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Early warnings about changes in governments and political parties.

What the second Obama-Romney debate showed people

By Ken Feltman

The second debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney is unlikely to change many minds but it will convert a few undecided voters. That statement is based upon analysis of focus groups held after last week’s debate.

Undecided voters were largely unmoved by the debate but some took away one of two impressions: First, Obama has an edge, an arrogance, some said, and they did not like it. Secondly, Romney continues to say things in a way that puts off some women.

A man in Ohio said: “The president sure thinks he’s pretty smart, doesn’t he?”

He’s got a mean streak,” commented a woman in Florida.

“Oh, yuk,” said an Ohio woman. “He (Romney) just seems so condescending and out of touch with people like me.”

A man in Florida: “Romney sure lacks the common touch.”

In more cases than not, voters found that their pre-conceived notions were reinforced. In other words, they found what they were looking for. Some women, however, did not find that their pre-conceived notions were reinforced.

NOTE: This observation is totally unscientific because the sample is too small but in response to a question about how they would vote at that moment if they had to, about four in ten declined to answer. Fifty-six percent of the others said they would or might vote for Romney.


The emperor has no clothes?

We need not argue over who won last night’s debate: The pundits and the pollsters tell us that Mitt Romney won. President Obama had an off night.

What does it mean? The most tangible advantage to Romney will be energized volunteers. As the Romney campaign stumbled along recently, with a bad week almost every week, the faithful became quiet. They ignored the urgings of their more committed friend and neighbors to “do something” to help Romney.

Today, many of those dispirited voters will do something. They may put out a yard sign or agree to make phone calls. They may decide that they will vote for Romney after wavering. They will commit to Romney.

On the other side, millions of voters will be less enthusiastic for Obama today. This debate will take some of the wind out of their sails. They will begin to question whether Obama is up to the task.

In a close race, last night’s debate may have shifted the momentum. Voters have seen Obama without his teleprompter and friendly audiences. He will need to have a “Romney-type performance” in the next debate to regain his footing.

Growling and roaring in the Romney campaign

Volunteers are like zoo animals: Without regular care and feeding, they are soon growling and roaring.

Just about this time in 1996, the Republican faithful – the folks who knock on doors for the party’s presidential candidates and staff the volunteer headquarters – started to become disillusioned. Their candidate for president – World War II hero Bob Dole, long-time leader of the Senate Republicans –  continued to talk in the jargon of the Senate. Late-night comics ridiculed him.

Rank-and-file voters were not impressed and, little by little, the faithful GOP workers seemed to give up on Dole ever getting his act together. It seemed that a discredited Democrat in the White House was not all that was needed to get a Republican elected.  The Republican candidate had to energize the voters.

The complaints came in from the faithful: They could not get car-tops, yard signs or literature from the Dole campaign. Dole buttons were few and far between. State and local party headquarters ran out. The volunteers were starved for the political give-aways that they thrive on.

Nationally connected Republican leaders, pollsters and consultants disputed the polls showing Dole slipping behind President Clinton.  They challenged the sampling techniques of those polls showing Clinton pulling away. They had charts, graphs and other arguments for a close election.

Dole and his key staff grew tired of being asked, “what’s wrong?” They became testy.

In 2008, GOP workers in thousands of precincts complained that they could not get the campaign materials that they needed to compete with the well stocked Obama volunteers. They whispered that their candidate was not up to the eloquence of Obama. Their pollsters and consultants challenged TV and newspaper polls that showed Obama lengthening his lead. Senator John McCain, always a bit annoyed at questions, became testy. So did some campaign staffers. Rumored infighting was soon confirmed.

Today, GOP volunteers in many part of the country are crying out for signs and literature. The Romney people promise them “soon.” GOP pollsters, pundits and consultants are disputing the polls, led by Dick Morris.

And the campaign’s key people  – but not the candidate this time – are getting testy. Mrs. Romney told off the GOP faithful in an especially unfortunate and stressful moment: “Stop it. This is hard.” Yes, it is hard. But your husband was not recruited. No one twisted his arm. He wanted to run. He put himself forward and now he has the nomination. This is not the time to complain about the folks who are volunteering their time and energy. This is the time to tend to the care and feeding of the volunteers. 

Otherwise, you have an unruly zoo.

September 25: GOP +3 Senate and -14 House

Although there has been a great deal of activity in the past month or so, with some shifting of likely winners in both House and Senate contests, the races for control of the two bodies have remained about where they were months ago. The latest projections show that the GOP should pick up three Senate seats and lose 14 House seats.

