Dan Balz on the Secret Story of the 2012 Election

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dan Balz, Washington Post chief correspondent and author of Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America, offers the behind-the-scenes story of the 2012 presidential race, from the long slog through the Republican primaries through election night.


Excerpt from COLLISION by Dan Balz

“There are so many things you could point to as being decisive,” Mitt Romney said. “For instance, I had a lousy September; I had a great October.”

 Romney sat in an arm chair at his home in Belmont, Mass., dressed in blue jeans and a checked shirt. It was late January 2013, almost three months after voters rejected his bid for the White House, and the next hour and a half marked the first time he had talked to a reporter about the campaign….

His great October began in Denver, at his first debate with Obama. Not surprisingly, he remembered that night as the high point of the year. After months of Romney being pounded in ads, voters finally saw him stand face to face with Obama.

“People would get a chance to see that I was not the person that President Obama had been portraying me as being, and the things he was saying about me and my positions were wrong. I mean, his ads were not accurate. His ads were just pillorying me, saying things that were simply not true, and so I recognized this as a chance for people to see who I really am, and understand what I really believe.” When I said he seemed to reappear in that debate as “moderate Mitt,” he offered this interpretation of what happened: “People saw the entire me as opposed to an eight-second clip of me. . .  . And if people watched me on the campaign trail and heard my stump speech, what I said in my stump speech was the same thing I said in that debate. I’m the same guy. But in the debate, they saw the whole thing.”

Romney believed the debates produced a fundamental change in his relationship with the party’s rank and file. “What had begun as people watching me with an interested eye had become instead more of a movement with energy and passion,” he said. “The rallies we’d had with larger and larger numbers and people not just agreeing with me on issues, but passionate about the election and about our campaign — that was something that had become palpable.”

As a result, he woke up on Election Day thinking he would win. “I can’t say 90 percent confident or something like that, but I felt we were going to win. . . . The campaign had changed from being clinical to being emotional. And that was very promising.”

His last hours on the trail, especially the arrival at the Pittsburgh airport on the afternoon of the election, where he was greeted by a spontaneous crowd of supporters, gave him added confidence. “We were looking at our own poll numbers and there were two things that we believed,” he said. “We believed that some of the polls that showed me not winning were just simply wrong, because they showed there was going to be more turnout from African American voters, for instance, than had existed in 2008. We said no way, absolutely no way. That can’t be, because this was the first time an African American president had run. Two thousand eight — that had to be the high point. . . . We saw independent voters in Ohio breaking for me by double digits. And as a number said, you can’t lose Ohio if you win independent voters. You’re winning Republicans solidly, you’re winning independents, and enthusiasm is overwhelmingly on your side. . . . So those things said, okay, we have a real good chance of winning. Nothing’s certain. Don’t measure the drapes. But I had written an acceptance speech and spent some time on the acceptance speech. I had not written a concession speech.” ….

When Romney had mentioned his “lousy September,” it was an evident reference to what may have been the low point of his campaign: the “47 percent” video. He was in California and said at first he couldn’t get a look at the video. His advisers were pushing him to respond as quickly as he could. “As I understood it, and as they described it to me, not having heard it, it was saying, ‘Look, the Democrats have 47 percent, we’ve got 45 percent, my job is to get the people in the middle, and I’ve got to get the people in the middle,’ ” he said. “And I thought, ‘Well, that’s a reasonable thing.’ . . . It’s not a topic I talk about in public, but there’s nothing wrong with it. They’ve got a bloc of voters, we’ve got a bloc of voters, I’ve got to get the ones in the middle. And I thought that that would be how it would be perceived — as a candidate talking about the process of focusing on the people in the middle who can either vote Republican or Democrat. As it turned out, down the road, it became perceived as being something very different.”

You mean that you were insensitive to a whole group of people? I asked. “Right,” he responded. “And I think the president said he’s writing off 47 percent of Americans and so forth. And that wasn’t at all what was intended. That wasn’t what was meant by it. That is the way it was perceived.” I interjected, “But when you said there are 47 percent who won’t take personal responsibility — ” Before I finished, he jumped in. “Actually, I didn’t say that. . . .That’s how it began to be perceived, and so I had to ultimately respond to the perception, because perception is reality.”

