You can tell something about the shape of the campaign to come by Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate.
Tactically, it’s a good move – and may have a hidden benefit. First, the good move: if we know one thing about the upcoming election, it’s that most people have already made up their minds. Romney’s problem is that his support is unenthusiastic; no matter how much he says the words, he can’t quite get over with the conservative base, a point the Wall Street Journal made again this past week when it put out an editorial that endorsed Ryan. If this race is really about getting your supporters to vote, Ryan helps.
Hidden benefit: Romney does not do as well with women as he needs to do. I suspect Ryan helps on that front – it wouldn’t surprise me to learn there is internal polling that shows Ryan improves on Romney with women in general and younger women in particular. But what about his awful, extreme ideas?, the liberals and centrists reply. To which I say, pay attention to how he comes across, rather than what he says. I’ve watched Ryan on YouTube and am struck by how reassuring he is. He’s the handsome young father, beloved older brother and he smartly emphasizes the problem (the reader is left to decide whether the deficit is really the problem we have to confront now, given the state of employment) as opposed to his solutions.
The Obama team has its work cut out for it: emphasize Ryan’s record, and it runs the risk of appearing unfair, because Ryan will seem so much more reasonable than his proposals.
(Vice-President Biden may be the best thing the Obama folks have when it comes to Ryan. Biden should skewer him in a debate and do it with humor, the one thing Republicans can never master.)
Finally, I believe the small pool of genuinely undecided voters may include a disproportionately large number of low information, single, younger females, and again, Ryan should help, for the reasons enumerated above.
Stepping back a bit, the selection of Ryan again confirms what we all know – the run from here to November will be a war of attrition, in which both sides look to maximize individual small advantages, and then pile up more of those advantages than the other guy. Nate Silver believes the race still leans Obama, but is tight. Even if we don’t see an uptick for Romney after the Ryan pick, (and we should), just quieting his right flank is worth a little something, and besides, it’s hard to imagine an alternative. Any less conservative pick would hurt Romney with the base, and – remembering peoples’ minds are pretty much made up – would not have an offsetting advantage with ‘the middle,’ whatever that means at this point.