I find myself in the odd position of pointing out that, on This Week this morning, Gov. Scott Walker is actually the one telling the truth here. In most cases, it's really not enough to run a campaign as a referendum, you really do have to give people an actual reason to vote for you. I saw this again and again as a reporter, covering elections where Democratic candidates assumed they could oust Republican incumbents after the latest scandal, and their main tactic consisted of holding press conferences denouncing their opponent. The tricky area you get into is, when you're attacking the incumbent, you're basically attacking the judgment of the voters who put them there in the first place. It takes a whole lot of pain to get people to stop giving the benefit of the doubt to the person for whom they voted. They just don't like to feel stupid.
So the first question is: Is the pain bad enough to get the people who voted for him in 2008 to reject Obama this time around? Not in the educated classes, they're not doing that badly. Among the working poor, I'm guessing we'll see a greatly reduced turnout because they're the ones feeling most of the pain. So we're down to the so-called independent voters, and they'll be more important than ever.
The second question is, does Mitt Romney offer something to make those independent voters believe he will actually improve the economy? Maybe. But independents tend to be very skeptical of the effects of outsourcing, which is Romney's claim to fame. Romney has a chance if those voters shrug and say, "Okay, Obama couldn't fix it, time to give someone else a chance."
It's going to be a very close race. I wouldn't be surprised to see another 2000 scenario:
GIBBS: Again, this is a choice, Matthew. The president is happy to talk about the steps that we've taken in manufacturing, our auto recovery, which Mitt Romney opposed by wanting to let Detroit go bankrupt, and we're also happy to talk about Mitt Romney's record. I mean, let's be clear...
DOWD: And that's -- I want to talk about that. Governor Walker, a -- the governor, a supporter of yours from Wisconsin, sort of has talked about that Mitt Romney hasn't filled in enough of his resume, especially related to this. Let's talk a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER: I think there's a lot of caution. I think the mistake that they've made is this feeling like it can just be a referendum on the president, and certainly a part of it for any incumbent's got to be a referendum on, do you like or dislike not just the president, but his policies? And there's got to be something more than that. People won't just vote somebody out. They want to vote somebody in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOWD: Is he telling the truth? And as -- I know that you have a 50-some-odd-point economic plan. Is that too much and people just don't get it, you need to have a three-point plan? Is the governor right that there is not enough about Mitt Romney and this campaign has been too much about Barack Obama?
MADDEN: Well, no, I think he's right in that -- essentially there is a strong component here about it being a referendum, but Governor Romney has been very clear about what he would do on a whole range of issues that are important to helping grow the economy. And it's not a 50-point -- 50-odd-point plan. It's a 59-point plan, 160 pages. I happen to know, because I've read it. And...
Well geeze, it really depends on when you ask him, doesn't it? Also, as someone who worked on pushing those campaign plans, I learned they're not really taken seriously by anyone but the voters - and the policy team naive enough to think the candidate actually supports them.
DOWD: But as -- as a political operative, do you think that's too much?
MADDEN: Right. Well, look, I remember during the primary everybody saying...
DOWD: Do you want to explain it?
MADDEN: During the primary, while we had rolled out the plan...
GIBBS: We're going to need some extra...
MADDEN: They were saying, look, this -- you know, we need to have very big, bold plans. Now we're -- in the general election, folks are saying, well, we need more details. The details are in there. Everything from industry, from health care to manufacturing to energy and to tax reform and entitlement reform, everything that we need to do to move the country forward as far as having pro-growth policies, helping people, incentivizing businesses to both grow and -- and create more jobs, all of that is in there. And the governor's talked about it in great detail about what he would do on all of those policies.
You can only trust candidates to impose the proposed policies you hate.