Scanning his notes on an iPad, he began to read a long quotation, offering commentary as he read. At one point, he focused on the question posed at the Florida fundraiser. “Audience member: ‘For the last three years, all of us have been told this, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’ How are you going to do it in two months before the elections, to convince everyone you’ve got to take care of yourself?’ And I’m saying that isn’t my job. In two months, my job is to get the people in the middle. But this was perceived as, ‘Oh, he’s saying 47 percent of the people he doesn’t care about or he’s insensitive to or they don’t care — they don’t take responsibility for their life.’ No, no. I’m saying 47 percent of the people don’t pay taxes and therefore they don’t warm to our tax message. But the people who are voting for the president, my job isn’t to try and get them. My job is to get the people in the middle. And I go on and say that. Take a look. Look at the full quote. But I realized, look, perception is reality. The perception is I’m saying I don’t care about 47 percent of the people or something of that nature, and that’s simply wrong.”

I asked whether he thought that video helped to crystallize another issue he faced: Was it possible for someone with his biography and background and wealth to win the election at a time when there were widespread feelings that struggling families were being left behind while the rich were doing just fine?

“Well, clearly that was a very damaging quote and hurt my campaign effort,” he said. “I came back in October. I led in a number of polls. I think I could have won the presidency. We came remarkably close. Would I like to have been closer? Absolutely. But the number of votes that could have swung to our side could have made a difference. You have to congratulate the president on a very good turnout effort. We were not competitive on our turnout effort with his. So could I have won? Absolutely. And did I recognize that coming as a person who has a great deal of wealth that in that environment that would be an obstacle? Yeah, I recognized that. But I thought I could get over it.”

From the book Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America. Copyright (c) 2013 by Dan Balz. Reprinted by permission of Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved.


Dan Balz

Comments [24]

Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Independent_Noach

Dude. Give it a rest. This is exactly what I'm talking about. It's great that you've discovered butsex is bad but how does that compare to war crimes, rampant political corruption and extinction level environmental pollution? I'm happy that butsex has been "outed" as dangerous. Every other post you make on these threads is about dangerous butsex but now that you've made your point can you move on to non butsex related rants. Thanks.

Aug. 15 2013 12:34 AM
DeepThroat from TheUnderground

These public discussions about gridlock ignore that the real problem lies in an essential failure of the nation state--every 4 years we refight the civil war with the conservative slave states of the south voting one way and most of the northern and west coast states voting the other. We have been engaged in this ideological war now for a 150 years. The answer? The United States of America has outlived its usefulness to itself and the world--we cling to empty myths of a united people--the people were never united not now or is some golden age. America was invented as a nation state in the 19th century when raw materials needed to shipped to factories in the east. We no longer live in that world and the reason for a united set of states from coast to coast no longer makes much sense. Therefore, let states leave the union. Just as the Soviet Empire had to break up so does the American Empire and it can be done just as quickly. We will all be better off. Let the south/tea party states keep the name of the former United States of America. Let them hold onto to all the nukes they want. Let them keep D.C if they wish it. BUT let the rest of out of this dysfunctional relationship. Places like New York have much more in common with Canada than we do with most of the states in the south or Midwest. Let Texas become the separate nation state it wishes. The break up of the U.S could be the very change that it needed to make progress. People will still be able to travel between regions and business will still take place but it will between independent regions instead. No one would say that the boundaries of Europe of the 18th century should still be the same in the 21th century so why do we assume that America of the 19th century should still be the same in the 21th century? You Americans are so rooted in your ideology and mythology that you fail to see what everyone can see so clearly. This is what the President fails to understand--that he may have won the election but the country he represents no longer exists--it never really existed and what he and the rest of you need to understand is that Obama is the Last President of the United States of America--America may continue in its present form for some time---but America as a united nation state with a common ideology and mythology---that America is over. How more people have to die in the world and how more people have to suffer just to keep your outdated view of yourselves alive. It is time to bury America and move onto something else. Now this would be change we could all believe in.

Aug. 14 2013 10:28 PM

Imagine someone as progressive as Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich on economic and foreign policy but solidly on the /right/ when it came to such issues as abortion and the "LGBTQ" agenda.

How far could such a candidate go in today's Democratic Party?

Aug. 14 2013 10:03 PM

@ Greg from Spuyten Duyvil:

Climate change denial would indeed appear to be a striking example of ideologically-driven bias and agenda triumphing over credible science, sound public policy and basic, universal decency and common sense.

