We’re in the home stretch now and most of the indicators point to a
small but persistent lead for President Barack Obama in most of the
handful of states that will decide the U.S. presidential election on
The latest Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times public opinion poll of
three key battleground states showed the president and Mitt Romney
basically neck and neck and in Florida and Virginia. But the survey gave
the president a five point lead in Ohio, a state that both campaigns are
desperate to win. Other recent polls give the president an edge in other
key states like Iowa, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
The latest batch of state polls was some of the best news of the week
for the Obama campaign as it seeks to hold on in the waning days of the
campaign. If the president can hold Ohio and add it to his presumed
electoral vote base of 237, it would put him at 255 electoral votes,
just 15 short of the magic 270 figure needed for victory. That would
give the Obama camp a huge leg up on the Romney campaign, which would
have to win most of the remaining so-called swing states to have any
chance of getting to 270.
Dueling Views of the Race
Listening to conference calls with both campaigns is like hearing from
two people who witnessed the same accident but have vastly different
memories of what happened. For the Obama camp, the race is basically
over since they believe the president has stable leads in key states
like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Locking up those Midwest states alone
would put the president at 271 electoral votes and pretty much block any
path for Mr. Romney to win.
But on the other side, the Romney camp is equally confident of victory,
backed up by partisans like former George W. Bush political adviser Karl
Rove who predicted in the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Romney would
prevail in the popular vote by a margin of 51 to 48 percent and get 279
electoral votes. The Romney view is they will carry key states like
Florida, Colorado, and even Ohio, and are in a good position to pick off
some of the other swing states like Virginia, Iowa and New Hampshire.
While the Obama camp is bragging about early Democratic turnout in
places like Ohio and Iowa, the Romney campaign says that it won’t be
enough to counter an expected Romney surge on Election Day. Obama
supporters insist they are doing a better job of identifying voters and
getting them out to vote, while Romney officials boast that intensity
and momentum are on their side.
Obviously the truth lies somewhere in the middle on some of these
claims, which just adds to the notion that Tuesday could bring a very
close election that might not be decided until well into the next day.
Democrats seemed quite satisfied to have the president focus on disaster
relief for much of the week, given the devastation wrought by Hurricane
Sandy, especially in New Jersey and New York. And Wednesday’s extensive
coverage of the president touring some of the affected areas with New
Jersey’s firebrand Republican governor, Chris Christie, was probably a
net plus for the Obama campaign.
In the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Romney has often said he would
be better positioned as president to reach out and cooperate with
Democrats, something he likes to point to from his days as governor of
heavily-Democratic Massachusetts. But the images of President Obama and
Governor Christie walking side by side and comforting residents
devastated in the aftermath of the storm could be taken by some voters
as actual proof of the president willing to work with the opposition.
And we’re not talking about just any member of the Republican
Don’t forget, Christie gave the keynote address at this year’s
Republican National Convention, and for much of the year has been one of
Mr. Obama’s most scathing and partisan critics, at times sounding
downright dismissive of the president and his opposition. But all that
was gone this week as Governor Christie heaped praised on Mr. Obama and
his administration for the quick response in the wake of Sandy.
To a degree, the devastation brought on by the hurricane had the effect
of freezing the presidential race in place, at least for a few days. It
would seem that would help President Obama since he seems to hold a
narrow lead in several key states where the election will be decided.
The storm and its aftermath may also have helped to slow down Mr.
Romney’s surge over the past month, though there were already
indications that the Romney poll bounce in the wake of the first
presidential debate in early October was already starting to wane. I got
the sense the Obama campaign was fine with having things frozen in place
for a few days, denying Mr. Romney a chance to build some last minute
momentum. Of course that still could happen in the final days, but the
question is, will it be enough?
Those who believe Mitt Romney will win this election expect a mini-surge
of undecided voters to flock into his column at the last minute, giving
him not only a victory in the popular vote, but come-from-behind
victories in key states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and most
importantly Ohio. Under this scenario, the Romney burst would be a
smaller version of the late surge that carried Ronald Reagan to victory
over an unpopular incumbent, President Jimmy Carter, in 1980.
This narrative basically says that most of those waiting to decide until
the last minute will deem Mr. Obama not worthy of a second term and will
be persuaded to support Mr. Romney because he has made himself more
acceptable to moderates in the final weeks of this campaign. Democrats
are generally skeptical about this scenario, but I’ve talked to enough
of them to know that some are privately worried this is what could
happen on Tuesday.
Those who believe President Obama will prevail in the election question
how the Romney campaign will suddenly find enough voters in several
swing states to overcome what has been a persistent Obama lead in these
states for months. Under this narrative, the president has a better
ground game in place in key states like Ohio – a ground game that will
push Democrats and Obama-leaning independents out to vote either on
Election Day or before, making up for any advantage the Romney camp
claims in terms of voter excitement on their side.
Obama argument also insists that the president has steady leads in Ohio,
Nevada, Iowa and Wisconsin that severely limit the electoral paths to
270 for the Romney campaign. Obama strategists also argue that much of
the early voting trends so far point to an advantage to Democrats that
Republicans won’t be able to overcome on Tuesday.
So if you believe the polls, and discount the notion of some last
nationwide surge by the Romney campaign, you’ll feel pretty comfortable
about President Obama’s chances. On the other hand, if you focus on the
fact that the president often hovers just below 50 percent approval in
most polls and is having trouble winning over a majority of independent
voters, you probably subscribe to the idea of a classic insurgent
victory over an incumbent deemed not worthy of a second term because of
the mediocre state of the U.S. economy.