When your football team plays well during preseason and a rookie quarterback shows promise, you almost can’t stop your optimism from rising. Then a football Grinch hauling a bag of stats and history reminds you of past Super Bowl champions which endured horrendous preseasons. Before you pick yourself back up, he slaps you down again, explaining the 2008 Detroit Lions went 4-0 in preseason, then finished 0-16 in the regular season.
Friends and experts remind us every year how preseason holds such little significance. And every preseason, if our teams win those practice games, we can’t help but believe the victories bring higher meaning.
Every four years, when a presidential candidate announces his VP pick, the media analyzes the choice until someone waves a new shiny object in front of their faces. In 2008, people first told us McCain handed Obama the election by selecting Sarah Palin. Then pundits indicated Palin might help launch McCain to victory after she fired up the convention and connected with plenty of regular people. Today, some argue Palin eventually lost McCain moderate votes. But I’ve heard no one state she outright cost McCain the election or led Obama to victory.
Even before Romney chose Paul Ryan, I joked on social media how history proves VP picks make all the difference in the world. When NBC News and the Associated Press the night before the official announcement reported Ryan’s selection, I prepared the question: Will Paul Ryan make a significant impact on the election?
“No,” began the first response to me from a local attorney. “He doesn’t move the needle at all in this polarized electorate.”
Now wait one second! I hear Ryan proposes big ideas on reforming Medicare and those ideas may scare senior citizens, who I’ve always heard are one of the most dependable voting blocks. The lawyer responded, “Old people are not usually undecided.”
Then I talked on the phone with a friend who has worked on Democratic campaigns. My friend assumed Ryan would change the focus of the presidential race but stopped short of predicting he would actually change votes. Fine. Ryan brings different issues to the forefront. But I want to know if Ryan will change anyone’s mind. Bring in the political reporter:
“He will turn it from a referendum on Obama into an ideological contest with the Democrats,” the reporter told me. “I think this makes it easier for Obama to win. Ryan’s plan is simply too radical for the electorate. Ryan wants to replace Medicare with a voucher program. That is a bridge too far for most people.”
I asked, “So you think Ryan’s pick will change a significant amount of votes?”
“Yes,” he responded. “A turnoff to a lot of middle income people. And no Latino votes.”
Then I heard from a TV anchor: ”Yes, he just locked up Florida for Obama.”
It sounds as if Paul Ryan may prove me wrong and play a significant role after all. Should I conclude VP picks don’t necessary help you win but they can certainly help you lose? Before I sign off on this, I want to hear from a PR consultant who is a Republican.
“He was almost forced to take Paul Ryan to fire up his conservative base,” he said. “The only impact I’m thinking he’ll have is he can swing some states in the Midwest.”
Swinging some states could be very significant in a close race. And what are we to believe about voters’ initial reactions to Ryan? A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows Ryan scores the lowest initial ratings from Americans of any vice presidential pick since Dan Quayle. On The Flip Side, Mitt Romney, after announcing his VP pick, took his biggest lead in the Gallup daily tracking poll (2 points.)
So let’s review. Ryan doesn’t move the needle at all. Ryan helps Obama win. He helps Obama win Florida. But he helps Romney win some Midwest states. Write all this down or capture a screen shot. I find these scenarios genuinely interesting. When the election is over, I’ll ask my same respected colleagues the question again. If Paul Ryan helped decide this election, then I will view VPs much differently and better understand why the media gets so hyped up about them. In the meantime, I need to watch a tape-delayed broadcast of my football team’s first preseason game. I understand our rookie quarterback played fairly well against second and third team defenses. I’m starting to wonder if we can make the playoffs.
Tags: Associated Press, Communications, democratic campaigns, detroit lions, mccain, media, medicare, nbc, nbc news, paul ryan, politics, PR, presidential candidate, press, reporter, sarah palin, senior citizens, super bowl, tv anchor, vp