No less striking an example of exactly this phenomeon, however, is an area in which the culpability and complicity are pronouncedly greater on the Democratic and left-wing sides of the political and ideological spectrum:
The whitewashing, glorification and promotion of an unhygienic, gruesome, anatomically and physiologically unsound (pseudo-)sex act that spreads deadly disease far more than any other. The statistics are incontrovertible: /anal penetration/, along with higher levels of promiscuity and IV drug use[1], is the single, overwhelming factor that accounts for HIV rates among homo- and bi-sexual males as high as FOURTY-FOUR times those of the general population. (CDC)

All of this is acknowledged and appreciated by individuals as /PRO-homoerotic/ as Bill Weintraub, who coined the term "frot" for the non-penetrative act of "phallic mating" that he, along with his colleagues at the Man2Man Alliance [2], promote as the safe, natural, egalitarian and masculine form of true male homosexual intercourse.

Or Rob McGee, who says of himself, "I'm a total homo with no apologies, but please don't call me gay, because it's a stupid word and an even stupider subculture.", and whose blogs include and

Recent years have seen reports of increased incidence of anal penetration (as well as fellatio) among /heterosexual/ couples as well-- at younger ages than ever. This coincides with the unprecedented increase in availability and accessibility to porn for youth of even shockingly young ages that the Internet brought and which subsequent technological advances and innovations have increased. Such corrosive smut not only glorifies the aforementioned acts but is also often shockingly explicit and overt in its degradation and objectification of women (and, in the case of "gay" porn, /men/ as well).

Then there is the whole "transgender" insanity, a charade that is far from harmless, which I briefly elaborate upon at:

[1]Much of which is to anesthetize against the pain that is endemic to this act-- for the /receptive/ partner, upon whom disproportionately fall a number of other, distinct disadvantages as well, not the least of which a far greater risk of deadly infection.

Assume graphic adult content on all pages.

DISCLAIMER: Quoting =/= endorsement

Aug. 14 2013 09:44 PM
Andrew L. Kalloch from New York, NY

Brian and Dan focused on the gerrymandering of districts as the cause of GOP control of the House. While that certainly plays a role, the MUCH larger cause of the split between total votes and the makeup of the House is the CLUSTERING of Democratic votes in dense urban areas.

Indeed, as recent studies have shown, this phenomenon (known by some as "unintentional gerrymandering") creates a scenario in which Democrats can expect to win fewer than 50 percent of the seats when they win 50 percent of the votes. Put simply, there is a strong relationship between the geographic concentration of Democratic voters and electoral bias favoring Republicans.


Aug. 14 2013 01:56 PM

If you do believe in global warming, you should advocate legalizing industrial hemp. As a fuel oil, gasoline, solid fuel, or plastic, hemp is CO2 neutral.

Aug. 14 2013 11:56 AM

Instead of the one-dimensional left-right paradigm, try looking at this two-dimensional political spectrum, the Nolan Chart:

Aug. 14 2013 11:49 AM
John A

Spuyten: It's going to take the loss of something like a million people in a single event before anything like sufficient political will is ever mustered. It quite possibly might be mustered Against us, by other countries.

Aug. 14 2013 11:46 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Greg from Spuyten Duyvil

So what is Republicans deny climate change and Democrats don't? Both parties agree that burning fossil fuels (the cause of climate change)is just peachy keen! Go watch Gas Land 2. Obama loves natty gas, loves, loves, loves it!

He pulled the EPA off the case and put Halliburton back in charge of all those leaky gas wells as fast a you can say Dick Cheney. The political world you think exists is just BS window dressing with "bad" republicans and "good" democrats.

Aug. 14 2013 11:44 AM

"The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can "throw the rascals out" at any election without leading to any profound or extreme shifts in policy.” - Carrol Quigley, "Tragedy and Hope”

Carrol Quigley wanted to maintain the hegemony of the ruling elites.

Aug. 14 2013 11:42 AM

Certainly, on issues of economics, civil liberties and foreign policies, there would appear to be a clear rightward trend among the G.O.P.

But on a number of social and cultural issues, esp. those involving the "LGBTQ" agenda, the move of the Democrats to the /left/ has been /at least/ as pronounced and dramatic as as any move that can be mapped on the Republican side.

I don't expect my use of William Jennings Bryan as a perennial write-in candidate to become unnecessary anytime soon...

"ivanobregon from manhattan"

"there is no genuine progressive socialist democrat/democratic socialist left on the American political spectrum."

And WNYC is complicit in this; when was the last time a perspective on economics that was to the left of, say, Krugman, was aired on WNYC?

(Among the many guests I'm still waiting for are **NYC-based** economists Richard Wolff and Doug Henwood...)

