As most people thought and as some people (like me) hoped, Romney’s resounding first debate victory radically reshaped the 2012 election. However, the presidential election has never been more up in the air than it is at this very moment. Romney has closed the gap in national polling, favorability ratings, and swing-state polls. Multiple states that were leaning Obama are now back in the toss-up category. President Obama has spent the entire weekend doing debate prep. And the race’s shakeup sent Joe Biden went on an aggressive, cackling spree in the Vice-President debate. Anything could happen. This election is going to come down to the wire. Here’s what you need to know…
Vice-Presidential Debate Recap
With a few days removed since the Vice-Presidential debate, one thing has become abundantly clear – like most Vice-Presidential debates, this one has little to no effect on the final election result. But it wasn’t completely inconsequential… here are a few takeaways that could have long-term effects.
- Some admittedly biased highlights from the VP Debate
The candidates discuss religion and abortion (especially proud of Congressman Ryan here)
An ad from the RNC, playing on Joe Biden’s laughing during the debate. Even taking that part out of it, this ad provides some of Paul Ryan’s stronger statements from the debate
- Who won?
As I expect the Town Hall Presidential debate to be tonight, I think the winner of the VP debate depends on who you ask. If you’re an Obama-Biden guy/gal, you’re going to think the old veteran Biden took rookie Paul Ryan to school with his bombastic, no-holds-barred approach. If you’re a Romney-Ryan guy/gal, you’re going to think the Vice-President was unprofessional, rude, and using an over-the-top approach to distract from the failed leadership and record of the Obama-Biden administration. As for the undecided voters watching, what did they think? Well, the polls were split, with one major poll of undecided voters declaring Paul Ryan the winner and another won declaring Vice-President Biden the winner.
The one benefit each side takes away for possible immediate impact on THIS election? See below.
- Biden’s laughing, sneering, and scoffing: Biden did what he needed to do, although he might have gone overboard. After President Obama’s dispassionate performance, the Democratic base wanted to see some fire and wanted to see their guy stick it to the other side. They wanted to hear them call out Romney and Ryan. They wanted to see them flexing some muscle. They wanted to see them take command of the stage and act more presidential. Biden gave the Democratic base what they wanted, but may have sacrificed some independent voters in the process. In actuality, there are probably no undecided voters who will vote based on this debate. But, there was some snap polling evidence that Biden’s bullying turned off some middle class female undecided voters. I even know one Democratic female who finally decided after Obama and Biden’s performances that she’s switching to voting for Romney-Ryan. She’s realized Obama and Biden just aren’t serious about the debt and deficit.
- Paul Ryan’s Solid Performance: Obama’s poor performance and the expectations that Paul Ryan would wonkily wipe the floor with Biden changed Ryan’s approach and, more importantly, Biden’s approach. Biden’s aggressive laughing and scoffing antics threw Paul Ryan off. He expected more from the Vice-President. He thought that, after Al Gore took such a hit for sighing against then-Governor Bush back in 2000, no candidate would think to laugh out loud, interrupt, and scoff repeatedly. But we live in a different age of politics now, with less civility, even at (and sometimes especially at) the highest levels. In the face of Biden’s aggressive antics, Paul Ryan didn’t put on a performance solidifying himself as THE GOP Superstar for the next decade (although he’s still the overwhelming favorite). But his performance showed he’s ready for the Vice-Presidency. The way he conducts himself on the national stage shows he’s a man of principle who can also be pragmatic. He’s one of the brightest policy minds, but also understands the political game. He’s a quick learner on things like foreign policy. He realizes he’s the running mate, and not the presidential candidate. He’s one of the best surrogates for why Mitt Romney is the best choice to be our next President.
- Impact on Final Three Weeks of Election: Probably little to none. However, what each VP candidate did provide hints for what comes next. Biden was so aggressive so Obama wouldn’t have to be so that Obama can appear more presidential when it really counts. But Biden’s talking points provide a clue as to what the attacks on Romney-Ryan will be like moving forward (the 47% gaffe, calling Romney-Ryan liars, etc.). Paul Ryan’s talking points and approach also provide clues for Romney’s approach — making every effort to draw a contrast between their serious plans which are starting points for negotiations with Congress and the scare tactics from the other side; communicating why their conservative principles are backed up with heart for those in need; and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, calling out the President for not running according to his record and instead trying to make this election a referendum on the challenger… which is just wild when you think about it.
