Big Bird flap adds to Obama poll woes, but Dems aren't panicking

Oct 10, 2012

Sesame Street-themed campaign ad slammed and bad polls pile up, but Romney still has work to do

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A NEW series of bad polls and a row over a Sesame Street character have combined to give the impression that President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is in crisis. 

In response to Romney's policy announcement in the first TV debate that he plans to cut off the government subsidy to PBS – the non-profit public broadcasting network – the Obama team put out a campaign ad that has seriously backfired.

The ad joked that Big Bird, a character from the children's TV show Sesame Street, shown on PBS, was an "evil genius" who "towered over" famous Wall Street fraudsters such as Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay. The ad concluded: "Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about, it's Sesame Street."

But the makers of Sesame Street immediately demanded the ad be taken off air, saying: "Sesame Workshop is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads and, as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down."

While the ad was well-received by some commentators, others have questioned why Obama is still bringing up the presidential debate, which virtually everybody thinks he lost, a week after it happened.

Chuck Todd said on MSNBC: "The Obama campaign, on their own, seems to be looking back at the debate, not yet figuring out how to turn the page... You have to ask yourself, every time they bring up the debate, is that good for Obama or is that good for Romney?"

The flap over Big Bird follows Monday's Pew poll giving Romney a surge of 12 points, and a four-point lead over Obama. That led to a despairing column by the Obama-supporting commentator Andrew Sullivan, who said it was "hard to see" how the president and his party would recover.

Yesterday, more polls showed Romney gaining ground, though with less spectacular swings.

A Gallup tracker poll of likely voters gave Romney a two-point lead, and a CNN poll of the key swing state Ohio showed the Republican making headway, although he is still four points behind the president.

The New York Times's polling analysis blog FiveThirtyEight believes Romney is now in his strongest position since June, but warns that the race isn't quite "a literal toss-up" yet. "Romney will need to maintain his bounce for a few more days, or extend it into high-quality polls of swing states, before we can be surer about that."

Despite proclamations of doom from Obama supporters, Democratic insiders are making light of the situation. Politico quotes veteran Democratic political consultant Jim Jordan, who sums up the view of the Obama camp by saying: "That's my party: irrational over-confidence followed by irrational despair."

Greg Sargent in the Washington Post points out that it is relatively straightforward for Obama to regain lost ground by addressing his failure to connect with unmarried women in the first debate.

"Unmarried women are a key piece of the ‘rising American electorate'," says Sargent. However, they "did not hear Obama telling him how they would make their lives better. By contrast, they did hear Romney telling them he'd improve their lives".

Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, tells Sargent that Obama can recover with attacks on Romney's '47 per cent' gaffe and by contrasting his own ‘we're all in this together' values with Romney's ‘you're on your own' approach.

Obama might have been handed the opportunity to do just that thanks to an extraordinary letter sent by flamboyant Florida timeshare mogul David Siegel this week to his employees.

In the message, whose authenticity has been confirmed by Gawker, Siegel suggests that his employees might want to consider for whom it is in their best interests to vote. If Obama is re-elected, Siegel threatens to retire to the Caribbean where he will have "no employees to worry about".

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