The Romney camp and GOP operatives on the ground in key swing states think the wind is at their back.
A senior Republican told me Sunday night that Mitt Romney is up by two to three points in Virginia, which President Obama won by nearly seven points in 2008. That is consistent with public polling since early October. This Republican expects Romney to keep Obama’s lead in populous Fairfax County below 100,000 (in 2008 Obama racked up a 110,000-vote advantage in Fairfax and won the state by more than 230,000 votes). Republicans are optimistic Romney can carry the exurb Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lost in 2008.
A key indicator will be another Northern Virginia county, Prince William, which has a larger Hispanic population and more people of modest incomes. McCain also lost this county in 2008.
The senior Republican says that Romney is going to tally big margins in “vote-rich areas like Chesterfield.” He adds, “He’s strong where he must be strong, which is a sea change from 2008.”
The Romney camp has always been bullish on Iowa, in large part because the candidate has been campaigning there since 2006. The state also has the lowest per-capita personal credit card debt, which, the Romney camp argues, makes it a receptive audience for his message on the federal debt. President Obama will be spending more time in the state, a sign it is still in play.
Two recent polls have Romney tied or up one point in Iowa, while two others have Obama up eight and three points. Private Republican polling has Romney up by one point.
I asked Tim Albrecht, the communications director for Gov. Terry Branstad (R), how he sees the state. He says Democrats perennially exaggerate success in early voting. “They’re making the same mistake they make every year in thinking paid staff and early votes translates into victory. They significantly outpaced Republicans in early voting [for governor] in 2010, but Branstad won by 10 points. They turn out Democrats early who have voted in 4 of the last 4 elections and claim victory. Paid staff does not equal genuine, grassroots enthusiasm. In contrast, Republicans are targeting soft Republicans and right-leaning independents.”
Albrecht sees another batch of positive factors including: a 130,000 swing in voter registration in the GOP’s direction since 2009, the potential for Republicans to seize control of the state senate and the “No Wiggins” grass-roots campaign against keeping Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, one of the justices who found a state constitutional right to gay marriage, on the court. All of these have fired up the grass roots, Albrecht said. He predicts, “If Romney is down 2-3 in the polls going into election day, our enthusiasm will trump and Romney wins.”
It is nothing new that Republicans are bullish on winning close states, but unlike a month ago you can sense the confidence that a Romney win is in the offing. The shift in tone, matched by public polling, has a real impact on turnout.
Democrats imagine that, while national polling and state polling in Virginia, Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, New Hampshire and Florida are trending toward Romney, Obama can maintain a “firewall” in the remaining states. The underlying logic escapes Republican operatives, who see swing-state voters, by definition, as representative of the country as a whole. In the GOP’s view, it is just a matter of time before the other swing-state dominoes begin to fall.
By the same token, if Romney stumbles badly enough in tonight’s debate or another game-changing event occurs, the map could move in the other direction. For that to happen, something big would need to occur fast. Otherwise the electoral map will continue tilting in Romney’s favor.