DANA POINT, Calif. — Coming down the homestretch of the presidential campaign, the big question is whether Republican candidate Mitt Romney is “merging into a lane” of broad party support or a surge of momentum from the public that will carry him to victory over President Barack Obama.
And that's the question political journalist Major Garrett raised in his Monday morning speech at the 2012 conference of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
Mr. Garrett, the congressional correspondent for the National Journal in Washington and a frequent guest political commentator on MSNBC, didn't answer it, but he used the query to explain what's at stake for both candidates in the final days of the frenetic campaign.
The assembled representatives from the nation's insurers also have a lot riding on the outcome, a point PCI President David Sampson made clear in his conference opening remarks before introducing Mr. Garrett.
Mr. Garrett delivered the “morning perspective,” filling in for Peggy Noonan, the former presidential speech writer who was unable to leave New York because air travel was grounded by Tropical Storm Sandy.
“If it's a merger (of support within the divided party), Romney will do better than McCain did four years ago,” but it remains to be seen if the former Massachusetts governor can garner enough widespread voter support to topple the incumbent president, said Mr. Garrett, who is also a former chief White House correspondent for Fox News.
Although Mr. Romney picked up momentum after the president's lackluster performance in the first presidential debate last month, Mr. Garrett said President Obama's veteran campaign operation thinks it has the superior “ground game” needed in the final week before Election Day to get requisite voters to the polls to win a close race.
Ironically, President Obama's key advisers are copying the “sophisticated voter turnout model” former President George W. Bush used to beat Sen. John Kerry in 2004, Mr. Garrett said.
In adopting the Bush voter turnout playbook, he said President Obama's team has reached deep into local communities, churches and schools in swing states to make sure friends and neighbors give each other strong, persuasive pushes to get out the vote.
For example, Mr. Garrett said President Obama's campaign has 137 local field service offices in Ohio compared with Mr. Romney's 25 to 30 local offices.
The president and his key advisers privately are saying, “We know our voters, who they are, and they will be there (on Election Day) and it will be just enough,” he told the audience in his speech at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point, Calif.
In response to a question about media polarization following his address, Mr. Garrett said he's an objective journalist who cares about the political process but isn't taking sides in the hard-fought presidential campaign.
“I don't have a dog in this hunt,” he said, emphatically. “I don't care who wins this election.”
Seeking to separate himself from his former cable television pundit colleagues, Mr. Garrett went on to say: “I'm not an ideologist. I just try to look at the waterfront ... I'm not Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow.”