The Missouri Senate seat is still listed as a Republican pickup. That may change as the race continues with a  flawed GOP candidate against a weak Democratic incumbent (see articles below). Also, GOP incumbent Senator Scott Brown (Mass.) is fighting not just controversial Democrat Elizabeth Warren but also the fear many Massachusetts Democrats express that Warren is needed to insure that the Senate stays in Democratic hands.

The erosion in House seats will not be enough to switch control of the House. If the Republicans net three new Senate seats, the Senate will be deadlocked at 50-50. The vice president, as president of the Senate, would break tie votes.

Generally, Republicans hold narrower leads in “switchable” seats than Democrats. If the national trend swings dramatically toward the Democrats, the GOP could end up with no gains in the Senate and larger losses in the House. That still seems unlikely to happen but it is possible if Romney continues to stumble.

For the first time this year, we are seeing Republicans express disappointment with the top of the ticket and suggest that they may not vote. In recent elections, when Republicans have said that, they have usually ended up voting.

Missouri Republicans & Washington GOP Biggies Discuss Replacing Aiken as Senate Candidate

We just confirmed that the telephone lines have been busy as Missouri and Washington-based Republican officials discuss what to do with blunder-prone GOP Senate candidate Todd Aiken. Many want him to quit the contest.

In the not-even two weeks since Aiken won the GOP Senate primary in Missouri, he has equated student loans to socialism, suggested that voting rights laws are ineffective and unneeded, said that the federal school lunch program should be terminated and underscored his opposition to abortion for rape victims with televised comments on what he calls “legitimate rape.”

His opponent in the general election, incumbent Democratic Sen. McCaskill, seems to have made a brilliant strategic decision when her campaign ran ads during the GOP primary that promoted Aiken as the “true conservative.”

Aiken supporters say he will not give up his place on the November ballot.

Todd Aiken’s remarks make Missouri a more difficult pick-up for GOP

Rep. Todd Aiken (R-Mo.) showed his loose-cannon tendencies over the weekend when he said that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant. That is the latest  controversial comment by Aiken, the GOP Senate candidate against vulnerable incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

You may read more about the controversy at Politico.

Movement conservatives and tea party newcomers are having a rough time dealing with social issues and Todd’s miscue may cost the GOP the chance to take control of the Senate. Six years ago, then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) was cruising toward reelection in Virginia amid rumors that he might be thinking of launching a campaign for president in 2008. A remark that was viewed as racially insensitive brought him down from a double-digit lead to defeat. He is trying to regain that lost Senate seat this year but is still dogged by that off-hand remark from six years ago.

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) outraged minority groups in Michigan earlier this year when he attacked Democratic incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow in an ad that seemed to take a swipe at Asian-Americans. Polls show that Hoekstra has not recovered most of the lost ground.

With Missouri probably slipping off the pick-up charts, Republicans face a much more difficult shot at controlling the Senate after the November elections.

August 19: GOP +3 Senate and -11 House

We have had the Republicans likely to pick up four Senate seats in November. Missouri was one of the four. Rep. Todd Aiken (R-Mo.) won the GOP nomination and faces incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in November.

His comments earlier today to a St. Louis television station explaining why he opposes abortion for rape victims may have doomed Aiken, who seems prone to insensitive comments.

Blunders of this type usually leave permanent damage. Unless polling shows Aiken can survive this blunder, Missouri is now in the blue column.

July 28: GOP +4 Senate and -10 House

The senate races are boiling down to advertising budgets and turnout operations. Missouri is a disappointment for Democrats as it slips further away from both Sen. McCaskill (D) and President Obama.

Does Romney actually have 1 or 2 points more than the polls show?

The New York Times’ Nate Silver has another article pointing out that many of the current polls may be understating Mitt Romney’s actual strength. ( He is correct. Many polls measure registered voters, but when likely voters are surveyed, Romney’s support increases.

In September, several media companies – TV networks and large newspapers – will switch from polling models surveying registered voters to likely voters.

The rationale for using registered voters earlier in the election cycle is that it is difficult to tell which voters are most likely to vote until closer to the election. We disagree but it washes out in the end. Whether the registered-voter method gives some candidates (usually Democrats) an early advantage that can translate into contributions and endorsements is an ongoing debate.

Expect Romney to gain at least a point or two as media polls shift to the likely-voter model after Labor Day.

Obama may have a smaller “margin of error” than Romney

As we have analyzed House and Senate races in three swing states – Iowa, Ohio and Virginia – we have noticed a common thread:  President Obama has more of his potential voters already committed and willing to say so publicly. Mitt Romney has more room to grow, so to speak.

Romney may be polling one-half to nearly three percentage points below his likely strength on election day while Obama is close to his likely election day result. In other words, Romney may well be headed for victory in all three of the states we have analyzed.

We will have more on this as we analyze more focus groups and polls.