.

According to the overnight ratings, 58 million people tuned in to watch the candidates spar over the issues — a number that doesn’t include those who watched on PBS, Univision, or CSPAN or on-line.  Surprisingly, more people watched this debate than watched the first presidential debate in 2008, when President Obama was at the height of his popularity.  The TV audience also was far larger than the viewership for this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions.

I’m glad to see that the American people are paying attention to this election.  I wonder whether the significantly increased viewership for this debate may have been influenced, at least in part, by a desire on the part of some fed-up voters who are sick of silly attack ads and the squawking of the punditocracy, the pollsters, and the spin jockeys, and just wanted to see President Obama and Mitt Romney in their unfiltered state, going toe to toe.  I imagine that most people who watched the debate thought it was a worthwhile and interesting experience, and will encourage their friends to watch the next one.  I’ll bet that the audience for the second debate will be larger still.

I hope that is the case, and I hope that the viewers also are reaching their own conclusions — not about who won or lost a mere debate, or who looked more “presidential,” but about which candidate is best suited for a very tough and important job.  After all, that is the ultimate question that voters must decide.

Thoughts On The First Debate

An interesting debate — despite the odd, phony start in which the candidates talked about the President’s anniversary, and the somewhat flaccid closing statements — in which the moderator lost control almost immediately, and some good points were made by both candidates.  On balance, I think Mitt Romney bested President Obama.

I think it helped Romney to be on the same stage as the President.  It helped to legitimize Romney, and made the efforts by the Democrats to depict him as some wealthy nut seem silly.  The President treated Romney with respect, and treated his proposals as serious; at times he even nodded at points Romney was making.  I think that has to help Romney seem viable.  The President, on the other hand, seemed to filibuster and seemed distracted by a desire to get the full spread of talking points into his answers; that approach made some of his answers seemed disconnected.

Romney started off on the defensive on his tax plan, as the President pressed him on specifics, but Romney got his bearings.  I thought he seemed knowledgeable, and gave some great answers along the way.  His answer about the role of government, and his references to the Constitution, were just terrific, as was his answer about working with Democrats in Massachusetts to get things done and his answer about why he thinks “Obamacare” is not the right policy notwithstanding Romney’s approval of a Massachusetts health care plan.  The President talked a lot more than Mitt Romney did — but did he make wise use of his time?

Those are my thoughts, without listening to any pundits or spinmeisters.  Now, we’ll see what the American people think, as the points discussed in the debate sink in, and people talk about the candidates and their presentations over the kitchen table and the water cooler.  I’d be interested in hearing what the other Webner House contributors think.

Hey Harry, Mitt Paid Taxes!

Today Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax returns.  They show that the Republican nominee earned more than $13.5 million — mostly from investments — and paid $1.9 million in taxes.  He has his wife also gave generously to charities.

In addition, Romney also released a summary of his taxes going back to 1990.  The summary reported that, during the period from 1990 to 2009, the Romneys paid taxes every year, with an average annual effective federal tax rate of 20.2 percent.  Romney has now provided information about 23 years of tax returns, including releasing the tax returns themselves for 2010 and 2011.

Let’s not forget that the abominable Harry Reid claimed back in August that an anonymous source had told him that Mitt Romney had not paid taxes for 10 years.  It was appalling that the Senate Majority Leader would rely on an unnamed source to launch such serious and slanderous accusations, which have now been shown to be false.  Do you think there is any chance that Harry Reid will apologize to Mitt Romney for making such reckless and unfounded accusations?  That’s what any decent person would do.  Unfortunately, any person of character would never have made the unsupported accusations in the first place, so I wouldn’t bet on old Harry doing the decent thing.  Instead, he’ll just endure another blow to whatever shreds of credibility he might still possess.

I hope Romney’s release of his tax returns takes that silly issue off the table, and lets the candidates and the American public focus on the big issues in the race — like who is better equipped to get our economy going, and how we can get people back to work and bring this unending recession to a long-overdue end.