Here are three scenes from three recent evenings that to me told volumes about the state of this year’s presidential campaign.
The first was last night — a gathering of Washington conservatives. At the reception before the dinner, I questioned a number of pollsters and pundits about the shape of the race.
The daily Rasmussen tracking poll had Romney five points up. It was the third poll in three days to show Romney ahead. I asked a prominent pollster what I should make of it?
The answer was guarded. Rasmussen uses one hundred percent automated polling, I was told, which may produce skewed results when minorities promise to be a big factor.
Well, will 2012 look more like 2008 or 2010? It’s a question pollsters are themselves asking over and over this year. In between, was this pollster’s reply. People aren’t as fired up as they were two years ago, but the dissatisfaction with President Obama hasn’t changed.
A little earlier, I talked with two shrewd Washington pros, one among the town’s most prominent conservative journalists.
Did you know that the Democrats lost the women’s vote in the 2010 mid-term elections, one asked me? No, I didn’t. Well, they did, for the first time in decades, which is why they have concocted the “Republican War on Women” theme, this pundit said. They can’t win if they don’t get women back.
Later, a well-known fundraiser for conservative institutions suggested that the War on Women charges were backfiring on the president. He has been looking nasty, mean, small-minded, she observed. People don’t like that, and they are liking him less and less.
The pollster anticipated a close race. The fundraiser predicted a Romney landslide. The journalist wasn’t saying.
The second gathering was a fundraiser for Mitt Romney. It was held in Northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington a week ago. It was the first time I had actually seen the candidate in person.
Romney is a bigger man — taller, more powerfully built — than I had thought from his pictures. Heavy boned, broad shoulders – you sense the pioneer generation in his physical presence.
He got a pumped up introduction of the “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny” variety, ran into the room from a side door, beaming, pumped hands still on the run, before jumping to the stage. Game show host’s entrance, I thought.
It took him a few minutes to settle into his speech, and he repeated “I love this country” a lot of times before he did.
But once he was into his talk, I started to think, for this time and this candidate, this message sounds right. He told a number of stories about people he had met campaigning, ordinary people and mostly men and women who had started smaller companies. No NASCAR team owners that I could tell. Through the stories, he showed how the nation’s acknowledged job creators saw our economic problems and pointed to solutions.
He also got off some good lines, including that the president, in saying of energy that he favors “all of the above” even as he blocks oil and gas exploration, must mean that he favors only energy sources that are entirely above the ground – wind, solar. It was funny, at least when he told it. And it had, as they say, the added advantage of truth.
By the end of speech, I felt that, if I were a swing voter, Romney would have had my head. Not my heart. I didn’t feel an emotional lift. But my head? Absolutely.
The final evening was The New Criterion dinner in New York, two weeks ago. The New Criterion is a conservative magazine that focuses on the culture. The founding editor, the celebrated critic Hilton Kramer, recently passed away, a true loss. The current editor — the brilliant, inventive and prolific Roger Kimball – presided. Henry Kissinger spoke.
Kissinger said that the nation has no global strategy today. We had a global strategy under Richard Nixon, he said, because the president had spent his entire career thinking about and developing his approach to international affairs. We also had it under Ronald Reagan, because President Reagan’s principles precisely fit the needs of the times. But we do not now.
It reminded me of overseas conferences I have attended and reported on in this column – the anxiety I have encountered since the current administration took office that the United States was receding from its role as the global center of gravity. And I remembered the strongly favorable response to Romney that I have been told critical allies have had.
So this is where we are, half a year before the election — national leadership adrift, voters looking over the alternative. They don’t like whom they have. They are liking the alternative more and more. But they have not yet made up their minds.