Every sports fan knows that close contests are often decided by mistakes rather than heroics. In this year's Super Bowl, Tom Brady threw just one interception, but Eli Manning didn't throw any. Manning's team won.
What's especially disheartening for fans are unforced errors. Right now, President Obama's fans have reason to worry about a substantive unforced error that threatens his support among Catholic voters.
The Obama administration recently ruled that all insurance policies must offer contraceptive services with no co-payments required. In and of itself, that decision is neither positive nor negative. Forty-three percent of voters favor it, while 46 percent are opposed.
That mandate violates the beliefs of some churches. Normally, religious exemptions are granted in such cases, but not this time. Thirty-nine percent support the administration on this point, while 50 percent are opposed. Even worse for the White House, support for the ruling comes primarily from people who rarely attend church. That's a group that voted strongly for Obama in 2008 and continues to support him today. In other words, no upside.
But, among Catholics, only 28 percent believe religious organizations should be required to implement rules that conflict with church doctrine. Sixty-five percent are opposed. This is true even though many Catholics disagree with church teachings on birth control.
The impact is stunning since 54 percent of Catholics voted for President Obama in 2008. Today, just 39 percent of Catholic voters approve of the way he's doing his job.
Perhaps some strategists thought that Catholics would welcome government help in battling the church on birth control. But Catholics who disagree with the church deal with the situation in the privacy of their own bedroom. They don't need federal help. In fact, it is hard to imagine any person of faith wanting the federal government to have any say in church doctrine and how Holy Scripture should be applied.
While Team Obama wanted to debate contraception, the Catholic League's Bill Donahue said it was unprecedented "for the federal government to line up against the Roman Catholic Church." Even The Washington Post, hometown paper for America's Political Class, thought the administration ruling went too far and "does not make an adequate accommodation for those deeply held views." When the Post thinks you've gone too far in imposing federal authority, it's a sure sign that you're pretty far out on a limb.
The unforced error has added impact because it ties directly into other issues that President Obama would rather keep quiet before Election Day. Most voters want more choices in their health care coverage, not less. By a 77 percent to 9 percent margin, voters think everybody should have the right to choose between different types of health insurance plans, including some that cost more and cover just about all medical procedures and some that cost less while covering only major medical procedures. They want options, not mandates.
Additionally, the issue puts the president's unpopular health care law back in the news. Voters already believe that law will increase the cost of health care, and most also believe the decision on contraceptive coverage will add even more costs.
In the end, unforced errors like this will only matter if the election is close. If the economy improves significantly, the president is likely to be re-elected. If the recovery stalls and confidence falls, he is likely to lose. But in a close race, unforced errors could be decisive. Team Obama is probably looking for a way to correct this error and undo the damage well before the fall campaign season arrives.