The following numbers are drawn from RealClearPolitics. You can go there for all the most up-to-date polling numbers and their most up-to-date averages of the last few polls. Also, my favorite “Create Your Own Map” platform is also found at RealClearPolitics. Go here to calculate what the possible Electoral College results would be depending on which way each state goes.
National Polling Average (as of Tuesday morning, 10/16)
Current Electoral College Scoreboard (Need at least 270 Electoral Votes to win):
Obama/Biden: 201 (Likely) Electoral Votes
Romney/Ryan: 191 (Likely) Electoral Votes
Latest Toss-Up Swing State Polling Averages (146 Toss-Up Electoral Votes)
(Current as of Monday night, 10/15)
Florida (29 Electoral Votes): Romney +2.5%
Pennsylvania (20 Electoral Votes): Obama +4.8%
Ohio (18 Electoral Votes): Obama +2.2%
Michigan (16 Electoral Votes): Obama +4.4%
North Carolina (15 Electoral Votes): Romney +4.7%
Virginia (13 Electoral Votes): Obama +0.8%
Wisconsin (10 Electoral Votes): Obama +2.3%
Colorado (9 Electoral Votes): Romney +0.6%
Iowa (6 Electoral Votes): Obama +2.7%
Nevada (6 Electoral Votes): Obama +1.6%
New Hampshire (4 Electoral Votes): Obama +0.7%
Current Polling Analysis & Thoughts
There’s two ways to analyze polling: focus on state polls and polling in the toss-up swing states most likely to push a candidate over 270 Electoral Vote threshold OR focus on the national polling numbers. Here’s what each one has to offer…
- Swing-State Polling: This polling is done on the ground, with registered or likely voters. Since states like Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Florida have unique economic situations, demographics, and feelings on the issues each candidate appeals to, this focus seems attractive. After all, the election could come down to who wins Ohio. Why not focus on those polls? OR, like Gallup/USA Today do, focus on an aggregation of swing state voters? After all, the type of independent voters who swing these elections is probably thinking similar things in Ohio and North Carolina, right? Eh… depends.
- National Polling: Based on several political science studies and my gut instinct, I think national polling numbers are the best indicator for the state of the election. It measures momentum nationwide, voter enthusiasm across the country, and how well each candidate’s broad, big-picture narrative is coming across with voters. In many of my political science classes during the 2008 election, we discussed how national trends typically indicate which way the swing states will eventually go in presidential elections. It tells you which side’s voters are more likely to turn out to vote and whose message is more likely to be received most favorably by undecided likely voters.
So what do the current polls mean in this race, this year, between these candidates? It’s going to be close. National polls are a virtual tie. State polls have closed to bring many states that Obama has had on lockdown into toss-up status (New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania). Romney doesn’t need to win any of those, but the fact that Romney has closed the gap there shows that national momentum is on his side. In a close election, looking at the states most likely to be the final decider (like Ohio) could be the strongest indicator. I’m sticking to the national polling approach though. I think that these final three weeks of campaigning and final two debates will swing momentum (perhaps only 51%/49% momentum, but winning momentum nonetheless) in one direction nationally, which will tip the scales in the swing states.
A close friend asked me last night what Romney’s path(s) to victory are. The 201 Electoral votes he has now PLUS Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida AND one more? I think Romney will win Florida and North Carolina. Virginia and Ohio are huge toss-ups. I think they will both go to the candidate with the national polling momentum. I think Nevada, Colorado, and New Hampshire will also go to whichever candidate has that momentum. Why? It means that’s the candidate who has performed best in the debates, whose campaigning and leadership communication is best connecting with the average American voters, and whose operation is doing the best at grassroots campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts. More on that below…
What Comes Next
With the election all tied up with support for both Obama-Biden & Romney-Ryan at 47% and change (irony, anyone?), what happens over the next three weeks will decide who our President for the next four years will be. And here are some of the biggest things to watch for and think about in the next three weeks…
- The Final Two Debates: In the next week, we will have the final two debates. Here’s a preview of each one…
Town Hall Forum Style-Debate on Tuesday, October 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York: The moderator is CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent, Candy Crowley. Per Mike Allen over at POLITICO, 80 to 84 voters will be on stage with the candidates. “The Commission on Presidential Debates is once again using Dr. Frank Newport and the Gallup Organization to pick the audience: All will be uncommitted, registered voters from Nassau County who say that they plan to vote, and that there is a chance they could vote for either candidate. The sample, reached using both landlines and cellphones, will include a variety of incomes, races and political persuasions. (Although Republicans aren’t sure how many evangelical hunters will turn up in Nassau County.) A few extra are picked to account for no-shows. People who want to ask a question write the identical question on two cards: one to keep, and one for the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley. She screens the questions for topic variety (will include foreign and domestic), to eliminate duplication, and to include a mix of genders and ages. In the past, 12 to 16 people have asked questions.”
