Power Play

Obama Tries to Recapture the Old Magic in Iowa

“I just got this disturbing report: [Sunday’s] Romney-Ryan rally in North Carolina pulled in an overflow crowd of 15,000 people. There’s no spinning that number. It’s a LOT of people, and the Republican base is energized.”

-- Fundraising email from Brynne Craig, field director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democrats today are touting a confusing poll from USA Today and Gallup that says that Paul Ryan is a flop with voters.

The paper today compares the views of a Sunday survey of all adults on Ryan with views of registered voters about previous veep nominees. Since registered voters are more Republican than the population at large, the comparison is misleading.

But even with that burden, Ryan scores about as well among the general population as Sarah Palin did with registered voters at first blush in 2008. The reason for the similarity: most Americans have as little idea who the chairman of the House Budget Committee is today as they did about the first-term governor of Alaska four years ago.


Outside of Washington or Wisconsin, Ryan has not been part of the discussion for Americans who shun politics. Even figures that tower at Olympian size in Washington, like the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader and the chief justice of the Supreme Court, hold small stature in the collective American consciousness.

You can call it a sad testament to the death of civic life in American culture. You can call it an understandable response to a political class that has rendered itself irrelevant by ineffectuality and regurgitated talking points. You can even call it nothing new. (If Gallup would have been polling in 1789, it’s doubtful that the first speaker of the House, Pennsylvanian Frederick Muhlenberg, would have been surfing the zeitgeist of the new republic.)

Whatever you call it, it’s the truth. Americans ignore Washington as much as possible.

In the next four weeks, there will be a furious scramble to define Ryan, the seven-term congressman from a swing district that covers the southern suburbs of Milwaukee.

Granny killer or budget hawk? Icy technocrat or heartland heartthrob? Tool of the Koch brothers or small-town boy made good? Those are the questions that will be answered by voters between now and the middle of September. Republicans and Democrats will go to great lengths to try to win that messaging war for the opinions the millions of American’s unacquainted with the 42-year-old Janesville, Wisc. native.

That’s what happens with every veep nominee. Some don’t matter much to voters. Safe picks like President Obama’s cautious nod to 2008 also-ran Joe Biden or George W. Bush’s pick of a little-known former congressman and Defense secretary don’t play much of a role in campaigns. Other, more daring, choices matter a lot, like Palin or Lyndon Johnson. (Ryan will certainly fall into that category for good or for ill).

For now, Ryan is doing what every running mate is supposed to be doing at the start: unifying and exciting his party’s activist base. In this case, Ryan’s task is to ask his fellow Republicans to get out and march for a presidential candidate whom many party loyalists were only grudgingly supporting.

Ryan, about as conservative as you can get within the Republican mainstream, is drawing out huge crowds and providing some assurance to GOPers that a Romney presidency will be ideologically grounded.

Democrats have been suffering from a pretty substantial enthusiasm gap throughout this cycle. The same Gallup poll found that Republicans held a 13-point advantage on Democrats in those very interested in the upcoming election.

In late July, the survey firm found Republicans up 51 percent to 39 percent on Democrats in voter enthusiasm, essentially the reverse of 2008. That was before Romney made his pivot with Ryan to change his pitch from simply saying that Obama was an inept manager of the American economy.

Now that Romney has so fully embraced Ryan, and with him a Reaganite view of limited government, that gap is sure to rise.

Obama has returned this week to Iowa, where his legend was born. It was in that state’s 2008 caucuses where the freshman senator from Illinois became the giant killer, the hopeful outsider whose promise of a better, more united future for the country defeated what he called “the politics of fear.”

But for many months, Obama has been mostly trafficking in the politics of fear. His many months of scorchingly negative, highly personal series of attacks on Romney may have convinced Democrats to be very afraid of the former Bain Capital CEO, but it certainly hasn’t given anyone much reason to be enthusiastic about the November election.

The central line of attack from Obama and the Democrats may shift from an assault on Romney’s character to a fusillade against Ryan’s proposals on Medicare, but it will still be about stoking fears.

As Ryan helps Romney add some positive enthusiasm to the wellspring of negative enthusiasm to defeat Obama on the Republican side, the president is seeking a way to get his people on the march. Fear can only take him so far.

The question is whether so much negativity from the once-sunny Obama will prevent him from making the pivot from fear to hope.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Well, [Mitt Romney] doesn't want to adopt the [Ryan] plan because there are details.  You have to spend three months on the details, and that wipes out his entire election strategy.  

I think he has embraced the Ryan plan. It is his plan in general terms, and he should run on it.  It's a good idea for him to always turn every attack or challenge on the plan into what is Obama -- what is his plan?  He doesn't have a record.  He doesn't have a plan.  He doesn't offer anything.  If you play defense between now and Election Day, you are going to lose.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”  


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.