Culture Miss N

Obama, Romney and Racing to the White House


Big Bird, binders full of women, some fiery (and not so fiery) debates, dozens of negative ad campaigns and blazing headlines pitting one candidate against the other, and it’s all come down to this. Less than a few hours to the US presidential election – the time when America elects, or re-elects, its next leader.

I’m in Chicago to cover whatever happens to the President. Whether he wins or loses, the story does revolve around Barack Obama as the incumbent and whether he is able to secure a second term of office. Tuesday night will either be one of celebration or commiseration here in Chicago, and I’ll be reporting on it either way.

While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent their Monday criss-crossing crucial battleground states that could decide the election, each with their chosen musicians providing the soundtrack (Springsteen and Jay-Z in Obama’s corner; Kid Rock in Romney’s), the election boards from each states prepared for the day itself too. I attended a briefing held by Director of the Institute for Politics, Professor Paul Green, from Roosevelt University, and got to pick his brain on a few of the major points of this election, aka “Decision 2012” or “Choice 2012”, depending on which cable station you watch.

Professor Green in the Ballroom with the Ballot Paper.

Prof Green says it’s all going to come down to who took the better approach. “Everything is all about the economy and jobs, and yet both sides are cherry-picking. They just pick certain parts to mention, but both sides are duplicitous in not talking about the issues themselves. And so this will be won on who runs the best campaign – not the issues themselves. Allegedly, we have what is the world’s greatest democracy, where it’s the process and not the substance that’s going to decide the election,” he says. It’s the reason, he believes, that Obama did so badly in the first debate. His words weren’t the problem, it was his delivery of them that caused him a setback. It’s one that could possibly soon be studied by political scientists for years to come, if it really does prove to have a devastating effect for the president this time around.

In his animated manner, Prof Green believes there are 4 hallmarks to this election, and they sum up what’s stood out this year:

– the economy: with the current unemployment rate at the percentage it is, Romney should be leading by a lot more, he believes. Why he isn’t is just as telling as what happened to Obama after the first debate.

– Benghazi: it was an issue that became a non-issue, with what Prof Green calls the “punch” second debate moderator Candy Crowley threw on Obama’s behalf. “There is no new substantive issue that sets this year apart from last. They’re both saying the same thing – Obama blaming the previous administration for his troubles; Romney blaming Obama. Libya is the only issue that could have been that something new, but the Obama Administration has been doing a good job of evading that,” he said. (In fact, to add to this further, Prof Green says “Candy and Sandy, without being crass, were the two best gifts” Obama got this election, citing the president’s deft and sincere handling of the situation.)

– Hilary and Bill Clinton: in 2008, during the Democratic primary fight, America saw one of the greatest battles it’d ever seen between Hilary and Obama. “They went at each other like two charging rhinoceroses,” said an animated Prof Green. “Who would have guessed that Bill and Hilary Clinton would become Obama’s greatest resource to win the election four years later? Only in America!”

– voter turnout aka “ground game”: Prof Green says we’re seeing an emphasis now on the ground, knocking door-to-door, an “I’ll-watch-the-kids-while-you-go-vote” approach. “You want to make sure you turn out the people that are for you and make sure they get to the polls. And one thing’s even better than getting people to the polls on Election Day, and that’s getting them there 3 weeks before.” This is in line with the emphasis we’ve seen on early voting – and the controversy it’s spawned.


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