Paul Ryan May Be the Ross Perot of 2012

Yesterday I noticed the headline of this piece by Virginia Postrel on Bloomberg.com and immediately thought “that is right!”. However Postrel was making a case about policy issues while my thoughts were of a more organic nature.

Some background. In early 1992 George Bush the Elder seemed to be on the cusp of a walk to re-election. In the wake of Desert Storm his approval ratings were stratospheric and though they inevitably drifted back to earth (aided immeasurably by his breaking of his “no new taxes” pledge) he was still well positioned to win another four years in the White House.

Then in late winter a goofy looking little rich man named H. Ross Perot appeared on Larry King Live (back when CNN was relevant) and upended the entire political landscape. Now those who were disgusted and disheartened by “the mess in Washington” had new way to give voice to their frustration. Almost overnight the dynamics of the presidential race were scrambled. Short term and on the surface it made Bill Clinton the odd man out. He fell so far in the polls that there was talk that the Democrats might lose their “major party” status.

However when Perot’s erratic behavior culminated in his dropping out just before the Democratic Convention, the momentum swung heavily in Bill Clinton’s direction and never shifted substantially again.  There is a point in campaigns that feature weak incumbents where disappointment jells into indifference and then solidifies as antipathy. It happened to George H.W. Bush in the spring and summer of 1992 and it appears to be happening to Barack Obama right now.

When Paul Ryan was announced Saturday morning as Mitt Romey’s running mate, it was impossible to know how it would play in middle America. So far it is playing above my expectations. Virtually all polling released since last weekend has featured a small but definite move in favor of Romney/Ryan.  For the first time in a long time there is a poll that shows Romney up in Virginia and Ohio and he is up in Florida and close in Iowa, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Perhaps the entrance of Paul Ryan on the national stage has altered this race in a fundamental way much as Ross Perot did twenty years ago.  The coming weeks will show whether its a temporary bounce or the start of a disastrous slide for Obama-Biden.

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