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The real state of play

About 12 months back, the re-election of Barack Obama appeared a lost cause simply because the president appeared lost in a policy vacuum, buffeted by high unemployment numbers and low approval, writes Anirudh Bhattacharyya.

columns Updated: Nov 02, 2012 22:05 IST

About 12 months back, the re-election of Barack Obama appeared a lost cause simply because the president appeared lost in a policy vacuum, buffeted by high unemployment numbers and low approval. You could have argued that the Republican Party could nominate a cardboard cut-out to challenge him for occupancy of the White House, and it would succeed in securing a four-year lease. Well, it did get that partly correct in electing Mitt Romney as its poll-bearer.

There’s been plenty of myth-making about Romney. For instance, his oft-cited claims to gloriously governing the state of Massachusetts. If that were the case, why does he appear to have less electoral support there than Obama would at a Ku Klux Klan rally?

He even had trouble rousing Republicans during the party’s primaries, and was batte-red all summer by an Obama campaign relishing the opportunity to caricature him as a vulture capitalist. Obama appeared to have four more gears than Romney’s bandwagon.

The turnabout was the first presidential debate. It was the biggest blow of the year till Hurricane Sandy made landfall. And since that Denver debate, Obama has been unable to put his recovery act in place. Somewhat like his handling of the American economy, he’s thrown other people’s money at the problem, over $1 billion in campaign contributions, but has been unable to stem the recession. The president may have delivered the better laugh lines through the campaign, but he’s found voters more interested in getting out of unemployment lines.

What’s most troubling for him is that every swing state is one he won in 2008. If even states he won by double digits like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and Pennsylvania are in play, there’s a tough game afoot. Elsewhere, every trend favours Romney.

The barrage of polling that’s marked this election has upped the incredibility quotient. Actually if polling had been accurate in 2004, John Kerry, who apparently led George W Bush by three points in Florida according to election-day exit polls, may have been completing his second term. Most 2012 surveys have assumed samples that closely relate to the 2008 election, which, as most people realise, was historic. Those who buy these results are prime candidates to purchase sub-prime mortgage securities circa 2008.

On the ground, the Obama campaign probably knows it faces a stormfront. Just as Sandy deluged several areas in America including New York, there may just be a wave that team Obama is trying, desperately, to wave back. The leader who could “slow” the “rise of the oceans” faces the prospect of turning the electoral tide. Otherwise, it would hardly dispatch Bill Clinton to Minnesota and Vice-President Joe Biden to Pennsylvania, two states that even a fortnight back were solid blue.

While his campaign completely lost the moment and the momentum, that’s doesn’t mean it’s lost. Like Florida in 2000, it could all come down to Ohio, a state that has seen more political advertising this season than actual programming on television.

That’s the state of play. And the real advantage the Obama campaign may have is its ground game, the ability to get voters to polling stations. If Obama does manage to sneak in a victory on Tuesday night, he should just appoint campaign gurus, the two Davids, Axelrod and Plouffe, America’s czars since they would have taken on an impossible mission and succeeded in spinning the goliath of political garbage into gold.

I spent election night 2008 at the CNN headquarters in New York, a place that bore a festive feel, and that channel even featured a live holographic correspondent. Later, I watched the chaotic celebrations at Times Square. Perhaps this year, that party may be over just as surely as those holograms vanished into the digital ether.

On Monday night, Romney will certainly sleep easier than Obama, that crowning moment of 2008 having slipped off into history for the president. Win or lose, he will wave that halo goodbye.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years.
The views expressed by the author are personal