Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America Hardcover by Dan Balz. Viking, 2013
Full disclosure: I like Dan Balz, his writing and his appearances on Washington Week in Review. In an era of strident voices he stands out for an even tone and balanced viewpoint. There are a number of other books on the market about the 2012 election that vilify one or more candidates or sensationalize the events of the campaign. Balz chooses instead to concentrate on solid reporting.
The author considers this book a sequel to his early book on the 2008 election, The Battle for America, co-authored with Haynes Johnson.
The books is divided into three sections, with some introductory material. The first part is called “the pivot” and focuses on this particular point in history with an emphasis on Obama’s campaign strategy and tactics. There is a specific part on the Obama campaign’s use of microtargeting and digital database. They make particular use of expanding the campaign’s reach by asking people to reach out to a few of their friends, making suggestions based on the likelihood that each of those friends was categorized as a infrequent voter (and therefore more likely to vote if prompted) or an undecided voter (and whose vote might be swayed by a note from a friend). This was especially effective when reaching out to younger voters who might not have a landline
The middle section is a lengthy review of the Republican primary contest, examining each of the candidates on a chronological basis, as they seemed to appear and peak one at a time. Balz also points out that of the Romney family only son Tagg and wife Ann thought Romney should run again. Even the candidate himself had questions about it. For me as a reader one of the oddest stories in this section was the mention of an April Fool’s joke. Romney thought he was going to address a packed room for a pancake brunch. Instead the room was empty. (Kindle location 5153). In an expensive and important campaign how could anyone think there was time for tomfoolery like this? There is a detailed story about Chris Christie at the Republican convention, threatening to say the F word on live tv.
The third part was on the general election between Romney and Obama. The 47% comment by Romney, the poor performance by Obama in the first debate, the Republican’s difficulties in attracting non-white voters (and the reasons for it). Balz is a gadget guy and he writes about the 2012 election being the first presidential election with twitter in common usage.
As someone who watched this election closely as it happened, and has read up on it since, I recall many of the incidents that Balz includes in his book. Nonetheless it is reassuring in some way to have Balz sew them all together and smooth them out; it provides closure. He provides some context and background to things that even armchair politicos don’t know. For those who did not keep such a close eye on the election the book will be an excellent history of it. In any event I highly recommend the book.
On a personal note, this is the first book I am reviewing that I read on a Kindle as opposed to print. Normally I put little post-its in the text to mark things of interest and then jot a quick summary for each chapter on a larger post-it and stick it to the first page of that chapter. By the end the book looks like a feathered bird. It is hard to do that on a Kindle, or perhaps I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. The search function in a Kindle is intriguing and very helpful in finding prior references to people places and things. But I’m not sure that makes up for effective use of post-its.