Well, here we are, our last chance to check in on the state of the race before the polls start to be affected by honest-to-goodness campaign news, which there's been a virtual vacuum of the past four months. Starting with this morning's announcement that Paul Ryan will be Mitt Romney's running mate, the next ten weeks will see how the polls move in reaction to that, both conventions, three Presidential debates and one, now possibly going-to-be-interesting, Vice Presidential debate. Then we'll have a two-week breathing space before we actually, you know, get to vote.
So where do we stand on the eve of all of this? The Real Clear Politics "poll of polls" now has six polls from August in its mix, and is showing Obama with a more than four-point lead:
On the electoral college front their "no toss-ups" map averaging all recent state polls shows a commanding lead for Obama:
The predictions market at Intrade is currently showing a 58% chance of Obama's re-election.
Meanwhile, over at FiveThirtyEight.com, 2008 prediction superstar Nate Silver's multi-variable prediction model is showing a 71.6% chance of Obama's re-election (see left), with an indicated margin of 2.8% and around 300 electoral votes. Were you to split the odds between FiveThirtyEight and Intrade, you'd get 64% odds for Obama. That feels about right to me. As several commentators have noted, Romney more or less "lost" the summer. His problem has been three-fold:
1. Romney disavowed his Massachusetts record in order to tack far enough right to win the nomination. He's kept mostly away from talking about his faith, which while risky, would have been his surest was to connect with the "social issues" portion of the Republican base. When Bain started to come under attack, he distanced himself from that portion of his past. Take away Mormonism, Bain and being governor of Massachusetts, and there's really nothing concrete left he can connect with. There was running the Olympics, of course, but he pretty much managed to blow that up with his criticisms of London and other fallout from his recent foreign tour.
2. He's kind of a publicly-stiff rich guy with a tendency to put his foot in his mouth. As such, he just comes off as more of, for lack of a better phrase, a goon. And the goon always loses. Understand, I don't mean this to disparage Romney. Jimmy Carter had a bigger heart than Ronald Reagan by leaps and bounds. But he was also, compared to Reagan, a goon. And lost. Al Gore was a goon who would have been ten times better for the country than Bush. But, compared to the relaxed amiable Texan, he was a super-goon. And lost. Ford-Carter. Carter-Reagan. Mondale-Reagan. Bush Sr. would have been, in any normal election, the goon, except that the democrats managed to nominate the even goonier Dukakis. Bush-Clinton. Dole-Clinton. Gore-Bush. Kerry-Bush. McCain, a great dynmic guy next to most anyone, became, compared to Obama, the goon. Right or wrong, good for the country or disastrous, the goon always loses, and this year, Romney is the goonier of the two.
3. The thing Romney had decided to run on- the economy is not getting better fast enough, and I have the experience and skill to fix it, has been methodically targeted by the Obama campaign. Though marginally out-raised, the Obama campaign is never going to be poor, and they're very, very smart. As the Bush folks showed in 2004, if your opponent has a viable edge (in Kerry's case, his status as a war hero) against you, you target it and destroy it. Of course, Romney helped the attack by his own ineptness in the face of it, just as Kerry did in 2004.
The key question, of course, is: can the Ryan pick help to turn this around? It's certainly interesting. Nate Silver reads it as the act of someone who knows he's in the losing position and wants to shake things up. I tend to agree. While Obama's number's will certainly come down from their current peak, he's been consistently ahead for the past four months. In fact, he's generally matching his pace from 2008:
As you can see, Romney has been generally outpacing McCain's track in June and July, but, unlike McCain, has never had leads or ties with Obama over the four month period. The comparisson with 2004 is equally interesting. Obama has been doing much better than either Bush or Kerry were in the same period in 2004, while Romney has generally been running right between Bush and Kerry's trendlines (and they, of course, consistently traded the lead throughout the same four months, while Obama, let us again note, has had the lead Every.Single.Day.):
While I wouldn't totally discount the 332 electoral vote scenario, it is of course likely to come down. But on this front, Obama is still on very solid ground. Of the states he carried in 2008, Indiana has switched back, and North Carolina looks like it has too. But he's in the lead in all the other swing states, and even if you just restrict the map to states where he has a lead of 3% or more, it looks like this:
So, Romney knew he was losing. In response, he made a bold choice. It has several things going for it: It decreases his gooniness by adding someone young and dynamic. And it brings in a darling of the Tea Party and fiscal conservatives, which should certainly help with turning out the base. It probably doesn't put Wisconsin in play- most studies show that a VP helps in their home state, but only by 1-2%, and Wisconsin is currently averaging +5.4% Obama. And, while it may signal that Romney is going for an issues-richer campaign than either candidate has been running so far, I'm not sure it puts him on the right side of the issues. As an article in Salon observed yesterday, choosing Ryan means choosing a brand of fiscal conservatism that feeds right into the populist narrative Obama has built against Romney. Only now, having choosen a running mate who actually does want to fundamentally restructure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as we know it, Romney can't say, "he's exaggerating" in response to Obama's attacks.
Still, I'm glad we finally have some real news! I look forward to following (and analyzing) the twists and turns from here.