"The Sunday Political Brunch" -- October 7, 2012

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(Syracuse, New York) – I’m on the road again this weekend, but there is no shortage of subjects to talk about in the world of politics. One Presidential debate is history, with three more to go! Here are my observations for the week:

“There You Go, Again!” – Ronald Reagan’s famous debate line is worth recalling. Mitt Romney certainly had a Reagan-like performance in the first debate Wednesday night, but this contest is far from over. Debates can be tough on an incumbent, who must defend his record for the first time. Reagan himself had a horrible first debate against Walter Mondale in 1984, only to come back and easily dispatch Mondale in the second debate on his way to a landslide victory in November (see photo). So Obama supporters know he can give a comeback performance in the second and third debates; and Romney supporters need to know their man is up to the task - but not overconfident - in rounds two and three.

“Libya” – While he hit hard on the economy in the first debate, Romney must now hit hard on Libya during the final two debates. The changing White House story about that tragic event has caused deep concern in the public and has given Republicans a lot of political ammunition. The worst political wounds are often self-inflicted; and, from an election-year standpoint, the White House handled this poorly and could pay dearly politically.

“Unemployment Numbers” – The best news for President Obama this week was that unemployment has dropped to 7.8 percent, with one more report due the Friday before Election Day. If I were coaching Obama in the debates, I would advise pounding that number over and over. If I were advising Romney in the debates, I would get away from percentages and use raw numbers. Saying there are 23 million Americans still unemployed is a lot stronger than calling it 7.8 percent. Yes, it’s nuance; but when you talk in millions, it grabs people’s attention.

“Gas Prices” – Obama’s big concern now is the price of gas. If the price continues to trend up sharply, it could hurt him. People always blame the President for such things, even if they are not his fault. The timing of the spike in prices at the pump couldn’t be worse for Obama.

“Fudging the Numbers” – When unemployment dropped sharply to 7.8 percent Friday, a lot of White House critics – including retired General Electric CEO Jack Welsh – accused the Labor Department of cooking the books. Can that really happen? I have my doubts, and here is why: The Labor Department – like many cabinet agencies – is made up of mostly career civil service employees, including many who came in under Republican administrations. To me, it would be hard to fudge the numbers without a whistleblower coming forward. In 2004, some Democrats accused the Bush II White House of doing the very same thing – sugar coating weak economic numbers to help reelection. Now talk radio is full of similar chatter. The White House’s loss of credibility on the Libya matter is only fueling doubts about other issues. Still, the 7.8 figure is a net gain for the Obama reelection bid. If he can convince enough people the economy is improving, he wins.

“VP Debates” – Thursday night, October 11, the Vice Presidential candidates will debate in Kentucky. The Ryan-Biden match-up should be entertaining, featuring two men who love to talk endlessly in public. VP debates rarely mean much in the overall picture, but they have had some amusing train-wreck-like moments over the past few decades. So, watch for the candidates possibly hitting some potholes this week.

“National Polls” – Romney definitely got a post-debate bounce. Last week, President Obama’s lead in the Real Clear Politics composite poll was 3.1 percent. Today it is only 1.4 percent. Another strong debate performance by Romney will make this race dead even.

“Swing States Tighten” – The post-debate bounce has put Mitt Romney in a tie in Florida, Virginia and Colorado. Even if you assume he can win all three, when you add that to his estimated Electoral College total, he reaches only 258, with 270 needed to win. Obama has opened a wide enough lead in Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ohio to exceed the poll’s margin of error, so Nevada and Iowa become even more crucial to Romney. Bottom line: The swing states still trend strongly in Obama’s favor. As I have said before, Romney could win the popular vote, with Obama winning the Electoral College. It’s just that kind of year!

As always, your comments opinions are welcome at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com

Not only did Romney perform brilliantly, but Obama performed miserably. Why did the man acclaimed as one of the greatest campaigners ever show so poorly? It's simple. He was being confronted with truths which he found unpleasant; AND he did not have his usual audience of the party faithful and the "yes" men with whom he surrounds himself. He couldn't muster that insouciant toothy grin and seemingly effortless delivery which so charms his willfully blind supporters. With squeaky-clean Romney on the stage with him, Obama's distortions and outright lies about Romney just didn't work!

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