Or a /dissident/, /NON-establishment/ voice on the /right/? (Such as Lew Rockwell, for example, "anti-state, anti-war, pro-market")

Aug. 14 2013 11:41 AM
Greg from Spuyten Duyvil

No disrespect for Mr Balz, but he just gave a very soft, comfortable, logical explanation of the questioners excellent and gravely important subject matter: that Republicans deny climate change, while most others accept it as fact and wish to do something about it now. This is not simply a difference of opinion: PLEASE mention factors of public brainwash via Republican talking points, the continuing power of billions of $ of oil profits being used to twist information, and the like. Denial of scientific fact runs far deeper than merely 'differences of opinion.'

Aug. 14 2013 11:40 AM
John A

Linking the "Less Dumb" guest and Mr Balz' observation on user selectable facts: Fox News.

Aug. 14 2013 11:40 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

This is all such hogwash. Both parties have been "captured" by the shadow corporate government. Dem or Republican there is a real majority that transcends the respective party lines and they want BIG reductions to military spending, foreign entanglements and wars, corporate welfare, government surveillance of its own citizens and real reform of the healthcare industry (cost controls) as well as an end to unrestricted Fed QE and Wall Street bailouts. C'mon, put it to a vote, who DOESN'T want to see the DOJ go in and take down Wall Street? Even if it meant fewer potheads in the slammer. Even the most deep red republicans I know would let every gay couple marry and adopt every kid on the planet if they got a few wall street scalps in the bargain. Is it gonna happen? No. Why? Because the electorate is so distracted by puerile political bullsh*t.

So here's your answer: Elections don't matter. Democracy is dead. There are only political people left and they will be in jail soon enough.

Aug. 14 2013 11:34 AM
Evan Dresman from Brooklyn

In describing polarization, the guest keeps deferring to polling, to party members' feelings about themselves and the other party. But you don't need to rely on polls to see how the party's have shifted: you look at policies. If the democratic party proposes policies that were initially proposed by republican presidents and congressmen, and republicans reject them (i.e. "Obamacare"), than the know that both parties have moved to the right. Though the guest is right that one has moved farther to the right than the other.

Aug. 14 2013 11:29 AM
Laurie Spiegel

The other big reason that a majority of voters didn't not yield a majority of Congressional Representatives besides post-census redistricting is that the number of Reps in the House has been capped such that the are far fewer reps per capita in the more populous states than in less populous states.

Aug. 14 2013 11:29 AM
henry from md

There can be little question that the Democratic Party has moved to the right. You need only look at the financial policies in response to the 2008 crash. It seems that the great wash of money which influences elections, that great Amazon River, has a somewhat rightward bent.

Aug. 14 2013 11:28 AM
jf from reality

Being the president means being a puppet of the genocidal corporations of america.

Aug. 14 2013 11:25 AM
ivanobregon from manhattan

Polarization? haha. there is no genuine progressive socialist democrat/democratic socialist left on the American political spectrum. Neoliberalism along the example of the Clintons, Obama, Reid, Sommers, Emmanuel is the new.....liberal republican party, konservative-lite. It's not that big a reach between CNN and FOX NEWS, just a difference of extremism....going one way.

Aug. 14 2013 11:24 AM

Obama pushing more liberal policies??? LOL

Mr. Balz drinks too much Krauthammer Kool-Aid.

Aug. 14 2013 11:23 AM
Greg from Spuyten Duyvil

I agree with the caller -- polarization is thrown out there as the one-word, 'one stop shopping' to explain the dysfunction going on in Fed govt legislators and leaders. Also, note that the anti-govt, pro-corporate 'TEA party' has thrown wrench into the works and that the Republicans are in no way unified, whereas Democrats, while divided on issues, are more unified.

Aug. 14 2013 11:23 AM
John A

Good signs:
Leading _Republicans_ calling for fundamental change of the party.
Morality as an issue being claimed by the _Democrats_ in NC.

Aug. 14 2013 11:17 AM
tom from astoria

Given the districting techniques, is there any way out of this stalemate? Does Mr. Balz see a breaking point coming down the road--all the people I know are fed up.

Aug. 14 2013 11:14 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Is Mr. Balz claiming that more Democrats live in fewer districts? Are there districts that represent less than the 700K average ?(Give or take 5%)? Where are they?

Can their be a bigger argument for enacting Article the First? (50K citizens per rep)? cf. LaVergne v. Bryson. [btw Eugene LaVergne is running for senator in NJ]

Aug. 14 2013 11:14 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.