I don’t suggest that the contest is over, or safe for the Democrats, but Barack Obama has held a systemic, unambiguous lead all year.
Even when the “horse race” national polls were locked in a dead heat, the Democrat had a clear advantage in enough states to give him very close to the 270 electoral college votes necessary to capture a second term.
The resistance to this narrative surfaced again this week in the Washington Post, where Chris Cillizza argued stubbornly for the paper’s logic in not shifting Ohio into the “leans Obama” category.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll out this week put Obama 7 points ahead of rival Mitt Romney among likely voters. It also put Obama at the 50% mark that is generally considered safe territory for an incumbent.
Other polls have shown the race a bit tighter in Ohio, but with the exception of one outlier (from Republican-leading pollster Rasmussen) a half dozen recent polls have put the president ahead in Ohio by at least four points.
Cillizza acknowledges that there are other factors that make Ohio look like an Obama lean, including the state’s relatively strong economy.
He neglected to mention that there are yet other indicators — from the importance of Obama’s auto industry bailout to Ohio, to Democrat Sherrod Brown’s lead in the Senate race — that suggest that the state might be tough turf for Republicans this year.
He also doesn’t mention that other states that look statistically just as close as Ohio, such as North Carolina, are described as “lean Republican” when they tilt the other direction.
“To be clear, you’d rather be President Obama in Ohio today than Mitt Romney,” Cillizza acknowledges, but he still says moving the state out of the toss-up category would be “jumping the gun.”
The reasons given are curious. For one thing, Cillizza points out that Romney really, really needs Ohio and isn’t going to give up the fight there. True enough. And it’s very possible that Romney will find a way to win Ohio.
But that doesn’t alter the reality that right now, Ohio leans Obama.
Cillizza is a little more convincing when he points out that Ohio is often close, historically speaking, but he’s less convincing when he suggests that Obama may still be riding a bit of a post-convention bounce.
Again, it may be that in the days ahead Ohio will stop leaning toward Obama (because “the bounce” fades or for some other reason) but that doesn’t change the facts on the ground now.
It’s also true that of 35 polls conducted in Ohio this year, Obama has lead in all but five — often by margins as wide as the one we are seeing after the convention. So acknowledging the lean hardly seems premature.
This is, as Cillizza notes in an awkward sort of way, huge news. He points out that no Republican has won the White House in the modern era without claiming Ohio. The math is even harder this year. So Ohio is a do or die that looks very difficult for the GOP.
Whether you support Romney or Obama, that’s a big story.
In the end, I suspect that part of the reason journalists shy away from describing the political situation in a straight-forward way is that it feels a little biased.
If the Washington Post moves Ohio into the “blue” column, that means acknowledging that Obama has — at least for the moment –corralled at least 255 electoral college votes, just 15 shy of the number he needs for victory.
Meanwhile Romney (even with North Carolina already in his column) has just 206 electoral college votes — a whopping 64 votes shy of the finish line.
Sounds like a blow-out. But I would argue that there’s real drama in these numbers, if played straight by journalists.
They give a sense of the magnitude of Mitt Romney’s challenge, the kind of leadership and charisma and strategic smarts he’ll have to display to pull off an upset. And that journey begins in Ohio.