It is a sunny, chilly morning in the Columbus area, the kind of morning one has to prepare for with coat and sunglasses. It is also a morning of intensive campaigning in Ohio, and the long lines of people waiting with patience for the security check - before getting into the Barack Obama rally in Hilliard – prove that the voters are tuned in and ready for Election Day.
Both Obama and Romney are in Ohio today, as are the reporters, attempting to catch a glimpse of a story that is not easy to find. The polls are saying what they’re saying – advantage Obama; the storm is still a factor – there are areas in the north east of the state where power is still down; the campaigns are locked in the pettiness of last-days campaigning – fighting over this TV ad or that. There’s the battle over an auto industry ad, and Romney is making an effort with women (the essence of his ad: he isn’t going to ban abortion, and women have other important things - like the economy - to worry about). Add the new unemployment numbers to the mix, and the spin both campaigns are putting on these numbers, and you get the picture: another day on the campaign trail, three more to go before Election Day.
Obama dedicated a lot of his speech this morning to “change”. Four years ago, change was his slogan, his promise, his ticket – this year change is the one thing he would not let Governor Romney steal away from him. What “change” really means is hard to tell, but “changing the facts when they’re inconvenient to your campaign? Well, that’s definitely not change”, as the president put it. Obama voters, as the president himself admits, “may be frustrated sometimes at the pace of change”, but “change” is his.
If Romney wants to convince Americans that he has something to offer, let him pick another theme. That Obama’s product hasn’t always worked the way it was supposed to doesn’t give Romney the right to sell the same product – or so Obama seems to believe.
Campaigns are always the stories of competing narratives, with each candidate attempting to force his issues into the public arena, and this one is no different. For Romney, the narrative was consistent all along: the economy. For Obama it is changing: if two weeks ago, when I followed the campaigns in Florida it was mostly about binders full of women (see my reports from Florida here, here, here, here, here and here), earlier this week the women, still very much present as a political concern, were nevertheless cast aside to make place for a better story – Sandy.
Romney would like Sandy to be the consensus and the economy to be the debate. Obama wants the economy to be overshadowed by the storm for just a couple more days. And he wants the story in Ohio to be the auto industry. “ I understand that Governor Romney has had a tough time here in Ohio because he was against saving the auto industry”, Obama said at his rally speech.
The president’s motivation is obvious: “saving” the auto industry is much easier to sell than the complicated and at times conflicting Romney solution for the problem. Romney’s motivation is also obvious: if voters were voting solely on economic issues he’d probably be the winner of this election. But they aren’t. They have to consider social issues, they have to consider foreign affairs, they have to consider likability. And Obama seems to be winning on all three: Romney’s party is a social burden – consider “rape and incest”; Romney’s foreign policy statements make some voters worry about him taking America back into war; and he is more likable than Romney. Today he seemed to be in good mood, smiling and shaking hands, enjoying himself in the state that will be pivotal next Tuesday. Is a two-point lead enough to make him seem so confident? Does he know something we don’t yet know?
Check out Rosner's new book, The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter's Guide