100 Day Sprint: Is the media overplaying Mitt Romney’s chances? Yes.

The news media gets a lot of criticism during presidential contests for focusing on the ‘horse race’ stories, questions about polls and fundraising, rather than issues.

But I’m starting to wonder whether journalists are overplaying the idea that there is a real horse race here at all.

The Washington Post’s top political blogger Chris Cillizza has a lead column this week headlined one article “Obama’s running out of time.” Another of his columns was titled “Obama will need to make history again.”

Peggy Noonan, meanwhile, writing in the Wall Street Journal, argued that Obama’s supposed “You didn’t build that” gaffe is hurting him badly, describing the statement as “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then there are political maps like the one offered by the New York Times, which shows a (relatively) mild 237-206 advantage for Obama in the current electoral college race, with 95 electoral college votes ranked as “toss-ups.”

I’m beginning to think that journalists — in their eagerness to balance their coverage and play up the drama of a presidential election year– aren’t burying an important story.

Here would be my headline:  As of the first week in August, the Republican challenger is getting beat and badly.  And time is fast running out.

Consider the evidence:  In the widely respected Real Clear Politics summary of the race, Obama already has 247 Electoral College votes solidly in his column or leaning heavily that way – just 23 shy of victory.

Even that assessment downplays (rather than overstates) Obama’s advantages.

Why?  Because RCP argues that Coloradio, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio are “toss-ups” rather than leaning Obama, despite recent history and Obama-friendly polling trends which have held steady through the entire campaign.

On that New York Times map, meanwhile, Wisconsin is ranked as “toss-up” and North Carolina as “leans Romney.”

This despite the fact that Obama’s advantage in Wisconsin (+6 in the RCP average) is far larger and more consistent than Romney’s advantage in NC (+.8% in the RCP average).

There is also the fact that widely respected political analyst Nate Silver now gives Obama a 70% chance of being re-elected, based on his state-by-state breakdown.

Added to these numerical advantages are growing indications that, despite a significant money advantage, Mitt Romney is struggling as a campaigner and a messenger for his party.

Lead Politico columnist Roger Simon wrote a devastating column last week arguing that Romney “needs to change the narrative, the conversation, the buzz, the impression left by his recent foreign trip that he can’t chew gum and chew gum at the same time.”

Combine that assessment with the fact that, by Politico’s read, Romney is only leading in one of the ten key battleground states that he needs to make this race a real race.

Obama leads by roughly 5% (or more) in four of those states, and by narrower margins in five others.

These facts taken together and framed by the fact that Obama is a sitting incumbent — albeit one burdened by a sour economy — make it hard to escape the idea that this is a decidedly lop-sided contest.

It also appears that, by the end of July, anemic job numbers and the unpopularity of Obamacare simply aren’t disqualifying Obama from a second term, as some analysts expected.

I would also add to the mix the fact that Obama’s team has once again run a ruthless, take-no-prisoners campaign, perhaps even more aggressive (and at times cynical) than in 2008.

So far, any fair-minded observers would have to say that, so far, Chicago looks hungrier and more agile than Boston.

With just three months to go before election day, that’s an important story.

It suggests that the Romney campaign will have to pursue a far more aggressive, risk-taking approach if the GOP hopes to pull off what would now qualify as a dramatic, come-from-behind upset victory.

Romney needs several things to break his way to shift a stubbornly entrenched electorate.   A brilliant convention.  An inspired vice presidential pick.  Or maybe a huge blunder by the Obama campaign.

Some journalists are finally beginning to nod to the underlying dynamic in this race.  Writing in the Washington Post, Dan Balz argues that Romney has put himself in a very deep hole.

The best that can be said about how Mitt Romney fared in July is that he survived. That has only raised the stakes for what the presumptive Republican presidential nominee needs to do in August.

Writing in the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky goes one further, making the case that the contest is essentially over.

There’s a secret lurking behind everything you’re reading about the upcoming election, a secret that all political insiders know—or should—but few are talking about, most likely because it takes the drama out of the whole business.

