And yet, as the presidential race heads into this final stretch, it is ending up pretty much where it started — exceedingly tight.
So what has to be accomplished in these last two weeks? Both campaigns also agree on that.
“What we’ve got to do is two things and two things only: persuade the undecided, and turn our voters out,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said. “We have a strategic advantage in size and footprint on the ground — and, even more importantly, in experience.”
Those in Romney’s camp, however, insist that their ground operation will not be outdone as John McCain’s was four years ago. Theirs, they say, is more like the superior one that George W. Bush ran in 2004 — and with technological advantages that weren’t available then, which will keep them nimble until the end.
“The quality and quantity of the data is light-years ahead of where we’ve ever been,” said Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director. “So we’re going to be able to make a lot of informed decisions in this last two weeks that we’ve never been able to make before, because we didn’t have the ability to see what we can now see.”
That kind of chest-thumping is typical of the psychological warfare that comes at the end of a tough political campaign.
But there are also tangible ways to assess the end game.
Early voting is underway in many of the swing states, and absentee ballots are out in all of them. The two campaigns are combing the data on both for patterns that will show how well they are doing, as well as where they need to step up their efforts.
And more revealing than their shadow boxing is how and where the two campaigns are choosing to spend their most precious resources of time and cash.
The battlefield this year is a narrow one. In fewer than a dozen states is the outcome in serious question. More than $350 million has been spent on television advertising in the biggest prizes: Florida, Ohio and Virginia.
When the Romney campaign announced last week that it would begin shifting staff out of North Carolina, it was a declaration of victory in the state once considered so up-for-grabs that the Democrats decided to hold their convention there.
“It’s baked,” said one top Romney strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss campaign strategy.
Romney’s team also claims that narrowing polls suggest there may be opportunities in some states that were thought to be a lock for Obama, such as Minnesota and Michigan. And GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan scheduled a stop on Saturday in Pennsylvania — a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1 million.