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.