It is impossible to deny, by any objective measurement that the re-election of campaign of President Obama is running in reverse. There is no polling data that suggests he’s recovered the momentum he lost after the first debate in Denver. The polling averages of RealClearPolitics, as reliable a barometer as any, since it meshes everyone’s data has consistently showing Mitt Romney with a slight lead in the popular vote—it’s a very slight lead, to be sure—less than a percentage point. But each fresh wave of data hasn’t changed that and I think it reasonable to assume that if the election were held today, the Republican challenger would get slightly more votes than the incumbent.
The Electoral College is another story and the fear of Obama opponents has to be of 2000 in reverse—that year saw Democratic nominee Al Gore win a popular vote squeaker, but lose in the Electoral College. If we take the state-by-state polls at RealClearPolitics as seriously as we do the national number—and with only one week to go, we should—it tells that Obama holds narrow leads in enough states to eke out a win.
That’s the bad news if you’re an Obama opponent. The good news is this—the debate and news coverage has shifted almost exclusively to states that have been reliably Democratic, which is the exact opposite of four years ago.
In 2008, the conversation centered around Obama’s chances in Republican strongholds like North Carolina and Virginia, and GOP-leaning Florida. He won all three and tacked on a win in reliably Republican Indiana, a victory that was his political equivalent of the rock-a-bye baby windmill dunk his hometown’s basketball legend, Michael Jordan, used to do to put an exclamation point on a win.
But in 2012 these aren’t the states that are in play. Indiana has come home. Obama’s team has pulled out of North Carolina and given up. Florida looks to be trending Romney. Virginia is the only area left where Obama can get a win on the road, so to speak.
Contrast to that news reports coming from traditionally Democratic states. Wisconsin, my home state which has only gone Republican in landslide years (1972 & 1984) looks like anybody’s to take. Minnesota, a traditional Democratic stronghold is seeing polling numbers showing Romney closing fast. Iowa, Colorado and Nevada aren’t quite as hard-core blue, but they were certainly seen as places Obama needed to win. All of them look up for grabs.
Most ominously for the president, Michigan and Pennsylvania have gotten competitive. While Obama still holds about a four-point lead in both states, the momentum is against him, there’s still a week to go and with both states, a win is simply a prerequisite–to lose even one of these means he’s finished.
In any election there’s a fair amount of trash talk, as hard-core voters and sometimes partisan columnists seem to think they’re making a point in saying “(Fill in candidate’s name) is toast, this election is over.” Anyone who says that for either candidate in this race is just talking smack and knowing they have a coin-flip chance of being right. This race can clearly go either way and if you think I’m wrong put your money where your mouth is–in Las Vegas you can bet Obama to win at a moneyline of (-130), a modest price if you think he’s a sure bet.
But the real betting right now is being done by each campaign and we need only note where they are putting their money and advertising. It’s actions of each campaign speak the loudest right now, and they are both going heavy in the blue states.
I used an NBA analogy further up, and since the president’s a basketball fan and tonight opens the season, I’ll close with another. Obama will either be the 1989 equivalent of Magic Johnson or the 1998 equivalent of Michael Jordan. In the former case, an aging star reached the Finals, had a shot, but pulled a hamstring and a hungry opponent’s barreling momentum ran him over. That’s the scenario I’m hoping for. But it’s also possible that it could be like ’98 Jordan, at the end of the line, all momentum against him, grasping his shorts to breathe and hitting one last shot.
Either one is possible and there’s no room for the GOP to imitate the stupid arrogance that’s exhibited by so many Obama voters even to this day. But the GOP can take heart that the wind is clearly at their back with all the action of the final seven days taking place in states Obama thought he could count on.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com