Thursday brought a lot of good news for Mitt Romney’s campaign. National polls continue to move in his direction, with poll results starting to take into account the first day of polling after Tuesday night’s debate (though obviously we’ll need several more days of polling to see how the event affected the race). In Ohio, which could determine the outcome of the election, CNN reports that Republicans are significantly improving in early voting from four years ago, a key to winning the state. And the Romney campaign is so confident of victory in North Carolina (which Obama won last time) that it’s starting to pull staff out of the state. But the best sign for Romney may have actually been the the Obama campaign’s decision to make the main takeaway Tuesday’s debate Romney’s comment that he received “binders full of women” when he was trying to hire females to top positions as governor of Massachusetts.
In the past two days, liberals have seized on the remarks and Obama has made the comment a part of his stump speech. “I don’t know if you were listening last night, but, see, we don’t have to order up some binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women to learn and teach and thrive and start businesses,” he said in Athens, Ohio on Wednesday. In Manchester, New Hampshire earlier today he said, “See, we don’t have to order up some binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women who can learn and excel in these fields right now.”
The fact that Obama is making an issue of this suggests to me that his campaign is increasingly worried about signs that Romney is closing the gender gap, which would mean lights out for his reelection given Romney’s advantages among male voters.
It’s hard to see what argument Obama is advancing here, however. The attack isn’t even that Romney didn’t hire enough women as governor. It’s that he had to consult a binder prepared by a women’s group to find more female candidates when he wanted to hire more women. Is the suggestion that if he cared about women more he would have just hired his friends and associates rather than draw from a wider applicant pool?
In 2008, Obama was praised by his admirers for campaigning above the fray, for avoiding the temptation to score cheap points in the daily news cycle and instead focus on the big picture. When he all but sewed up the Democratic nomination after winning the North Carolina primary in May 2008, he said his win showed, “it’s possible to overcome the politics of division and distraction; that it’s possible to overcome the same old negative attacks that are always about scoring points and never about solving our problems.” Yet as the campaign enters its final serious stages, Obama is increasingly focusing on small things, like Romney’s mention of “Big Bird” and now this. This is typically the type of thing that you witness with losing campaigns — see, for instance, the hopes on the right in 2008 that Obama’s “spread the wealth around” comments to “Joe the Plumber” would show Americans the true Obama and thus provide a boost to John McCain.
To be sure, polls in many states still suggest Romney has to make up ground in the final weeks to score an electoral victory over Obama and perhaps as more data come in post-debate, the momentum will shift back in Obama’s direction. But if Obama is going to lose this election, this is sort of what you’d expect the final stages of his campaign to look like.