By Kassondra Cloos
Charlie Cook is in the business of political commentating, not forecasting. Even if he thinks about it on a regular basis, he won’t publicly predict the next president.
Not easily, anyway.
If you put a gun to his head, and he really thought you would shoot, he said he would peg President Barack Obama as a two-termer. A few months ago, in the same situation, he would have said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Cook, an acclaimed political analyst for NBC News, columnist for National Journal and publisher and editor of the Cook Political Report, spoke Monday night at Elon University about the upcoming presidential election and how Obama and Romney’s campaigns have helped and hurt them respectively.
“If Barack Obama is elected, it will be despite of the economy and because of his campaign,” Cook said. “If Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign.”
Historically, incumbent presidents have been virtually unelectable in the wake of economic disasters as dismal as the one currently facing the United States, Cook said.
“The manager of Romney’s campaign should be sued for malpractice.”
It is fair for Obama supporters to say the president inherited the recession and the country is significantly better off than it was in 2009, Cook said. But with each passing day, Obama has inevitably taken a little bit more ownership of the economy. With each passing day, he has become less at fault and more accountable for its recovery.
Still, despite the improbability of a significant economic upturn before the election and in the last months of the presidency, Obama’s campaign has effectively ripped out the rug underneath Romney’s feet. Where Romney has failed to define himself as a candidate and an individual, Obama has stepped in to make those definitions for him—and they’re not positive.
“The manager of (Romney’s) campaign should be sued for malpractice,” Cook said, explaining how influential political advertising has been in recent months, changing the trajectory of the election.
Advertising for Obama’s campaign has successfully reached voters in places where Romney’s has not ventured—such as cable television—and it has released stories attacking Romney’s character. Previously, Romney’s campaign focused on persuading voters that the economy is bad and it’s Obama’s fault, but there were no biographical stories that humanized Romney.
“No Teflon coating had been applied to protect him from it, and as a result these attacks have stuck to him like Velcro,” Cook said.
But even with Obama’s stronger campaigning, anything could happen in the next two months that may have a devastating effect on his chances of winning. The economy is being closely watched, Cook said, and political dissidence in the Middle East could impact the election as well.
“This is a very close presidential race,” Cook said. “It’s a very, very close race, and it’s going to stay close.”