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Morning Jay: The Importance of Bill Clinton

6:00 AM, Sep 5, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Over Labor Day weekend, three different theories of the 2012 presidential race were offered, all from Team Obama.

The first theory comes from David Axelrod, and we might call it, “Our outlook is so bright we gotta wear shades!”

In Chicago, talk of unexpected events toppling Obama’s path to reelection are largely cursory. This nonchalance, by the way, is said to perturb the Windy City’s mayor, and former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who frequently warns that the president’s popularity is “defying gravity” and that the campaign must ward against its tendency toward all-knowing arrogance.

As to gravity, Obama’s team has begun preemptively making things look worse in its own polling. For at least two months, the campaign has detected a ripple in the data caused by a spike in voters identifying themselves as Democrats. The numbers that come back on self-identified Democrats don’t match, statistically, voter-registration rolls or historical patterns. This anomaly cropped up in public polls in August. Romney aides have taken careful note and don’t know what to make of it. They take comfort that Democratic voter registration from 2008 is down 800,000 while GOP registration is down less than a tenth of that. Independent registration in the same period is up 207,000. But what if independents are choosing to call themselves Democrats? What if Republicans are? What if people are lying? Obama’s analysts have decided to subtract at least 2 points from Obama’s support in every internal poll.

The Democrats are in amazing shape – so good that they do not even believe their polling.

The second theory comes from David Plouffe, and we might call it, “We should win.”

If Obama heads into early voting with 48 or 49 percent in the key battlegrounds, and a small lead, Romney will not be able to make up that deficit, Plouffe argued.

“We think these people are not going to break decidedly against us,” Plouffe said. “The fact that we’re polling at 48 or 49 in these battlegrounds is a big deal, because we’re right on the cusp of victory.”

It's less cocky than Axelrod, but it is, as Greg Sargent says, “cautious confidence.”

The third theory comes not from the mouths of Obama’s strategists, but from their actions. Consider this ad, which is running all across the country:

This ad, to me, is a big deal. Remember, there is bad blood between Team Clinton and Team Obama. And, moreover, Barack Obama ran in 2008 on the premise that not only the Bush years had been a failure, but the Clinton years had been as well. It is most peculiar indeed to see the Obama campaign wrap itself in the garment of the Clinton years.

So, why bring in Bill Clinton to make the pitch? And not only a television advertising pitch, but a pitch during the party’s precious primetime slot at the convention. The latter comes at the expense of Joe Biden, who is not going to be the headliner on any night of the convention.

The answer, I believe, is that Obama is doing very poorly among the constituency that secured victory for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 – white independent voters.

The media focuses constantly on the Hispanic vote. And while it is indeed an important constituency, it's important to keep in mind this: It is relatively small. In fact, if turnout in 2012 is roughly similar to turnout in 2008, then a one point decrease in Obama’s share of the white vote would have to be matched by a roughly nine point increase in his share of the Hispanic vote. And if Obama drops just 4 points with whites, then his 53 percent victory suddenly becomes a 50-50 toss-up, all else equal.

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