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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Chait: Romney Trying to Hustle MSM with Bogus Momentum Meme

Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine post “Romney Says He’s Winning — It’s a Bluff” explains the GOP nominee’s strategy for the final two weeks of the campaign. As Chait explains:

In recent days, the vibe emanating from Mitt Romney’s campaign has grown downright giddy. Despite a lack of any evident positive momentum over the last week — indeed, in the face of a slight decline from its post-Denver high — the Romney camp is suddenly bursting with talk that it will not only win but win handily. (“We’re going to win,” said one of the former Massachusetts governor’s closest advisers. “Seriously, 305 electoral votes.”)
This is a bluff. Romney is carefully attempting to project an atmosphere of momentum, in the hopes of winning positive media coverage and, thus, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Over the last week, Romney’s campaign has orchestrated a series of high-profile gambits in order to feed its momentum narrative. Last week, for instance, Romney’s campaign blared out the news that it was pulling resources out of North Carolina. The battleground was shifting! Romney on the offensive! On closer inspection, it turned out that Romney was shifting exactly one staffer. It is true that Romney leads in North Carolina, and it is probably his most favorable battleground state. But the decision to have a staffer move out of state, with a marching band and sound trucks in tow to spread the news far and wide, signals a deliberate strategy to create a narrative.

Chait goes on to expose Romney’s pretensions of re-igniting his Pennsylvania campaign, which involve lots of unconvincing noise but no new investment of campaign resources. Chait notes that Karl Rove invoked similar cheat-beating strategy in 2000, sending President Bush into California to pretend like he had an actual chance to win the state, and some reporters fell for it.
Chait provides a reality check, noting that Obama still leads in polling averages, as well as all credible estimates of the electoral college breakdown. The Romney campaign bluster continues, nonetheless. Yet even though Obama’s lead is narrow, Chait concludes that “the widespread perception that Romney is pulling ahead is Romney’s campaign suckering the press corps with a confidence game.”
Not all of the press is so easily suckered. But the meme will get some play from the pro-Republican media, more gullible reporters and those who are willing to cherry-pick polls to portray a more dramatic finish. The challenge for Democrats, however, remains unchanged — the most energetic closing weeks GOTV effort ever mobilized.

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