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21 Reasons for Obama's Victory and Romney's Defeat

By Tom Bevan and Carl M. Cannon - November 7, 2012

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Romney, and not for the last time, had himself changed the national conversation at a time when it was working in Republicans’ favor, most specifically exploiting the president’s “You didn’t build that” verbal miscue.

15. Blitzkrieg: “Political campaigns sometimes seem small, even silly,” the newly re-elected president said in his late-night victory speech in Chicago after Tuesday night had morphed into Wednesday morning. Obama blamed unnamed “cynics” for this unhappy state of affairs, but he might more properly look in the mirror -- or at his own longtime Chicago-based political operatives.

Beginning last summer, Obama and his surrogates embarked on an ambitious plan to erode Romney’s image and reputation with a series of relentless personal attacks. This asymmetrical warfare -- Romney criticized Obama’s record while Obama savaged Romney’s character -- cost Democrats more than $100 million in eight battleground states. But it worked.

One negative TV spot portrayed Romney as a heartless corporate raider responsible for killing a steelworkers’ wife while running Bain Capital. When questioned about these claims, an Obama spokeswoman said she didn’t know the former steelworker at all. Actually, the same Obama press aide had put him on a campaign conference call with reporters where he pitched the same story -- one that turned out to be false in most of its particulars.

This kind of thing continued apace, whether it was the president’s aides attacking Romney over his tax returns; the family dog’s accommodations on a long-ago family vacation (the roof of the station wagon); attacking Ann Romney as a woman who does not work; also attacking her, a breast cancer survivor who also has MS, for having an Olympics-ready dressage horse; and in the waning days of the campaign surreptitiously trying to slime the Mormon faith.

To a measurable degree, this strategy succeeded in its goal, which was to make Romney an unacceptable alternative to a president who evidently didn't believe he could run on his own record in the Oval Office.

16. Dueling Conventions: As a consequence, the Romney’s team decided that the highest and best use of their time at their Tampa nominating convention was to make the candidate seem more appealing on a personal level. And so they did, especially in a speech by Ann Romney. The problem is that when he spoke, Romney himself did not sufficiently communicate to his fellow Americans how his election would help their lives.

One opportunity was clearly squandered, too. In a country where movie stars and the most popular musicians are almost all liberal Democrats, Clint Eastwood asked to speak on Romney’s behalf. No montage of Eastwood’s kick-ass roles appeared on screen, and he didn’t do what the crowd expected, which was to reprise his Detroit ad with a Mitt Romney overlay. In lieu of that, he didn’t really engage the crowd in a “Make my day!” call-and-response, which would have brought down the house (although he did let the crowd shout it once -- but only once – itself). Instead, Eastwood spent most of his time speaking in a rambling, unrehearsed ad-lib to an empty chair on stage, one meant to be Obama.

Big historic convention “bounces” no longer occur, but even so, the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa earned a dubious distinction: Romney’s approval didn’t rise at all. And by getting him to play defense, and address the “likeability” gap between the two candidates, Obama’s forces set themselves up for a successful convention of their own.

Democrats took advantage, too, particularly in assigning Bill Clinton a prime-time role, which he milked nearly to perfection. Heading into the final phase of the campaign, Obama’s lead was nearly five points. He seemed a shoo-in.

17. The First Debate: With a five-point lead and just a month before Election Day, the president showed up in Denver for his first debate with Romney on Oct. 3 cocky and in command -- right up until he sleepwalked through the 90-minute session.

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Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Editor for RealClearPolitics.

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