Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are driving their campaign messages home today as voters prepare to walk into the polls. I think these closing arguments should reaffirm of what types of campaign each are running — Romney being the clarifying candidate, and Obama the insurgent.

I have revised my position in my last post, which said that both candidates were behaving as clarifying candidates campaigning on the economy. My understanding of the two candidates’ behaviors with Lynn Vavreck’s mixed economy principles wasn’t quite fitting right. Then I realized that she allows room for circumstances that may not be so black and white: “ … these strict assumptions can be relaxed to accommodate situations in which it may not be clear which way the economy is going to go by election day.”

And with that statement, let’s turn our attention to an update on the economy. The unemployment rate inched up from 7.8 percent in September to 7.9 in October. In the third quarter, the economy grew at a 2 percent pace, but that “modest expansion is unlikely to result in robust job growth,” according to a USA Today article.

In their final stump speeches, the two candidates’ speech messages could not be more opposite. For Romney, it’s blaming the president for the poor economy, and for Obama, it’s sounding like desperation, a plea for four more years, with intermittent attacks on his opponent.

Today in Madison, Wisconsin, the president’s remarks hit on the auto industry bailout, the 5.5 million jobs added, Mitt Romney as a “talented salesman,” Osama Bin Laden’s death, health care, bad House Republican policies, education in relation to the economy, reducing the deficit, and many references to Bill Clinton’s days in office. There’s a reason this list is so long. I see this as Obama’s attempt to set the agenda and tell voters what he wants them to think is important in this election, which as you can see, is anything but the economy.

But in Ohio and Northern Virginia, recently, Obama has been met with boos when taking a stab at Romney’s record, wrote Associated Press’s Ken Thomas Sunday. ” … At every stop, as he has for months, Obama aims to draw bright lines with Romney and set up the campaign as a choice. He defends his record and warns that Romney would take the nation back to the policies of the Bush administration and the crumbling economy that marked its final days.”

With Obama’s pleas for those in swing states to stay with him and setting up his campaign as a choice, it seems as though he is asking the electorate to think prospectively, and not retrospectively. This is the best approach for him to take as an insurgent because he is not strongly advantaged by the economy, and, because voters associate the state of the economy so closely with the president, his performance. As for taking stabs at Romney, candidates running an insurgent campaign should absolutely exploit the weaknesses of their opponent according to Vavreck’s theory.

A Politico article cited former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet, saying, “the closing argument stump speech is full of clues — about Obama’s sense of himself, about his relationship with his supporters, about Congress and about his opponents.”

Meanwhile, Romney has not let up up on attacking his opponent and has clarified his position on the economy. Also notable, he has stayed away from distracting issues like foreign policy, which got him into trouble in the second debate.

Romney’s speech in Wisconsin Friday homed in on the “now familiar litany of broken promises by President Obama — unemployment, poverty, debt and partisanship,” said one Washington Post article. “He hit his jobs theme, repeatedly asking the crowd if Obama’s action created more jobs. (Did Obamacare create new jobs? Did the war on coal and oil create new jobs?) The crowd responded with a ringing ‘No!’ after each question. He cracked, ‘You passed the test!'”

The reporter sounds annoyed and tired of reporting the same message, i.e. the now familiar litany … . But for Romney, repeating the same economy figures and presidential failures in speeches and advertisements is the best thing he can do for his campaign. Opposite Obama, Romney is banking on the electorate voting retrospectively, hence the now clichéd slogan “We can’t afford four more years.”

Romney has dominated the economic discussion, which would explain why likely voters trust Romney over Obama to handle the economy, 52 to 43 percent.

Vavreck’s research indicates that nine out of 15 clarifying candidates since 1952 have won the presidency. But while (what I suspect to be) Mitt Romney’s campaign approach is the most successful path to the White House, Obama has a slight lead in the polls going into election day.

I’ve reached out to Lynn Vavreck herself on Twitter, and look forward to hear a response as to who she believes are the insurgent and clarifying candidates now that the campaigns are over. In June she thought Obama to be the clarifying candidate.


One thought on “Remember, remember, the last stump speeches of November

  1. Important caveat: For me, campaign type is defined BEFORE the candidates begin talking — by the economy. So the way they campaign either conforms or doesn’t; but their rhetoric doesn’t define their “winning” type. I’d say both candidates talked about the economy more than anything else this cycle. Obama about medicare/jobs and Romney about the debt, China, and the deficit. The economic prediction is/was verrrrry close. If I had to choose and I were Romney I might have gone with a more insurgent approach. Hard to beat an incumbent, even in a slow-growing economy. Thanks for reading the book! — Lynn

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