What’s the story with Obama?

Barack Obama supporters are praying daily (many of them probably hourly) at the altar of Nate Silver. The creator of the poll-dissecting blog FiveThirtyEight, who was signed on by the New  York Times after making a splash in the 2008 election, calms their frazzled nerves. He explains why deadlocked national tracking polls mean less than a slew of swing-state polls that show their candidate with small, but consistent, leads in the places that will matter most tomorrow. It is to him and his sober mathematical models that Obama Nation turns for uplift and sustenance during this season of doubt that tries their faith.

To understand the seeds of that doubt, however, and why an uneasiness sometimes bordering on despair infected so many Obama partisans, requires a turn away from the dry world of forecast models and margins-of-error. The yin to Silver’s numbers-driven yang is captured in Matt Bai’s essay in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine.

Bai turns to the question of the campaign narrative. The idea of “narrative” has a certain pretense that rightly causes some eye-rolling. But to deny its importance is to deny the central role that storytelling has played in human affairs going back to cave drawings. What is Bai’s narrative?  That a candidate who electrified the country with his gift for soaring rhetoric became, once in office, “understandably wary of too much speechifying, which might have underscored the idea that Obama was going to orate his way through the presidency while leaving the governing to others.”

Bai says Obama also misread his strong showing in 2008 — he was only the fourth Democrat in history to break 51 percent and had an approval rating of 70 percent going into office — as a mandate from voters.  What followed was an impressive set of executive branch achievements, including the most sweeping health care reform in more than 40 years, a stimulus plan that helped to blunt the worst recession in decades, a decisive move to aid the auto industry, and  approval for a high-risk mission to get Osama bin Laden. But Obama failed to string together his domestic initiatives into a coherent story of the new way forward he was laying out for the country, says Bai. Michael Grunwald has termed that path The New New Deal, the title of his book on the stimulus plan. Grunwald says the stimulus was remarkably effective, but that was never communicated. Hence the book’s subtitle: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.

The Obama team’s critical misstep, writes Bai, was the failure to realize that “an election result isn’t a final verdict on one governing philosophy over another, but rather a signal that the voters have agreed to hear your case.”

“If Obama somehow manages to lose an election that seemed well within his grasp a few months ago,” he writes, “this question of how he squandered his narrative mojo will pain Democrats for years to come.”  Democrats are now counting on Nate Silver’s polling narrative, which suggests it won’t come to that. 

                                                                                            –MICHAEL JONAS

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Brockton officials are eyeing a tax break for office supply giant W.B. Mason that would freeze the company’s property taxes over the next 13 years while the firm renovates and expands its downtown headquarters.

The former head of a Somerville community agency used the organization’s credit card for more than 100 charges for personal use in a single year, according to an audit filed with the attorney general’s office.

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan continues his shake-up of the city’s housing authority but is still awaiting the application deadline to nominate a director for the vacant post.

Massachusetts has the third largest rainy day fund in the US.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

New York magazine profiles Jesse Jackson Jr.’s hard fall.

ELECTION 2012

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who had earlier said she would issue no political endorsements this year, changed her mind after Hurricane Sandy. Saying fears about climate change spurred her action, she backs President Obama, US Rep. John Tierney, and Elizabeth Warren. In a related development, here’s why a billionaire-turned-politician’s climate change-influenced presidential endorsement matters. The Daily Beast looks at the politics of climate change, an issue Obama and Mitt Romney  have virtually ignored.

Bill Clinton is loving life on the campaign trail right now. Bill Keller travels to Miami University in Ohio in an attempt to figure out just what is happening inside Paul Ryan’s head.

Paul Levy, who predicted back in August that Elizabeth Warren would have a difficult time selling herself to the voters, says his interactions with people he meets run counter to the polls showing Warren with a lead over Sen. Scott Brown. A new Boston Herald/UMass Lowell poll has Brown up by one point and peeling off lots of union votes. The Herald results stand in contrast to a weekend poll by Public Policy Polling, which has Warren up by six, with the firm all but calling the race for the Democratic challenger. The American Spectator does a deep dive on Warren’s background just a day before the election.

Evergreen headline of the season: “Acrimony lingers for Tierney, Tisei in 6th District race.”

In addition to the three ballot questions, some Bay State voters can weigh in on two non-binding resolutions on corporate campaign spending and the federal budget deficit.

With Obama poised to roll over Romney in the state where the Republican nominee once served as governor, Massachusetts activists are flooding over the border to New Hampshire, where the presidential contest is much closer.

Pollmania: The Washington Post dissects the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. Nate Silver pushes back against the conventional wisdom that Hurricane Sandy ruined Romney’s campaign, arguing that the Obama campaign’s poll numbers had stabilized weeks before the storm hit.

New Jersey plans to allow voting by email and fax, Politico reports.

Boston Properties CEO Mort Zuckerman has no kind words for Mitt Romney. Sheldon Adelson argues that the Democratic Party left him behind.

Where to find President Obama and Mitt Romney and their surrogates today.

From the “things that make you go hmmm” department: Linda McMahon, Connecticut’s Republican US Senate candidate, asks voters to vote for her and President Obama.

Signatures allegedly faked by an elections worker in Lawrence prompt calls for a state investigation, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A Globe story tries to unravel the effect of Twitter on voters.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Communities with an abundance of entry-level homes are showing the biggest gains in prices in the state while towns with higher-prices houses continue to show declines.

RELIGION

St. John the Baptist Church in New Bedford, the oldest Portuguese church in North America, had its final Mass yesterday though angry parishioners have vowed to appeal the Fall River Diocese’s decision to shutter the 140-year-old church all the way to the Vatican.

EDUCATION

A consultant reviewing special education in Peabody finds one program that costs $700,000 and is serving just nine children, the Salem News reports.

HEALTH CARE

The national health care mandate doesn’t kick in until 2014, but companies are already threatening to stop hiring full-time employees in a bid to skirt the law.

A Harvard undergraduate is lauded for alerting journal editors to an error in a published paper of his on the spread of infectious disease.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Sandy has given new urgency to the debate over coastal development and man-made versus artificial defenses against sea level rise. A state-by-state rundown of Sandy-related deaths and damage is here.

Ever seen a dog swimming through a cranberry bog? You have now: The Christian Science Monitor serves up a slide show of the Bay State’s cranberry harvest.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

James “Whitey” Bulger is rushed to Boston Medical Center, the Globe reports.

MEDIA

The Beat The Press panel tries to divine the truth behind the numbers and the competing claims over circulation between the Herald and the Globe.