As someone who wants to see President Obama win re-election, nothing is gained by denying that three things from last week -- his comments on the private sector, the Wisconsin results, and the campaigns’ fundraising reports -- hurt his re-election prospects. They did.
While it’s clear that President Obama’s comment that “the private sector is doing fine” was meant relative to the decline in jobs in the public sector, you can bet that the full context of his remarks won’t make it into the attacks ads based on the comment that Romney and his Super PACs have already begun releasing. Handing your opponents a gaffe is never good -- but it’s made worse at a time when anxiety about the economy is surging again.
And when it comes to Wisconsin and money, the two are intertwined.
There was never any question that if Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived the recall election last week, the Romney campaign would say his victory was about President Obama and his stimulus policies.
And so they did, with Romney declaring that the results will "echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin" and signal a turning point "against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses."
But Wisconsin was less a turning point in public sentiment regarding public unions than an end point to the belief that President Obama's fundraising lead was large enough for him to stay safely ahead of Governor Romney for the duration of the campaign.
The fact that the GOP outspent Democrats by more than 7-1 showed the degree to which Democrats, despite being well aware of the symbolic importance of the Wisconsin results, allowed themselves to be caught flat-footed in a post-Citizens United electoral world. If there was ever any doubt that Republicans are willing to put enough money on the table to win -- Wisconsin removed that doubt.
And that willingness of Republican donors to pony up was made clearer when both campaigns released their fundraising numbers for May this past Thursday.
Romney and the GOP raised more than $76 million last month -- compared to Obama and the DNC's $60 million. This marks the first time since the fourth quarter of 2007 that a political opponent has out-raised Obama during a fundraising quarter. (Hillary Clinton out-raised Obama by about $4 million during the final months of 2007.)
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina put it bluntly in an e-mail to supporters: "We got beat," he wrote, asking supporters to give -- and give again.
Obama still boasts a huge advantage in cash on hand, of course. His campaign is sitting on more than $115 million, compared to $9.2 million for Romney. But after Wisconsin, no one in the Obama campaign is going to rest on their laurels.
With five months to go to Election Day, and with the nearly bottomless pockets of Romney's Super PAC supporters available to make up the cash on hand difference, Obama's fundraising advantage is no longer guaranteed.
But last week’s news from Wisconsin and the campaigns’ fundraising reports may have a bright lining for Obama. Many of his supporters have been withholding contributions as a way of expressing "disappointment" in the president's more centrist policies -- but the news last week might have finally woken them up. It's one thing to withhold your support for someone who's going to win anyway -- another thing altogether to let your guy go down in flames over disagreements over specific policies.
ELECTORAL COLLEGE SHIFT
There's no doubt after last week that the money race is tightening -- but so is the electoral race.
Real Clear Politics calculates that 221 Electoral votes now are likely or lean Obama, while 170 are likely to go or lean to Romney. 147 electoral votes from 12 states are up for grabs, including Wisconsin, according to Real Clear Politics.
At this point however, I believe the race is even tighter than the Real Clear Politics averages indicate. Of their toss-up states, I would put Arizona, Missouri, and North Carolina in the "lean Romney" category, and Michigan in the "lean Obama" column. That leaves just seven states-- Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin -- where Obama (with 237 leans) and Romney (with (206 total leans) will battle over the final 95 electoral votes.
THINK WISCONSIN’S ELECTION MATTERED? HERE COMES GREECE
In the days since Scott Walker's victory and the Romney campaign's announcement of their fundraising success, the message from the Obama campaign has been clear: This is what we've been warning about. This race is going to be close. It's time for supporters to put aside their differences and disappointments and put their shoulder to the wheel.
But even as the Obama campaign tries to strike a balance between raising the alarm and showing confidence, there is one thing that should truly alarm them and raise real concern within the campaign: the ongoing inability of European leaders to resolve the Eurozone crisis, which will likely come to a head this week.
In fact, while the Obama campaign was sending out e-mail alarms to its supporters last Friday about the danger posed by Romney's fundraising haul, the president was using the bully pulpit to warn European leaders that the time for action is now.
"The sooner they act, and the more decisive and concrete their actions, the sooner markets will regain confidence," Obama said during his press conference on Friday.
The best-laid plans of Obama’s re-election effort may hinge on what happens in Europe this week.
As I write, the details of a European Union bailout for Spanish banks are just emerging -- and how the markets will react to the news of the $125 billion bailout has yet to be seen. Many think the bailout won't be enough to stem the Eurozone crisis-- or that it is another step in the wrong direction.
How the markets react to the news from Spain, however, will soon enough be overshadowed by the news from Greece. Sunday, Greek voters will go to the polls to elect a new government. The outcome of that election could decide whether Greece remains in the Eurozone -- and ultimately whether the slowing global and US economies (U.S. exports fell in April for the first time in five months) have the confidence to begin picking up steam in time for the November presidential election.
When it comes to having an impact on the American presidential race, the outcome of Greece's election may prove as important in the long term as the results in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has changed the dynamics of the race, to be sure. But if markets react negatively to the bailout in Spain -- or if Greek elections next Sunday are seen as a failure that adds to Europe's (and the world's) economic woes --then the changing dynamic that today still gives Obama an edge in the tightening electoral vote count could swing further in Romney's favor.
Five months is a long time in presidential politics -- the pendulum can swing back and forth several times between now and November. But at this moment, as a Democrat who wants to see Barack Obama re-elected, there is no denying that the pendulum is moving in the wrong direction.