About one week after this blog began its 5+ month odyssey (when I still could not walk and ate pain killers like they were candy) I wrote: “If the poll shows the Democrat with a slight lead, it’s tied. If the poll shows the race tied, the Republican is winning. And if the poll shows the Republican winning? well then the race is over.”
Sadly I thought by this point Romney would be up a point or two in the polls and could confidently predict a 330 electoral vote win. But Hurricane Sandy changed the dynamic of the race. President Obama was “Presidential” for once and appeared in a bi-partisan light with a great assist from Chris Christie. Had his first term been more bi-partisan like he showed during the Hurricane he would have a far better shot at re-election. But his recent political deathbed conversion runs contrary to what this country has lived through over the last four years. The most divisive President since the disgraced Richard Nixon can give a good speech and wears the genial veneer of a uniter, but his four-year record of division has left the country worse off from his choices.
You can’t swing a dead cat today without hitting a national poll showing the race a dead heat between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. But the polling today and political commentary reminds me so much of two mid-term elections: 1994 and 2010 — admittedly non-Presidential years. The press consensus was a “status quo” election in 1994 while they mocked firebrands who were talking about a revolution. The result was historic drubbings in the House and Senate flipping control of both to Republicans. The same press more recently tried the same dodge in 2010 focusing on likely Republican failures Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle rather than the transformative Republicans like Kristi Noem, Tim Scott, Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio. The arrogant Obama consoled Democrats ahead of this mid-term saying the difference between 1994 and 2010 was that this time they had him. Of course Republicans famously delivered a “shellacking” at the voting booth. My favorite gawd-awful pollster, Marist, had the Congressional race dead even ahead of the greatest drubbing ever. As the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone wrote “you could argue that this is the best Republican showing ever.” Rather odd they seem to always underestimate Republican performance, don’t you think?
Today the press write 50 stories on Missouri’s Todd Akin and barely acknowledge Nebraska’s Deb Fischer. If Fischer were a Democrat, the upstart Senator-in-waiting would be paraded around Sunday talk-shows like Cleopatra but you see nary a passing mention of Fischer taking down the formidable Bob Kerrey. The Tea Party of 2010 was misrepresented, relentlessly smeared with false accusations of racist behavior and ultimately dismissed by the press until they kicked the door in. Instead of trying to coalesce into a national movement they retrenched locally and have been planting the political mustard seeds in Battleground districts across this country. You already see the fruits of their labors in the great voter registration changes and early voting of low-propensity Republicans. They don’t talk big or preen for the cameras, they just go about their business changing the entire dynamic of American politics. Today’s polls capture none of this and represent an electorate much the same as the dynamic 2008 Democrat wave when there is no evidence to support such enthusiasm or turnout.
Democrats still have to explain away Obama and his plan for the future because he has yet to offer one. The national polls say despite his poor first term record and lack of a second term agenda he is tied nationally but more importantly leading among the Battleground State polls. But as Bob Krumm writes: “The last two times that a Republican challenged a Democratic incumbent (1996 and 1980) the polls overestimated Democratic support by 5.1 and 7.2 points. And ‘96 was not even in bad economic times.” (h/t @JohnEkdahl). Add to that the majority of this blog relentlessly focused on breaking down state poll internals demonstrating time and again those same polls were over-representing Democrat voters and misrepresenting the various state electorates. When you combine these two, the reality is that yes, the polls are wrong and this is not a new phenomenon. The major difference in this election is the sheer volume and relentless use of these polls as political advocacy for a preferred candidate.
In those same polls Mitt Romney has consistently led by double digits among Independent voters while locking down Republican partisans. But Independents are not always the greatest indicator in Presidential elections. John Kerry won Independents nationally by ~1% and by double digits in Ohio ~19 points and still lost the election by 3 points. and Ohio by 2-points. It is this statistic Democrats cling to while Republicans, including myself, scoff at tied polls with Romney leading with Independents by 20-points. George Bush overcame that Independent deficit because he had a historic turnout of Republicans that had never been seen before. Barack Obama also achieved a historic partisan advantage for modern elections in the 2008 turnout but also carried Independents by 8-points and won overall by 7-points. In 2012 his entire re-election is staked on achieving this again but under far less advantageous circumstances. The greatest difference between 2004 and 2012 is George Bush had a passionate following on the most prominent issue of the day–national security–while today Obama is at his weakest on the most prominent issue of the day–the economy–with passion inspired only in the cult of Obama. This is why Obama is so consistently capped at 47 or 48% in nearly every poll. His impassioned followers won’t abandon him but he attracts few others.
This means the only way Obama wins is a turnout superior to his historic 2008 election when his greatest assets, insurmountable early voting leads and enthusiasm unparalleled in American history, are absent. Maybe he’ll pull it off, but the evidence says he will not. Mitt Romney has run a competent campaign and caught fire in the first debate when President Obama’s lack of vision stood in stark contrast to the energized and vibrant Romney. Since that juncture the enthusiasm, initiative and momentum have all been on one side of the contest. Today the Romney ground game does no worse than match the vaunted Obama ground game with evidence that Team Obama is desperately robbing Peter (cannibalizing election day high propensity voters) to pay Paul (boost weak early voting).
If political directors at ABC, NBC and CBS were told 6-months ago President Obama’s final days would be spent defending Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin (to crowds far smaller than even John Kerry) while Romney is drawing 30k in Philadelphia suburbs in near unanimity they would conclude Obama is losing the race. Today states like Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania show up in political discussions the way Indiana and North Carolina were in 2008. It doesn’t take much more to know which way the wind is blowing. The Obama campaign’s ground game is a strong operation and plenty of states will be won by less than 1% of the vote, much like 2000 and 2004 so his ability to pull of an election night surprise should not be underestimated. But too many fundamental problems exist for Obama: stubbornly awful economy, eroding trust on foreign policy, formidable opponent, enthusiastic opposition and potentially fatal concerns with the turnout of key demographics (Hispanics and youth) for him to likely win tomorrow.
All of this adds up to the following states falling into Romney’s column: Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. The only rain on Romney’s parade is his inability to carry his “home state” of Michigan but it will be close. The billions in tax-payer losses on the auto bailout at least bought Obama something.
Final electoral prediction, Romney 331, Obama 207. I guess the fundamentals of the race overwhelmed even Hurricane Sandy.
Special thanks to Matt Margolis at Blogs4Victory for the map.