The secret is the electoral college, and the fact is that the more you look at it, the more you come to conclude that Mitt Romneyhas to draw an inside straight like you’ve never ever seen in a movie to win this thing.

I think Tomasky overstates the mathematical tilt of this contest, speculating about a “possible coming Obama landslide.”

The point isn’t really that Obama is all that likely to win big.

The point is that, unless the overall dynamic of the race shifts very soon, and Romney flips one or two big states, Obama is very likely indeed to win by at least a narrow margin.

And that’s all it takes.

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37 Comments on “100 Day Sprint: Is the media overplaying Mitt Romney’s chances? Yes.”

  1. Peter Hahn says:

    ITs the “narrow margin”. That could change easily if there are a couple of bad employment months.

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  2. Brian says:

    Peter –

    I think the clock on this “jobs cliff” argument is losing its viability.

    Pundits generally say — and I think this conventional wisdom is pretty real — that voters lock in their view of things by August. We’re there now.

    Yes, a really awful set of numbers would change the narrative.

    But I think the electorate has pretty much digested the “low 8s” for unemployment.

    People who think that is a decisive figure have already moved to Romney. People who think it’s not so clear a benchmark have mostly stayed with Obama.

    One other possibility, of course, is that Romney will find a new way to talk about this, changing the basic narrative of how people (particularly independents in battleground states) interpret the slow recovery.

    That’s doable, but it has to be done quickly. And so far, Romney’s team hasn’t had that kind of storytelling gift.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  3. Larry says:

    Brian, the key take-away here is that neither candidate has enough to put the other away. They resemble two amatuer boxers flailing away at each other but lacking enough skill to land a decisive blow. Obama’s done nothing: the economy continues to suck, we’re still at war and his health care scheme is among the most divisive issues of recent times. His outstanding achievement remains not being George Bush. In this context you would expect Romney to make some headway, but no; this guy can’t get out of his own way. His foreign policy demo was an epic fail, he tries to convince people he’s a regular guy but comes across like a second rate comedian auditioning for Saturday Night Live and encourages suspicion about his past by refusing to release his tax returns. Romney’s greatest failure is his inability to stop being Mitt Romney. That Obama can’t put him away says less about Romney’s appeal as a candidate than it says about Obama’s shortcomings as an executive. Neither one of these clowns is fit to run the circus.

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  4. wj says:

    The numbers now appear favorable to Pres. Obama. Still, I think it’s a little early for the kind of conclusions Brian’s drawing.

    We still have to endure the one-week Hate-O-Pallooza and Disinformation Propagandafest that is the Republican Nat’l Convention. As heinous as this will be, I think we can expect it to give Romney a boost. How big? We’ll see.

    But the VP pick could still be a game changer. And if Romney picks a good attack dog, the GOP could chip away Obama’s lead.

    One more thing: Obama’s spent $400 million so far, leaving him with less to spend in the later months of the campaign. Romney and the GOP have no shortage of cash to hammer Obama and Democrats in October.

    I did see at least one analysis, though, that backs up Brian’s point: the really savvy GOP political donors that influence lots of personal giving are looking down ticket. Translation: the smart money is going to Congressional races and other state-wide elections.

    Still, don’t discount billionaires. The Koch Bros. and Sheldon Adelson will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get their way. That’s why the presidential race is still a toss up.

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  5. Peter Hahn says:

    Nate Silver’s point is that the tossup states are not independent. What happens in one of them is likely to also be happening in the others. The good thing for Obama is that people just dont like Mitt Romney, and he isnt doing anything to change people’s opinions. Obama’s group, on the other hand, are spending zillions to help reinforce Romney’s “negatives”. Seems to me Reagan was behind by more at this point and he went on to win in a landslide, and the Obama campaign is wise to hammer Romney now. I hope they have enough money to keep it up.

