Wednesday, November 28, 2012

David Axelrod talks about the campaign

By Richard K. Barry

David Axelrod, senior strategist for the Obama campaign, was at the University of Chicago talking to an audience about the election, particularly those things that surprised him about the Romney campaign.

Among those surprises was that Republican super PACs didn't attack Obama far earlier; Mitt Romney didn't  invest more in his ground game; and, Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate. 

Axelrod said that he was a bit surprised conservative Super PACs, which spent massive amounts of money, "didn't hit television and radio with anti-Obama ads until May." He added that "our air defenses weren't ready," meaning they didn't yet have the money to respond. As it put it, "they gave us a pass for some reason."

Another point he made was that the Romney campaign took too long to fashion a positive message about their candidate as a successful businessman, waiting until late fall to get there. The Obama campaign assumed that once Romney secured the nomination he would craft a more positive message about where he would take the country, generally considered an important aspect of any winning campaign.

As for Ryan, Axelrod personally figured former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be the choice, possibly Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. His doubts about Ryan were a function of tough-minded views on privatizing Social Security and making significant changes in Medicare.

And as for the Republicans' field operation, their comparatively small investment played into the Democrats' hands and was not forecast by Axelrod, either.

I don't know if Axelrod talked a lot about the brilliant effort by his team to define Romney in negative terms throughout the summer. It must have been difficult for Romney to paint a pretty picture of the country he might create while needing to play defense so consistently. I'm also not sure Romney took as long as Axelrod suggests to appeal to his experience as a successful businessman. It was just that the attacks on Bain made that experience appear less of a good thing than it might otherwise have been. 

Not to oversimplify too much, but it seems that if Rommey took too long to do anything it was that he was late moving to the center, something he really didn't do until the first debate. Everyone assumed, based on logic and the comments of Romney staffer Eric Fehrnstrom, that Romney would "Etch-A-Sketch" his way back from the far right in time for the general election, but he didn't.

Maybe rather than just appealing to the far right to secure the nomination, he was more fully captured by it than most of us understood. 

Bottom line is that the Obama campaign spent a whack of cash to convince people early on that Mitt Romney was not a reasonable alternative. Certainly Romney gave them enough to work with, which they used brilliantly. It's very hard to present yourself as an inspirational leader when the other guys are so effectively tearing you down.  

It may be true Romney made some fatal errors, but mostly I suspect he was just outsmarted by a better team. Community Organizers 1, Business Elites 0.

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