My Prediction – This debate will end in a tie. I expect the Republicans to believe and spin the debate as a Romney win. I expect the Democrats to believe and spin the debate as an Obama win. I expect independent and undecided voters to walk away less certain than ever who they will vote for, making the final debate that much more important. The format of the debate (switching topics back and forth, engaging with the citizens on stage instead of with each other or the moderator) will make it difficult for either candidate to control the pace like Romney did in the first one. This change of pace and unusual structure will also make it more likely that we’ll digest this debate moment-by-moment as opposed to a broad winner vs. loser narrative. This means both Obama and Romney will have stronger moments and weaker moments. Those of us who are Romney supporters will focus on Romney’s best and Obama’s worst. The other side will do the same. The needle won’t move much.
Third and Final Presidential Debate focusing on Foreign Policy on Monday, October 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida: Through a Press Release from the Commission on Presidential Debates, Moderator Bob Schieffer from CBS News announced the topics for the third and final debate.
- America’s role in the world
- Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Red Lines – Israel and Iran
- The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – I
- The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – II
- The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World
My Prediction – This debate will set the pace and mood for the final two weeks of the election. Barring something happening in the economy, world affairs, or something else game-changing completely out of the campaigns’ control, this is the last major turning point in the election before the final slog. With a format identical to the first debate, this one is more likely going to be a battle between the candidates for control. Because, as Romney’s dominance of a passive Obama showed in the first debate, he who controls the flow of the debate looks more presidential and is seen as the overwhelming winner. So each candidate will try to do this. The dynamics of this debate as the final one are also interesting due to the topics – Obama has been seen as the winner on foreign affairs because he has been President for 4 years and has experience as Commander-in-Chief, in which he has tacked to the right, kept many more Bush policies than anyone expected him to, and had some successes. HOWEVER, the recent turmoil in the Middle East, the Obama Administration’s bungling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks, and Hillary Clinton throwing herself under the bus put Obama on the defensive a bit. My thoughts on this election are these: this will be the perfect final test for Mitt Romney to see if he’s ready (as ready as one can be) to become Commander-in-Chief and be leader of the free world. I hope he relishes the opportunity. It could be THE make-or-break moment to see if his 8+ year journey in presidential politics ends in being inaugurated.
- The Other X-Factors in the Final 3 Weeks
Grassroots organization & GOTV (Get out the Vote) Efforts: In close elections (which this is one and will be one in 21 days once all the votes are tallied), state-level party organizations, state-level candidate campaign organizations, and other grassroots organizations (like unions and Tea Party organizations) become the most important parts of the campaign. Close elections are more often than not determined by voter enthusiasm and voter turnout for each side. So the effort now is to get supporters to the polls, whether it’s early voting or on election day. Voter enthusiasm has run higher for Republicans, but Team Obama have made gains. We also have the operation of Obama which achieved record turnout with groundbreaking grassroots efforts in 2008. The question here will be whether conservative groups can turn out the vote better than Obama for America. It could determine the election.
Can Romney maintain momentum? Can President Obama regain his mojo?: Romney has made huge gains in favorability ratings and polling in the last couple weeks. President Obama seems to have lost his mojo. What I think is most likely to happen? President Obama hits his stride again and Governor Romney maintains his rise as well. I think there’s a good chance each candidate could bring their A-game in the final weeks of the campaign. This will leave the few undecided voters (see below) remaining quite the choice.
Who will the blue collar “waitress moms” vote for?: In the swing states that matter, the votes most likely to determine the election are blue collar, middle class women across America. As USA Today points out in their latest swing state poll analysis, “As a group, women tend to start paying attention to election contests later and remain more open to persuasion by the candidates and their ads. That makes women, especially blue-collar ‘waitress moms’ whose families have been hard-hit by the nation’s economic woes, the quintessential swing voters in 2012′s close race.” The polling shows that these female voters are increasingly worried about the deficit and debt problems, and increasingly trusting Romney to tackle these problems best.
Well, that wraps up my “State of the Race” summary for today. Enjoy the debate tonight and check back tonight or tomorrow for my thoughts on how the Town Hall went and how it affects the race moving forward… Here’s to hoping it goes something like this…