For ten days, political pundits (myself included) have struggled to understand why Mitt Romney has remained so silent in the face of a blitz of negative advertising by Barack Obama, especially in crucial swing states. The Romney camp puts Obama’s spending at close to $50 million; the Washington Post says Obama has spent closer to $100 million. Initially, I ascribed Romney’s reticence to a reluctance to fight. Our own John Nolte says it’s a clever strategy–one that is working. However, there may be a simpler explanation: the Olympics.
The 2012 Summer Olympics begin in London on July 27 and will run through early August. The entire world will be watching, including large television audiences in the United States. Many viewers tune out political advertisements while the Games are on. But these Olympics are unique, because one of the presidential candidates–Mitt Romney–has a close tie to the Olympics: he was president and CEO of the committee that organized the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, turning that event from a disaster into a great success.
In that sense, the Olympics will be one long commercial for Mitt Romney. Republicans who have fretted that Romney is failing to tell voters who he is, while the Obama campaign paints its own caricature, can take heart from the fact that the Olympics are a big part of Romney’s resumé, and they will be on the air continuously for two weeks. Romney’s supporters aren’t simply leaving it at that: his super PAC has already announced that it will be running television ads during the Olympics–in swing states–that focus on Romney’s Olympic career.
So while President Obama has been able to use the bully pulpit of the White House to command free media at whim, Gov. Romney has a unique “incumbency” of his own to exploit, during a period in which voters would otherwise be ignoring political advertising. Obama’s only connection to the Olympics was his failed attempt to bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago (disappointing the real-estate hopes of many of his cronies in the process). Nothing better illustrates the different pasts and priorities of the two contenders for the presidency.