In politics, the general thrust is that campaigns matter. While the outlook at the outset is often similar to the outcome, events and circumstances can affect the result. The poor debate performance of President Obama on October 3 transformed a campaign, which he seemed to be winning handily, into a horse race.
Hurricane Sandy allowed Barack Obama to show his steady hand as the Commander-in-Chief. The support, which he later obtained from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reinforced the perception of a President in control of the situation. Republican Governor Chris Christie was also effusive in his praise for Obama. Both the independent Bloomberg and the GOP Christie brought a measure of bipartisanship at a crucial moment.
The Democratic campaign has been steadier, more inclusive, and relatively gaffe-free. The general feeling is that Obama is leading in Electoral College assessments going into election day, the Democrats will hold on to the Senate and and may make gains in the House of Representatives without winning it. Gubernatorial races seem to slightly favor the Republican candidates, but the Democrats are holding their own.
The Republicans were coming off a very successful midterm election cycle. With the slow recovery, hopes were for a takeover of the White House and both houses of Congress. Largely due to an erratic presidential campaign, where the primary season showed a weakness in the prospective nominees, the Republicans were off to a slow start. The Trump “circus,” the Herman Cain and Rick Perry “Comedy Show,” the unelectability of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and the constant flip-flopping candidacy of Mitt Romney made Obama appear as the real adult of the race through most of 2012. Only on October 3 at the Denver debate did the GOP seem to come out ahead and the race then tightened significantly. Add to this, GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who made rape an electoral issue in a year when women were already flocking to the Democrats, and you can see why the Republicans are far from certain to reproduce their midterm success of 2010.
Obama ran a less inspirational campaign. As much as he was transformational in 2008, he was transactional in 2012. Yet, he has a respectable record and has shown his capacity to grow in office. He learns from adversity. He rebounded from the poor first debate to a man of character and steadiness in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Romney had a good month of October, but unlike John McCain in 2008, he comes across as lacking core convictions. He fails to communicate the principles that will govern a potential Romney administration. The latest furor over the Jeep ad in Ohio about jobs shipped to China is seen to show that expediency and falsehoods can be chosen over principle and truth. Romney was generally criticized over the incident.
This being said, the polls still show a tight race, a potentially long election night, and possible legal challenges to voting procedures. It all comes down to the “Get the Vote Out” phase of the campaign. But whoever wins will face a polarized electorate and a possible continuation of the dysfunctionality of recent years.
As I said, campaigns do matter. And now, it is up to the voters.