One question in dispute right now is whether Mitt Romney can actually expand the electoral map by putting Pennsylvania, Michigan and even Minnesota into play. Republicans are advertising in those states, claiming there is an opportunity for the GOP nominee to win. President Obama’s campaign has countered with ads of its own, which Republicans say is a sign of weakness.
Obama officials claim that Romney is probing those states because he’s run into trouble in true battlegrounds. Obama advisers say they decided to air ads in those states out of prudence rather than concern. Chief Obama strategist David Axelrod even promised on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday that he would shave off his moustache if the president lost any of those states.
Money spent in unexpected places by the campaigns or their supporting super PACs tells us little at this point. That’s because, unlike past presidential campaigns, resources are not an issue for either Romney or Obama and certainly not for the super PACs.
Neither candidate is taking federal funds for the general election, which means there are no limits on spending. Both campaigns are flush with cash and budgeted for the battlegrounds long ago. Both have extra funds to play with down the stretch.
That’s a hugely different situation than in the past when, with limited funds, campaigns had to make triage decisions about states in the final weeks. Recall that in 2000, Al Gore’s campaign had to pull out of Ohio to invest all it had into Florida. So the fact that Romney’s campaign has put some money into ads in Minnesota and now Pennsylvania doesn’t necessarily say much.
Republicans cite new public polls out Wednesday showing the race in both Pennsylvania and Michigan tightening. They say that is evidence that the momentum in the race has shifted toward Romney and that the challenger is now in a position to overtake the incumbent in states that once appeared off the boards.
Maybe. But if the national polls are showing a dead heat, as most of them do right now, it’s expected that states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and even Minnesota will show relatively close contests.
That doesn’t mean the balance has shifted to Romney in those states — he’s still trailing Obama. It only means that if the national numbers show the race essentially tied or with one candidate ahead by a point, these states aren’t going to show the president ahead by seven or eight or nine points. Only if Romney were to win a big victory in the popular vote is he likely to carry these states.