The Campaign Spot

Is Obama Getting His Money’s Worth Out of His Campaign?

In the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt, a lot of Wisconsin talk, and a quick look at gay-marriage laws in the swing states, but notably a question that borders on blasphemous inside the Beltway: For all of their money and incumbency advantages, is the Obama campaign really that good?

Is Obama’s Campaign . . . Really That Good?

In response to some election analysts’ sudden realization that President Obama could very well be the underdog in his matchup with Mitt Romney, Ace writes at the Ace of Spades:

And speaking of events — there are, of course, a lot of unknowns lurking out there, ready to become known at any moment; and one strains one’s imagination trying to think of unknowns which could suddenly spring up which help Barack Obama.

Whereas one has little difficulty thinking of Sudden Events which would damage him further — France and Greece, for example, imploding, while following policies which seem an awful lot closer to Obama’s program than to Mitt Romney’s.

And why even go abroad searching for monsters? What if California or Illinois melts down? What if they default, and/or their bonds stop selling?

The economy seems unlikely to improve dramatically — indeed, it seems softening, worsening, deteriorating. It seems far more likely that, if the economy were to suddenly move from a slowly-degrading flatline, it would deteriorate precipitously, rather than suddenly improve markedly.

A sudden 6% jump in GDP would help Obama . . . but that seems less likely than a -2% double dip of the recession. Neither are very likely at the moment, but the former seems fanciful while the latter seems like a genuine possibility.

Even to the extent that election campaigns matter — Is Obama’s campaign a strong one? . . . Obama’s ads must, due to facts, remain a muddle — it’s bad, but it’s getting better, not quite as bad as it could be. We must do better, because we cannot be satisfied with the horrible economy as it is, but who knows, it could be worse.

The folks in Romney-world would never, in a million years, want to be quoted in a manner that suggests they’re underestimating the competition. They know Obama will have an enormous fundraising advantage, a bully pulpit and megaphone that are simply unparalleled in American life; taxpayers will pick up the tab for untold sums in “official” trips that look and sound like campaign swings, and of course, the media will be much, much tougher on Romney than Obama.

But . . . periodically, when talking to Romney folks, they point out their rivals’ alleged billion-dollar fundraising goal, the 700 full-time staffers, the super-duper high-tech gadgets they have in their Chicago headquarters, and . . . you get the sense that they’re still waiting for the Obama campaign’s much-hyped A-game. This is it? This is what all of those resources and advantages have produced for Obama? “Forward”? The life of Julia? Bill Clinton talking about how terrible a botched SEAL mission would have been for Obama?

Just how great a strategist is David Axelrod? The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway is that he’s a rumpled genius, who saw the enormous potential in a little-known state senator and helped steer Obama’s ambitions all the way to the Oval Office.

Except Barack Obama may have been the luckiest man in American politics from 2004 to 2008. If Jack Ryan’s marriage hadn’t ended the way it had, or if his divorce records had remained sealed, Obama’s Senate race proceeds quite differently. If Illinois Republicans had any kind of a bench in 2004, Obama would not have had the easy lay-up of running against Alan Keyes. (Remember, for about two days, there was talk about the state GOP recruiting Mike Ditka. Ask Gray Davis, Steve Clute, or Norm Coleman what it’s like to run against a local celebrity.)

Then Obama runs for president, and a vote for the Iraq War that was only a minor issue for John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004 is suddenly a very big deal in 2008. Hillary Clinton turns out to be a lot more brittle on the campaign trail than anyone expected — remember driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants — and Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist completely misunderstands how his party allocates delegates.

Then in the general election, Obama is on the verge of blowing it heading into the autumn, even as he’s going up against a Republican who refuses to make an issue of his pastor and mentor, who has since presented himself to the American public as a raving lunatic at the National Press Club. Then Lehman collapses, the economy tanks, and whatever hope McCain and Palin had of swimming against the anti-incumbent, Bush fatigue undertow fades away.

David Axelrod didn’t make any of those things happen. Barack Obama didn’t make any of those things happen. You can argue they responded well, and indeed, that is a big part of politics.

But the Barack Obama of 2009 to 2012 hasn’t responded to events nearly as well as the Obama of 2004 to 2008. Obama has acknowledged this, in a way, when he told disappointed donors last year, “I’m running against the Barack Obama of 2008.”

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