Our Benjamin Domenech, who does political analysis at The Transom independently of his health care policy work for The Heartland Institute, penned an interesting take on what awaits us on Election Day.
Ben wrote yesterday at Real Clear Politics that if Mitt Romney wins decisively, as many conservatives predict/hope, it will not be a “wave election” in the manner of Ronald Reagan in 1980, but be an “undertow election.”
His piece had such impact that Megyn Kelly of Fox News did a segment yesterday afternoon on Ben’s political theory with Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. You can watch the segment below, but first, a quick excerpt of Ben’s RCPpiece (and then some of my thoughts below that):
This is a question few journalists have really dug into this cycle: how dedicated is Obama’s base of support? How shaky is the backing which is elevating him above a tie in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and elsewhere? After a billion dollars of spending, are they fired up and ready to go? Or has Obama lost his winning aura among them, perhaps for good? They may not like Mitt Romney enough to vote for him.
But if you believe the polls, even the ones where Obama is ahead, they no longer dislike Romney as much as they once did – and they may even like him more than they do the president. As the approval advantage has evaporated to below fifty percent, no one in the old media seems to be questioning the assumption that Obama will maximize the votes of the 47-48 percent of people who still approve of him, or at least tell pollsters they do. This is possible. It’s also very unlikely.
I believe Obama’s very late-in-the-game appeals to his base, judging from his ads and stump speeches lately, is one data point that lends credence to Ben’s theory. Another significant one is the early voting returns, which have Obama doing 22 points worse than at this time in 2008. And early voting, historically, is supposed to be a great strength of Democrats.
But here’s where Ben is only slightly wrong, and perhaps it’s a quibble: It is the undertow at the beach that creates the wave. I think there is a real possibility of not only a Democrat undertow, but an independent undertow, as well. When was the last time any Republican candidate for president had the polls showing so many independents flowing his way? It’s in the double digits for Romney in Ohio, last I heard. And judging from the early voting numbers and general Tea Party Republican enthusiasm to vote on Tuesday, I believe we could have an even split or slightly “Republican-plus” turnout this time around. The party-identification number is often slightly to significantly “Democratic-plus” in most presidential elections.
That prediction bolsters Ben’s theory — creating a Mitt Romney and Republican wave, created by the undertow of Democrats and (especially) independents. Ben writes that an undertow election “would reflect not so much a groundswell [for Romney] as a cave-in, one where independents did not shift to Romney but away from Obama …”
I think that’s slicing the garlic too thin, and not giving Romney enough credit for presenting himself as not just a viable alternative to Obama and his policies, but an affirmatively better choice for independents. One thing’s for sure, we’ll know come Tuesday night.