Tuesday, 9 October 2012

More proof that candidates' images are critical

Well, well, well - what did I say the other day about the race for the White House?

Hmm. Let's have a look: 'Things will probably be closer in the end than they look today... remember the lesson: nothing is set in stone, even when an election looks like it should be in the bag for one party or the other'.

It's not exactly Nostradamus. But it's not bad. For after his comprehensive shoeing at the hands of his Republican rival, Mitt Romney (above), Barack Obama finds himself on the slide. Suddenly, inexplicably, he could lose. He peaked at just under an 80 per cent likelihood of winning the election on betting sites, and one numerically-minded commentator gave him an 87.1 per cent chance of winning just a week ago. Now those numbers have been cut to about 64 per cent and 74.8 per cent. Going into the first debate, the President led by between three and four per cent: now his lead has shrivelled to almost nothing. Indeed, left-leaning Americans were sent into a state of panic by a Pew Research Poll putting Mr Romney four points ahead.

What a turnaround - all of which backs up what I said before the duel in Denver. Images of candidates and policies remain critical, even in an era of cynicism and highly-developed electoral campaigning technology. Voters had heard a lot of things they didn't like about Mitt Romney. He reassured them, suddenly posing as a concerned, moderate, middle-of-the-road businessman. Take away existing health cover? He seemed shocked. Not me, he opined. Privatise Social Security? No, I never said such a thing. Where would I find all the money for my tax cuts? Why, I'll stop giving money to public television - the equivalent of paying your mortgage by selling off a few tins of baked beans in your larder. The sheer brass neck of this grand intellectual larceny was breathtaking, but that's politics.

Mr Obama, on the other hand, seemed rather tired and disengaged. He wasn't as bad as people inside the media echo-chamber say: indeed, he was clam, measured and reassuring at points. But he wouldn't or couldn't even stir himself enough to attack his opponent's half-truths and obfuscations: an unforgiveable omission on the part of a man who carries about half his compatriots' political hopes on his back. He didn't even look into the camera during his wordy summation. No wonder voters preferred his rival by a margin of two-to-one. These little things shouldn't matter - but they do.

Yes, the 'essentials' of the campaign - a slowly recovering economy, a rising Presidential approval rating, even in that Pew poll, the perceived likeability of Mr Obama himself - all point in one direction: a very narrow Democratic win.

But now it will be close. The essentials might not matter. Mr Obama has turned an amble into a sprint. All because of candidates and policies. Or, if you prefer, 'events, dear boy: events'.

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