The polls over the weekend presented mixed evidence as to whether Mitt Romney is surging. Gallup’s tracking found a dead heat before reverting to a five point lead for Obama. Pew, meanwhile, found that Romney now leads Obama by four points among registered voters, though the polling guru types think this is implausible. And several swing state polls showed Obama with uncomfortably small leads in states he previously dominated — Pennsylvania and Michigan — as well as small leads in Colorado and Virginia.
Taken all together, the polling suggests that Romney’s post-debate bounce has subsided. Polling observers believe Obama holds a modest national lead, in keeping with the overall dynamic, which is that a weak recovery narrowly favors the incumbent.
But a looming test of the significance of the fallout from the debate and the good unemployment news comes in one state alone: Ohio.
The Romney campaign is redoubling its advertising and campaigning in the state. This is a sign of renewed confidence, since Romney had previously been trailing so badly here that some Republicans were openly gaming out routes to 270 without it.
If you want to know whether Romney’s post-debate surge really means he now has a real shot at winning, the forthcoming polls from Ohio will be key. If Romney can’t make great strides towards closing the gap here, it’s very possible everything else will be moot, since the electoral math without the state is extremely daunting for him. What’s more, Ohio is the ultimate test as to whether Romney is genuinely overcoming the most fundamental problems that had bedeviled his candidacy. Dems have long believed Romney’s pedigree and profile make him exactly the wrong fit for this Rust Belt state, with its large population of blue collar whites. Dems have savaged Romney unrelentingly here with ads hitting him over offshore accounts, China investments, and Bain layoffs and offshoring. A recent poll found that only 38 percent in Ohio think Romney cares about the needs and problems of people like them.
What’s more, unemployment has fallen farther and faster in Ohio than nationally. It peaked at a higher-than-national point during the depths of the crisis and has dropped to a lower point now than the national rate. That makes Romney’s argument that we need to change course because we’re not recovering fast enough a harder sell. And the state’s recovery is partly due to Obama’s auto rescue, which highlights his support for government activism on the economy in a particularly positive light — and Romney’s hostility to it in a particularly negative one.
If Ohio polls this week show Romney has closed the gap and has made serious gains in repairing his image — and they very well may — that will be the clearest sign yet that he’s fundamentally transformed the race.
* The big gaps in Romney’s health plan: The Associated Press, in a nice piece, puts it right in the headline and the lede:
Big gaps in Romney plan on pre-existing conditions
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he has a plan to help people with pre-existing medical conditions get health insurance. But there’s a huge catch: You basically have to be covered in the first place.
The ruse here goes deeper than this. In settings where millions are watching (such as the debate), Romney claims his plan will help those with preexisting conditions. And then his campaign quietly clarifies that his plan only applies to those with continuous coverage. At that point, however, only reporters are listening.
* Isn’t it a bit late for a Romney pivot? Relatedly, Jonathan Cohn has a must read documenting all the policy commitments Romney has made throughout his quest for the presidency, and demonstrating clearly that the new Moderate Massachusetts Mitt is a sham. The problem for Obama is that Romney has proven unexpectedly adept at obscuring the true nature of his own agenda.
* More good auto industry news: This seems like it will make for more fodder for the Obama camp’s argument: “General Motors Co. and the state announced Monday that GM will create 2,000 new jobs in Michigan.”
The consensus of the evidence, particularly the national tracking polls, would suggest otherwise. Instead, the forecast model’s conclusion is that the whole of the data is still consistent with a very narrow lead for Mr. Obama, albeit one that is considerably diminished since Denver.
Silver notes that the evidence suggests either a stabilization of the race or even a slight trending towards Obama again.
* More evidence Romney’s bounce is subsiding: The new Washington Post/ABC News poll is consistent with other polling:
Night-to-night data indicate a sizable boost for Romney, and drop for Obama, on Thursday night, a day after their first debate, which Romney widely is seen as having won. But both of those trends subsequently subsided in this poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday. The net effect is slight at best. Romney is now seen favorably by 47 percent of registered voters overall, unfavorably by 51 percent; Obama’s rating is better, 55-44 percent. Changes for both candidates from their pre-debate levels (Romney 44-49 percent, Obama 52-45 percent) are not statistically significant.
* What’s really driving Romney’s poll surge: Jon Cohen looks inside the numbers and finds Romney’s gains are being driven by an increase in voters self-identifying as Republicans, which makes sense, given Romney’s successful debate performance.
Key point: Cohen notes that Romney’s gains in Pew have not been accompanied by a shift among independents.
* Gallup to debut “likely voter” screen today: Gallup’s tracking currently shows Obama up five points, 50-45. But that will drop today when Gallup switches from registered to likely voters. Steve Singiser on why that shouldn’t alarm Obama supporters:
Gallup’s likely voter screen has a pretty chequered past. It crapped the bed a little bit in 2008, when it overestimated Barack Obama’s margin of victory by four points. But then the likely voter screen for Gallup really took a dump in 2010, when their RV/LV gap on the generic ballot was a cartoonish eleven points. Among registered voters, Gallup saw an R+4 electorate. Among “likely voters”, Gallup saw an R+15 electorate. The final outcome? R+6.
* And Obama camp mocks Romney over Big Bird: The Obama campaign is out with a new ad mocking Mitt Romney for the courage he has demonstrated with his vow to cut funding for ... Big Bird. “One man has the guts to speak his name,” the ad says, showing Romney at various events talking about the character. “Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about. It’s Sesame Street.”
The serious point the ad is trying to make is one about Romney’s priorities: He would deeply cut taxes on the rich while giving Big Bird the hatchet.