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  6. Pete Klein says:

    I nearing the point of being sick of hearing about how bad the economy is.
    No, it’s not great but 92% of those who want to work have a job. Not great but no where near a depression.
    When Obama said “You didn’t build that,” it wasn’t gaff. It was just the facts.
    Time for the anti-government people to wake up to the fact that if we didn’t have a government, they wouldn’t have any money. Who do they think prints the stuff?
    No man or woman is an island. We are all connected and inter-connected. The titans of business wouldn’t exist if the “little people” didn’t work for them or buy their products.
    If we didn’t have public education, how many of us could afford an education at a private school?
    Some of this anti-government stuff borders on being both anti-social and un-American. Somebody had to make the bootstraps for you to pull yourself up. From birth to death we need others. We are social beings. Even the mountain men needed someone to make their rifles and their traps.

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  7. Larry says:

    At the risk of making you sick, Pete, the economy is terrible. 8% unemployment is bad enough but that number is discounted by millions of low paying, part time service and retail jobs. It also doesn’t account for people who have given up and are no longer counted. The housing market hasn’t recovered and durable goods orders are still well below what they were when Obama took office. The effect of the drought on the farm economy and general economy is still to come and promises to be severe. Add to that the general effect of high gasoline and heating oil prices and we have quite a mess on our hands. I could go on, but I’d just be trashing the government. Speaking of which, what has Obama done about any of these issues?

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  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I think that the economy is a negative for Obama but mostly for the people who just want to hate Obama. I think that all fair-minded people – even those who aren’t predisposed to like Obama – see the Republicans as the problem in that they look like obstructionists.

    Being unemployed or poor doesn’t make you stupid. They have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is obvious that somebody needs to do something and that the President has been trying to do things but the Republicans keep throwing stumbling blocks in the way. Even if you think what Obama is doing is wrong, what the other guys are doing is worse.

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  9. Larry says:

    Nice riff on the “it’s all Bush’s fault” mantra! Putting the brakes on Obama’s creeping socialism is hardly obstructionism, it’s two-party democracy. Oh wait, maybe that’s the real problem?

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  10. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    There you go again, Larry. Just like George Bush, Obama had a mandate and it is incumbent on partners in a democratic system to be members of a team. Seems like the national Republican party have forgotten how to work together for the good of the people. I think that is why so many long time Republicans have started to desert the Party.

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  11. Peter Hahn says:

    Larry – the trouble for you is that it really is almost all Bush’s fault.

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  12. marquil says:

    This is one of those situations where studying the polls doesn’t much help the overall analysis. The plain fact is, the GOP lost the 2012 presidential election in November 2010. The surge of the Tea Party that year split the GOP in two. As a result it was inevitable that whoever the GOP chose as standard-bearer this year (and the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling’s emphasis on big money seemed to ice it for Romney from the start) would be forced to run ideologically in two opposite directions at once. And no one can make much progress doing this.

    The only real story, barring a spectacular and wholly uncharacteristic collapse (or worse) by team Obama, is how disabled the Republican caucus in Congress will be on November 4, and whether or not they retain majority control in the House of Representatives. If they do, expect the Tea Party rift to continue to stall governance for two more years.

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  13. mervel says:

    I had thought a year ago that with 8.3% unemployment and rising at this point; Obama would be doomed.

    But I was wrong, it is not having an impact. If it is not having an impact now I don’t think it will later, maybe if it goes really bad, 10%+ ok that may be a game changer.

    But even then people might just become even more scared about changing presidents.

    I never really realized the effectiveness of the almost continual 4 year, “its all Bush’s fault” campaign has been. I think many people see the 8.3% as Bush’s 8.3% not Obama’s. I have to say, brilliant to the DNC, Move-ON and Obama camps.

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  14. I won’t be voting for either of these corporate tools, but it’s clearly competitive at this point. Because after all, all of the candidates have exactly 0 electoral votes right now. Romney seems to have trouble catching fire but as an experience horse race observer, you surely realize that August is way too early to decree it over. Wasn’t Dukakis ahead in the polls by double digits in August 1988?

