The folks in Romney-world would never in a million years want to be quoted in a manner that suggested they were underestimating the competition. They know Obama will have an enormous fundraising advantage, a bully pulpit unparalleled in American life, taxpayer-funded "official" trips that look and sound like campaign swings, and, of course, the media will be much, much tougher on Romney than Obama.Obama's sudden gay marriage "evolution" was not a sign of a campaign that's confident in its current position. It's a sign of a candidate that's grabbing for anything that might be some sort of advantage.
But periodically, when talking to Romney folks, they point out their rivals' alleged $1 billion fundraising goal, the 700 full-time staffers, the super-duper high-tech gadgets they have in their Chicago headquarters, and you get the sense that they're still waiting for the Obama campaign's A-game. This is it?This is what all of those advantages have produced? "Forward"? The life of Julia? Bill Clinton's talking about how terrible a botched SEAL mission would have been for Obama?
Just how great a strategist is David Axelrod? The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway is that he's a rumpled genius, who saw the enormous potential in a little-known state senator and helped steer Obama's ambitions all the way to the Oval Office.
But Barack Obama may have been the luckiest man in American politics from 2004 to 2008. If Jack Ryan's divorce records had remained sealed, Obama's Senate race would have proceeded quite differently. If Illinois Republicans had had any kind of a bench in 2004, Obama would not have had an easy race against Alan Keyes. (Remember, for about two days, there was talk about the state GOP recruiting Mike Ditka. Ask Gray Davis, Steve Clute, or Norm Coleman what it's like to run against a local celebrity.)
Then Obama ran for president, and a vote for the Iraq War that was only a minor issue for John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004 suddenly became a very big deal in 2008. Hillary Clinton turned out to be a lot more brittle on the campaign trail than anyone expected -- remember driver's licenses for illegal immigrants -- and Hillary Clinton's chief strategist completely misunderstoodhow his party allocated delegates.
Then in the general election, Obama was on the verge of blowing it, even as he was going up against a Republican who refused to make an issue of his pastor, who later presented himself to the American public as a raving lunatic at the National Press Club. Then Lehman collapsed, the economy tanked, and whatever hope John McCain and Sarah Palin had of swimming against the anti-incumbent, Bush-fatigue undertow faded away.
David Axelrod didn't make any of those things happen. Barack Obama didn't make any of those things happen. You can argue they responded well, and indeed, that is a big part of politics. But the Barack Obama of 2009 to 2012 hasn't responded to events nearly as well as the Obama of 2004 to 2008. Obama has acknowledged this, in a way, when he told disappointed donors last year, "I'm running against the Barack Obama of 2008."
However, I can't see the advantage. Maybe his gay marriage decision will gain him more liberal votes in states he was already going to win, but how is it going to help him win swing states he's gotta have? The youth vote? No, they never show up and given this decision came in May their motivation will have long since evaporated.
If anything, I think Tuesday's elections told the Obama campaign that they're in real trouble and acts of desperation are going to be required.