Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Romney's Tax Returns and the Politics of Perception

Politico Arena Topic: A Taxing Dilemma for Romney?

In 1968, Republican presidential candidate George Romney initiated the practice of releasing tax returns by making 12 years available to the public. Forty-four years later, his son, Mitt Romney, reluctantly made available only 1 year and that was only after withering criticism from his GOP rivals for the nomination. In 2008, when he was being vetted as a running-mate, Romney handed over 23 years of returns to the McCain campaign. No one knows for sure what the McCain people saw, but we are certain that Romney was not chosen.

By not releasing more returns, Romney leaves the impression that he has something to hide. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But in politics, perception is reality, especially at the presidential level. During a presidential campaign, transparency is the best policy because the questions will continue and the negative attention will not cease unless the campaign makes a good-faith effort to clear up any questions. Even members of Romney’s own Republican Party are questioning his motives in not releasing more returns—a sure sign that this tax return controversy will only get worse. President Obama did not put the birther nonsense to rest until the state of Hawaii released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011. That contrived controversy has now all but gone away except for the handful of nut jobs and conspiracy theorists like Donald Trump, Joe Arpaio, and Orly Taitz who can’t seem to let it go (and may also believe the world is flat and that the moon landing never happened).

For Romney, it is best to put that information out now, deal with the negative fallout during the summer, and have the issue behind him when he picks his running-mate and goes to the convention. By waiting, he only risks blunting the momentum he will need coming out of Tampa in the sprint toward election day.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Obama's Swing State Travel Log

During presidential election years, I get asked by the media quite a bit about Ohio's role as a battleground or swing state. Besides the fact that Ohio is known as the "Mother of Presidents" with a direct connection to 8, in the modern era Ohio maintains its strategic importance to fashioning an electoral vote majority. If it wasn't important, presidential contenders and their campaign surrogates wouldn't visit Ohio as much as they do.

This concept of presidential travel and the electoral map motivated me to actually look at the data. What I present below is just a first swipe--I haven't drilled down into the numbers much. And, this is the beginning of what I hope will be a long-term project tracking the travel destinations of presidents, presidential candidates, and their surrogates.

President Obama's First Term Travel to 13 Swing States I have identified for 2012 election (as of July 13, 2012):*

Colorado: 10/4
Florida: 18/5
Iowa 10/4
Michigan 10/3
Minnesota: 6/1
Nevada: 10/4
New Hampshire: 6/2
New Mexico: 3/1
North Carolina: 10/3
Ohio: 22/6
Pennsylvania: 19/2
Virginia: 49/9
Wisconsin: 8/1

*First number is total separate trips to state; second number is separate trips to state in 2012 so far.

Although Virginia is the most visited battleground state by President Obama, many of those visits were in conjunction with his role as Commander-in-Chief and other official duties (e.g. visits to the Pentagon, CIA, etc.). Also, given Virginia's proximity to the White House and ease of travel to get there, it is unsurprising that it ranks first.

Ohio, it should surprise no one, ranks second, with Pennsylvania close behind. Obama has made 22 total visits to the Buckeye Battleground and 6 in 2012 alone with another one scheduled for this coming Monday in Cincinnati.

Another question intrigued me: how does Obama's travel to Ohio compare to other recent presidents in their first term? I did a quick check and here's what I came up with:

Reagan: 9
GHW Bush: 18
Clinton: 18
GW Bush: 30

It seems that even as Ohio's electoral vote totals have declined over time, Ohio is becoming increasingly popular with sitting first-term presidents.

More to come on this topic as the campaign season rages on.

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