    Give how many horse race stories you’ve already blogged about this campaign (well about 2/7 of the candidates at least) and it’s not even the conventions yet, YOU are as guilty as anyone it would seem.

    So does this mean no more boring horse race blog entries since there supposedly is no horse race? =)

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  15. “it’s two-party democracy. Oh wait, maybe that’s the real problem?”

    Indeed. Since both parties are owned by the same corporate interests, that’s EXACTLY the problem. That’s why we need multiparty democracy to give people real choices.

    We’re mature enough to choose between 50 different types of white bread but are too dumb to be offered any more than 2 (1.1 really) choices in politics? I don’t think so.

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  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The way things are going the issue in November wont be about the economy, or Gay Marriage, or even abortion; looks like it may be the perennial whacko’s freedom to bear arms vs. everyone else’s right to live in a free, safe and secure society.

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  17. mervel says:

    I think the economy is off the table at this point. People have digested both candidates ideas and it seems as if they kind of shrugged at both, which is a win for Obama. At least Obama might get us some health care; other than that the Republicans have lost the upper hand on being managers of the economy or the debt or unemployment. Which in my mind is a totally new situation.

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  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    They aren’t much good at foreign policy or national security either. What have they got?

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  19. scratchy says:

    What’s the only thing more unnecessary than another horse race story? A story dedicated to analyzing other horse race stories.

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  20. scratchy says:

    “The news media gets a lot of criticism during presidential contests for focusing on the ‘horse race’ stories, questions about polls and fundraising, rather than issues.”

    And, rightly so. Of course, I don’t expect the media to change soon as most media elites don’t understand the issues enough to discuss them in an intelligent manner.

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  21. Ken Hall says:

    Brian, Great article with one caveat; reading your article leads me to assume that you actually meant to type “– are burying” rather than “– aren’t burying”.

    “I’m beginning to think that journalists — in their eagerness to balance their coverage and play up the drama of a presidential election year– aren’t burying an important story.”

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  22. nelsonhoward says:

    Journalists are certainly partisan. IT all starts with the management of the news site[the owners], they love putting their own spin on issues, it makes them appear to be omnipotent[all powerful]. Also, they get invited to those off the wall,over the top, lavish parties at the White House, like Gwen Iffel of WPBS.
    The journalists are being fair to Mitt, he is a very capable businessman that could put an end to runaway spending in Washington.
    I was at Walmart last night to check out the ground beef[$4.78 a lb.]. I stopped at Fastrak for gas[$29.00 for a small half tankfull].
    The National deficit is growing $1,000,000 every 10 seconds, now the farmers in midwest will want $10,000,000,000 in bailout funds.
    Mitt Romney would be the businessman in the Whitehouse to stop all this deficit spendsing and put the U.S. back on track.

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  23. Paul says:

    “Here would be my headline: As of the first week in August, the Republican challenger is getting beat and badly. And time is fast running out.”

    The real story is not the headline but how on earth is this possible. I can’t imagine that we have ever had a case like this where we have elected an incumbent who has such a disastrous record.

    It is a real credit to his spin doctors.

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  24. Paul says:

    If the media were responsible they would be covering the facts of where the country is and where we are headed under the current leadership. It isn’t a pretty picture.

    Instead they cover things like the ridiculous negative ads that both candidates are flinging in each others direction. I heard (made up) a rumor that Romeny did not pay taxes for the last ten years???

    By doing that they do just what Brian describes they make a horse race out of what should be a blowout for the challenger. If the media focused on the facts I don’t think the president would be doing very well.

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  25. Pete Klein says:

    The story being missed in my view is to what extent did the Tea Party accidentally cause McCain to lose in 2008 and might they do the same thing to Romney in 2012?
    Their unwillingness to discuss, compromise and scream, “My way or the highway,” is an infection the Republican Party needs to cleanse itself of.

