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GEORGE KENNEDY: Obama victory seems more likely after national conventions

Thursday, September 13, 2012 | 2:03 p.m. CDT

Last Saturday was a lovely day, until about 10 p.m. We were invited to a tailgate feast with friends in the late afternoon. Thick steaks with the trimmings, red wine in real glasses, peach cobbler for dessert. Delightful.

Then the more intelligent member of my household thanked our hosts and went home.

Hours later, as I trudged through the dark along with thousands of other depressed Tiger fans, I thought how fortunate it is that this fall we have politics to take our minds off football.

Like most of you, I suspect, I’ve long since decided who I’ll vote for, but I still pay more attention to campaign news than is really good for me. The national conventions offered nothing to change anyone’s mind, as far as I could tell.

Mr. Romney gave one of his best speeches. It was, as Jon Stewart noted, full of sentences spoken in English. It was also pretty much free of substance. The fact checkers who have become important contributors to this season’s journalism didn’t have much to chew on.

Not so with Paul Ryan’s first appearance on the national stage. His speech was widely hailed as the highlight of the convention. As he repeatedly insisted that he and his running mate would offer “hard truths,” he instead dished out a stream of “facts” that turned out to be not factual. I guess that’s what we should have expected from a guy who lied about how fast he ran a marathon.

That $719 billion President Obama plans to cut from Medicare? Mr. Ryan didn’t mention that his proposed budget contained the same-sized cut. As Bill Clinton joked the next week, “It takes some brass to criticize a guy for doing what you’ve just done.”

That auto plant Mr. Ryan blamed the president for not saving? Turns out the closing was announced before the 2008 election. And so on….

You’d expect a loyal Democrat like me to have enjoyed the big show from Charlotte a lot more. I did, but the much more important evaluations came from less biased observers, even a good many Republicans, and the citizens who responded to polls the next several days.

The consensus, of course, was that the former president’s oratory outshone both his Democratic successor’s and the challenger’s. The only question was whether he outdid Michelle Obama. The current president’s speech was solidly workmanlike but no better than third best of the week. The fact checkers found little fault.

The goals of a modern convention are to capture the attention of an easily distracted electorate and to set the tone of the two-month home stretch of the campaign. On both counts, the experts seem generally agreed that the Democrats were more successful.

My favorite of those experts is Nate Silver, who writes the “FiveThirtyEight” column on the New York Times website. He prefers analysis to insult and statistics to anecdote. He has a sophisticated algorithm that he adjusts daily to produce predictions at both state and national level.

His analysis is that the Republican convention produced little or no “bounce” in public opinion for Mr. Romney. By contrast, Mr. Obama gained several percentage points after his nomination.

Silver called every state but one correctly in 2008. This week, he gives Mr. Obama about an 80 percent chance of winning. He expects the so-called “battleground” states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia all to go Democratic. Not Missouri. Silver gives Mr. Romney a better than 80 percent chance of winning here.

We Missourians baffle the most dedicated analyst. Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, who is so toxic that his own party’s establishment urged him to quit and Karl Rove joked about putting a hit on him, runs even with Claire McCaskill, whose stubborn independence is positively Trumanesque.

John McCain barely beat Mr. Obama here last time, but Silver sees us as solidly red this year.

On Saturday night, the southwest corner of the stadium was also solidly red. It was the section still packed when the game ended.

Just a few months ago, who’d have imagined that President Obama’s prospects would look so much brighter than the odds on our Tigers? Not I, for sure.

November can’t come soon enough.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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Comments

James Krewson September 14, 2012 | 1:01 p.m.

If gas prices are still hovering around $4, and unemployment is still over 8%, Obama will not be reelected. To quote Democrats... "It's the economy, stupid."

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