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As Swing State Races Narrow, Debate Looms Large

By Erin McPike - October 16, 2012

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For seven solid months, the president led Romney in the RCP Average for the Old Dominion. Romney took the lead for two days in early September (just after the GOP convention), but the president regained his edge and has led ever since. Today, it’s just 48.4 percent to 47.6 percent in favor of Obama.

If Romney turns in another solid debate performance and chips away further at the president’s support in those two states, he could add Virginia’s 13 electoral votes and New Hampshire’s four to the 244, bringing him to 261.

That’s where the president’s firewall supposedly comes in, though it’s been showing cracks lately.

Obama has also enjoyed a year-long lead in the RCP Average for Nevada. That advantage was down to just 1.6 points as of Monday, 48.2 percentage points for the president to 46.6 percent for Romney. Sources say that Republicans trail the Democrats in turnout and party operations there, which could help blunt a Romney surge. But if the GOP pulls an upset there, the Silver State’s six electoral votes could get Romney to the cusp of the 270 votes he needs.

Ohio has been a stubborn state for the challenger. While it has trended conservative over the years, polls show that much of the electorate credits the Obama administration for the auto bailout -- which the president trumpets loudly during his frequent visits. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan have invested considerable time there in the past few weeks, which has helped cut into the president’s lead. But they haven’t been able to overtake him yet.

The president has not given up the Buckeye State lead all year. He’s also never been tied with his opponent. But the polls show the race tightening. As of this past weekend, Obama was ahead in the RCP Average by just 2.2 points, 48.3 percent to 46.1 percent, making it the state to watch after the debate.

However, if Romney is able to flip Virginia, New Hampshire and Nevada to his side, he would need just one more state to cross the 270 threshold, and could skip Ohio in exchange for Wisconsin or Iowa. In those two, Obama leads Romney by 2.3 and 2.7 percentage points, respectively, in the state averages.

Ann Romney campaigned in Pennsylvania this week, but the Keystone State and Michigan appear to be heavy lifts for the GOP nominee unless he repeats his Oct. 3 shellacking of Obama. The president is ahead by 4.4 percentage points in Michigan and 4.8 percentage points in Pennsylvania in RCP’s Averages.

But at the heart of the race right now is this: Romney is surging, presenting his opponent with a challenge ahead of tonight’s debate. This about-face is telling in more ways than one. Whereas Republicans were complaining about poll methodology before the first debate, when Romney was trailing, now it’s the Obama campaign’s turn: In a memo Monday, it took issue with a Gallup/USA Today survey.

Obama pollster Joel Benenson wrote, “The latest Gallup USA Today Battleground survey showing President Obama and Governor Romney tied with women in battleground states (48-48) is an extreme outlier, defying the trends seen in every other battleground and national poll. This result underscores deep flaws in Gallup’s likely voter screen.”

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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