When Michael Duffy, managing editor and the Washington bureau chief of Time asked for a show of hands for undecided voters at the amphitheater in Chautauqua Institution Friday morning, only two or three went up.
"I think there were two," he said. "That ladies and gentleman is the story of the 2012 campaign. Most people already know who they are going to vote for. Makes you wonder, why are we are spending so much money."
Duffy and Nancy Gibbs, deputy editor of Time, co-authors of The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity," wrapped up the 2012 Chautauqua Institution season with a lecture that revolved around the biggest story of the year - the 2012 Presidential election.
Photo by Ben Klein
Time magazine editors Nancy Gibbs, left, and Michael Duffy discuss the current state of the presidential campaign at Chautauqua Institution.
"What is this race about?" asked Gibbs.
The November election is about whether the "American public, the electorate, believes the sitting president, in this case Barack Obama, deserves a second term" just like the election was for presidents Ronald Reagan in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2004.
"It's essentially a referendum on the president," he said.
Duffy, cautioning against over-generalization, said he thinks the American public has decided that President Obama doesn't know how to fix the economy, but understands and identifies their issues, while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney "probably knows how to fix the economy, but he does not get them."
The economy and jobs were the focus of the campaign, until two weeks ago, when Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate and changed the focus of the campaign.
"He had a campaign that was about jobs, and he went and chose a vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, who made himself a name over the last three or four years as a budget cutter, which turned the Romney campaign into really not so much about jobs but a campaign about deficit, entitlements, budgets and debt, which is a big issue facing the nation, has been for some time. But is not the same as jobs. It's related, but different," Duffy said.
So why choose Ryan? Gibbs asked.
There are three main reasons, Duffy said, the first being the campaign focused on jobs was not working. Romney was four to five points behind in some key states.
The second is Romney came out of "long and bruising primary campaign," and the third is "he was looking for some excitement, a spark," which he said he found in Ryan, a "ten yard pass" as compared to Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie or Rob Portman.
"These choices come down to in the end not who will help you, but who do I want to get married to for four years," he said.
Choosing Ryan as a running mate has brought issues that were not a major focus earlier in the campaign to the forefront and has also "opened up a whole bunch of terrain, political terrain, that is much more favorable to Democrats than it is to Republicans," Duffy said. "So that's a big change. But Ryan isn't only an economic conservative, he's a social conservative. And they don't talk about that as much."
"Or they didn't intend to," Gibbs said.
Todd Akin, a Republican nominee for the senate in Missouri, made comments when asked about abortion laws in an interview and what he called "legitimate rape" and that women would not get pregnant "because the female body takes care of that."
"That remark obviously got a lot of attention, and what was discovered is he was actually repeating the biology lessons he had gotten from a doctor named Jack Willke who has argued that in fact the female body has these marvelous defense mechanisms that if it is traumatized in the way rape victims would be, that they could not get pregnant," Gibbs said. "The problem with all this coming out this week was first, this is not what the Romney campaign wanted to be talking about. Second, because that Dr. Willke was a Romney surrogate in 2008. Third, because Paul Ryan turns out to have co-sponsored a bill in Congress about federal funding for abortions for women who have been victims of rape and incest."
That has brought abortion politics to the forefront for the past five days, which is "exactly the opposite about how we've been talking about abortion politics for the last twenty years," Gibbs said.
Over the last week we've learned that Ryan does not support abortion even in case of rape or incest and that the Republican party has adopted the same platform earlier this week which also "supports a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no exceptions," Gibbs said.
"The conversation I think that Romney did not intend to be having, was that one," she said.
Other highlights from their lecture included:
Romney, on the cover of Time this week said in a interview with the magazine "he's best suited to lead the country out of a sluggish economy" and when asked how he'd reduce the deficit said he didn't want to raise taxes, but did not "get very specific with us about what he'd cut," Duffy said.
Romney's trip to Europe earlier this year "made no sense" Duffy said, adding that it not only took eight days out of his campaign, but Romney had to go through "gymnastics to pretend he didn't know anything about dressage."
Duffy estimated that the Obama and Romney campaigns and associated groups would raise nearly $1.1 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively.
The role of SuperPAC's could reach senate, house and state legislature elections in two to six years and even local mayoral and city council races in eight years, Duffy said.
Duffy said Obama will go for the "buzzer beater" and "win in the debates when he can't be outspent."