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Inside the Beltway: The ebbing charm

Critics wonder how long women will tolerate certain aspects of President Obama's more curious re-election efforts. There's the odd new campaign video, for example, showcasing HBO's "Girls" actress Lena Dunham, who compares voting for the first time to losing her virginity.

"Your first time shouldn't be with just anybody, You want to do it with a great guy. It should be with someone who really cares about and understands women," the 26-year-old actress advises. "My first time voting was amazing. It was this line in the sand. First I was a girl, now I was a woman. I went to the polling station, I pulled back the curtain, I voted for Barack Obama."

This 60-second message, which has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube alone, was paid for by Obama for America. It is official. But it has perplexed viewers who don't quite get the connection between a polling booth and sexual matters, or who find it simply tacky, inane — and ultimately demeaning to females. But wait, there's more.

"The Obama campaign, as well as the Democratic Party platform, has moved from arguing that abortion should be 'safe, legal, and rare' to defending it as a praiseworthy strategy for reproductive health. But an unborn child is not a disease, as everyone who has seen ultrasound knows. Many women voters who are not pro-life will nonetheless find this level of enthusiasm for abortion simply unseemly," points out National Review contributor John O'Sullivan.

"The appeal to women voters crafted by the Obama campaign may be one of the reasons why they are deserting it. It would be bad news for all of us, not just the unborn, if such a brutalist and selfish appeal were to succeed," Mr. O'Sullivan adds.

WHO IS RAND PAUL?

The old rallying motto for Rep. Ron Paul's presidential bid could be reinvented for his son in the future. Recall that "Who is Ron Paul?" appeared on handmade signs and clandestine graffiti for two years before the Texas Republican declared his intent to run for the White House. Like father like son, perhaps. Sen. Rand Paul is, well, posturing, and remains convinced that the fiscal conservatism of the tea party will continue to draw voter interest.

"I want to be involved in the national debate. I want to transform the Republican Party into a party that's competitive in all 50 states," the cheerful Kentucky Republican tells C-SPAN.

DOWN TO THE WIRE

Undecided voters get mocked and dismissed by pundits and late night comics alike. Yet in 2008, 4 percent of American voters did not decide who got their vote until they walked into the polling booth. So says a new report from the American Enterprise Institute, based on National Election Pool data. Six percent made up their minds from three to seven days in advance.

One out of 10 voters, then, could still be dithering. President Obama or Mitt Romney? In 2008, the undecided picked Mr. Obama, voting for him over Sen. John McCain, 50 percent to 45 percent. This year, 32 percent of on-the-fence voters support the president, 31 percent Mr. Romney. The chances of a switch at the last possible moment? It is 8 percent among Obama fans who could suddenly support the Massachusetts governor, and 5 percent among Romney-ites who could switch over to Mr. Obama.

THE HISTORIC CAMPAIGN

"You'll never hear that 'L-word' — liberal — from the Democrats. They've put on political trenchcoats and dark glasses and slipped their platform into a plain brown wrapper."

- (President Ronald Reagan, in a radio address to the nation regarding the Democratic National Convention, July 23, 1988.)

ILLUSIONS OF POLITICS

The linguistic anthropologists have spoken: the 2012 presidential election is now dominated by image and strategic branding, thanks to celebrity-driven culture and a public taste for "predatory" voyeurism. And the issues? They're lost in the welter of creative candidate packaging.

"It's really the 'TMZ-ization' of politics," observes Michael Lempert, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, referring to the Hollywood gossip show. "Electoral politics has always involved presenting a publicly imaginable character to the electorate. But today's communications technologies and the rise of professional consultancy and political marketing have amplified the illusion to be real, or to be seen as being real."

"The message is an all-encompassing collage of impressions, including the image politicians project with their personal style and language," says Michael Silverstein, an anthropology professor at the University of Chicago who also says the candidates take their cues from celebrities.

The pair have enough material for a new book: "Creatures of Politics: Media, Message and the American Presidency," just published by the Indiana University Press.

POLL DU JOUR

• 16 percent of U.S. voters say Mitt Romney's "greatest strength" is his business acumen; 28 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats agree.

• 11 percent of voters overall say President Obama's greatest strength is his ability as a communicator; 20 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats agree.

• 11 percent overall say Mr. Romney's economic policies are his second greatest strength; 19 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of Democrats agree.

• 10 percent overall say Mr. Obama's interest in helping the less fortunate is his second greatest strength; 2 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats agree.

• 5 percent overall say new ideas are Mr. Romney's third greatest strength; 19 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of Democrats agree.

• 7 percent overall say Mr. Obama's personality are his third greatest strength; 9 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Gallup poll of 1,066 registered voters asked for "open-ended responses" Oct. 22-23. See the complete list here: www.gallup.com

Murmurs and asides to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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