Why Mitt Romney isn’t going to get blown out

September 27, 2012

It's easy amid a slew of swing state and national polling that shows President Obama opening up a high single-digit lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney to conclude that we could be witnessing an electoral blowout in the making.

But, there's plenty of reasons -- historical and financial, mainly -- to believe the most likely outcome is a narrowing of the race, rather than a second Obama blowout.

Let's start with 2008, which was one of the best Democratic years in modern presidential history. Not only did then-candidate Obama galvanize a national movement behind his campaign, he also benefited from the fact that opponent Sen. John McCain could never get out from under George W. Bush's shadow or convince the American public that he was well-versed on the economy.  

Add to those political environmental factors the fact that Obama raised and spent upwards of $750 million while McCain accepted public financing that limited his spending to $84 million -- meaning that Democrats outspent Republicans by as much as 10-1 in some swing states -- and it's clear that Obama hit something close to a Democratic high-water mark in 2008.

So what was that high-water mark? Did Obama win 60 percent of the popular vote? Or 500 electoral votes? Nope.

Obama won 52.9 percent of the popular vote, compared with 45.6 percent for McCain. Obama took 365 electoral votes to 173 for McCain.

Obama's 52.9 percent of the popular vote was only the second time since 1964 that a Democratic presidential candidate had won 50 percent or more of the national popular vote. (Jimmy Carter got exactly 50 percent in 1976.)  In that same time period, Republican nominees broke the 50 percent popular vote barrier five times (1972, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 2004).

The popular vote story is similar in the three swingiest states of the last two elections: Ohio, Virginia and Florida. Obama won all three of them in 2008 but only in Virginia -- where his margin was 6.3 percent -- did he score what could be called a decisive victory.  (Obama won Florida by two and a half points and Ohio by four points.) In none of that trio of states did Obama beat McCain by more than 250,000 votes -- a remarkable finding given that 3.6 million votes were cast in Virginia, 5.2 million were cast in Ohio and 8 million were cast in Florida.

No one -- not even the most loyal Obama allies -- would argue that the political environment in 40 days will be anywhere close to as favorable as it was in November 2008.

The continued struggles of the economy, as well as Obama's middling job approval numbers, virtually ensure that the sort of heavily tilted national landscape that he enjoyed four years ago will not be replicated on Nov. 6.

And the spending edge that Obama had over McCain not only won't be replicated but should be reversed. Romney and the Republican party have $40 million more to spend than Obama and the Democratic party in the final weeks of the campaign -- a not-insignificant sum split over just six weeks. And that doesn't include outside groups, where Republicans continue to dominate.

Given those two factors, it's hard to imagine that Obama would equal or even exceed the vote totals he ran up both in swing states and nationally in 2008. And if Obama comes up even slightly short of his margins four years ago, then Romney could well have a shot at winning the handful of swing states he needs to get to 270 electoral votes.

All of that doesn't mean, of course, that Obama isn't ahead right now. He is.  But it does mean that it is more likely that his margin narrows -- both in swing states and nationally -- than that it expands between now and Election Day. The country remains deeply divided along partisan lines, and that seems unlikely to change in any meaningful way before voters vote.

Romney ad keeps up coal offensive: Romney's campaign keeps going after Obama hard on coal, launching a new ad featuring Obama in his own words.

The ad uses a video clip of Obama saying, "If somebody wants to build a coal fire plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them."

The words were uttered in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board in January 2008 when Obama presented his case for a cap and trade energy bill. Conservatives view them as a potential game-changer in the presidential race, arguing that they betray Obama's anti-coal agenda.

Coal is a big issue in southeastern Ohio, a state that is slipping away from Romney but that Obama badly needs to win.

Fixbits:

A Republican aide tells The Fix that the Republican National Committee is going up with at least $4 million worth of ads in three states: Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Romney plays up the universal coverage portion of his health care law, and shortly thereafter attacks Obamacare.

Obama is reportedly toying with the idea of going after Arizona. We'll believe it when we see it.

Romney campaigns with the "Dirty Jobs" guy and Jack Nicklaus.

The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation is asking for an apology from Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) after his staffers were caught doing "war whoops" and the "tomahawk chop" in reference to challenger Elizabeth Warren's (D) Native American controversy.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) goes to bat for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) says he will vote for Obama, but leaves open the idea of voting for a Republican to lead the Senate. Meanwhile, national Democrats launch a new ad against Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (R) in Indiana.

In the Connecticut Senate race, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is up with an ad contrasting his economic plan with Linda McMahon's (R).

Absentee and overseas military voters in Connecticut will receive blank ballots as a court case remains undecided. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is endorsing a Republican -- provided that Republican wants it. Cuomo says he will back pro-gay marriage state senator Roy McDonald, who lost his primary this week but could still run on the Independence Party line.

Despite some problems, Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) leads by 10 points in a new Siena poll, over Democrat Mark Murphy and the Green Party's Hank Burdel.

Meanwhile upstate, a Democratic poll shows former congressman Dan Maffei (D) leading freshman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) by eight points.

Must-reads:

 "Obama leading Romney by 9 in Fla? No way." -- Adam C. Smith, Tampa Bay Times

 "Obama tops Romney in new poll of small business owners" -- Joe Davidson, Washington Post

"‘Super PACs’ Finally a Draw for Democrats" -- Nicholas Confessore, New York Times

"Mitt Romney looking to make up ground in Ohio" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Obama, Romney differ on U.S. exceptionalism" -- Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"Without Ryan Medicare ax, GOP budget still in red" -- David Rogers, Politico

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Sean Sullivan | September 26, 2012