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  26. hermit thrush says:

    I can’t imagine that we have ever had a case like this where we have elected an incumbent who has such a disastrous record.


    why, i’m old enough that i can remember all the way back to bush’s reelection in 2004.

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  27. Paul says:

    HT, your memory must be better than mine. Were the economic indicators worse in 2004 than they are in 2012? What was the debt situation? What was the unemployment rate? Where was consumer confidence?

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  28. Mervel says:

    I think the comparison that the GOP should attempt is Jimmy Carter. However, for whatever reason Carter couldn’t blame Nixon/Ford for the troubles of that time in the same way that Obama is capably blaming Bush for our current indicators. I think that is the deal, these are Bush’s numbers not Obama’s. Like I said, brilliant. It also does not help that from a policy standpoint, Romney is offering us what looks like the Bush plan. If you offer the Bush plan you lose regardless of the current numbers.

    It is a unique historical situation.

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  29. hermit thrush says:

    have a look at job creation under bush and obama. private sector job creation under obama has been superior — and he was handed off a far worse economic climate, to boot.

    (overall job creation was better under bush, but that’s only because he made up the difference with public employment, which every republican knows is cheating, right?)

    and you really want to talk about the debt situation? again, have a look. and also here. bush’s first-term policies of war and tax cuts are major drivers of the deficit. obama has ended one of those wars and is wrapping up the other. obama wants to end the most irresponsible tax cuts, those on income above $250k. obama’s major health care initiative is projected to improve the federal budget outlook, whereas bush’s (medicare part d) was 100% debt-financed.

    there’s frankly no comparison between the two.

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  30. Pete Klein says:

    Maybe the Republicans would like to go back to the top tax rates under President Eisenhower which were 91%? Guess he was about as un-American and anti-business as one can be.

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  31. Mervel says:

    I know what you mean hermit. But what is fascinating is that you have the data on this stuff, but the average voter does not. The average voter just looks at their personal situation. You could make a case that due to the recession the average voter is personally worse off now than under Bush. Even with that though, they still largely blame Bush for the current mess.

    I think you touched on an irony of the Republicans in the past 30 years, they have largely relied on deficit spending and government employment to fuel a lot of their job growth. I remember under Reagan the defense industry was going great guns, under Bush really the same situation due to the wars and all of the spending. Clinton was presided over much better private job growth.

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  32. Clearly the legacy of Bu$hCheney’s reign was disastrous and the vultures deserve much of the blame. But clearly Obama is incapable of turning things around… primarily because he and his Congressional allies are beholden to corporate interests just as much as the GOP they demonize so much.

    The Dems and Obama may not be the problem (though I would argue they are) but clearly they are not part of the solution. If you don’t like the status quo, don’t vote for the two parties who’ve created it. Vote Green or someone else.

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  33. mervel says:

    I plan on it.

    Being in NY I feel my vote has a larger impact for a third party candidate than it does any of the others. Also it helps next cycle to get them on the ballot.

    I honestly don’t think domestically these two are that much different.

    However I really want to get out of all of these foreign escapades, using our tax dollars and blood doing what often is simply immoral AND ineffective. Lets face it, Afghanistan is like Vietnam, we WILL not win there, everyone knows it and at this point we seem to be in some face saving point of hanging out there until we can politically leave, which is fine except that how many people have to die for for us to save face?

    Anyway, on that front I think Obama is better although not great, but better than Romney, who I think might actually want to re-invade Iraq.

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  34. mervel says:

    Leaving Iraq was enough to make Obama’s other failures worth it.

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  35. Larry says:

    I’ve been trashing Romney’s chances but after reading the pro-Obama fantasy blog I have renewed hope. Where do you guys get your material?

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  36. Larry says:

    Yeah, vote Green! Would that be the candidate who was just arrested? Now, there’s a viable alternative for people who are tired of Democrats and Republicans.

    Do you get my point about being taken seriously now?

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  37. hermit thrush says:

    Where do you guys get your material?

    can’t speak for others, but i often do this crazy thing where i link to my sources.

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