Chicago remains sufficiently funded and emboldened by its own polling to compete for the final two weeks in all nine of the battlegrounds: Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia in the South; New Hampshire in the North; Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin in the Midwest; and Nevada and Colorado in the West. As they have in the past, Obama campaign officials say they expect to win a high percentage of those states and conceivably could sweep all nine.
When pressed, the Obama officials with whom I met said that five of the nine stand out: Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Hampshire. In that quintet, Democrats believe the combination of their current leads in polling, early voting (where applicable), and ground game makes their chances of winning even greater there than in the other four. And given the Electoral College math, unless Romney picks off one or more of those five states, Obama would win a minimum of 281 electoral votes and re-election.
It’s worth reiterating that all of the major polling averages show Obama with a small lead in all of those five states. The Republican case is that Romney has the momentum and that undecideds will break towards him in the end. But today’s Gallup tracking shows Obama’s approval up to 53 percent; he leads among registered voters, 48-47, and Romney’s lead among likely voters has narrowed to three points. I don’t place much stock in individual polls, and it’s unclear whether this Gallup movement means anything. But it is noteworthy that one of the main data points in support of Romney’s supposedly continuing surge may be dwindling.
What about undecided voters breaking towards Romney? Obama officials tell Halperin they don’t believe they’ll break towards the challenger as decisively as he needs them to, if Obama holds small leads in the key battlegrounds. This echoes what David Plouffe argued to me last month. The Obama campaign conducts very intensive research into who these voters are and what motivates them, and Obama advisers remain convinced they understand these voters better than the Romney team does. And Halperin notes that Bill Clinton will be heavily deployed in the final stretch. Dems think Clinton is seen by swing voters as a kind of “referee” figure on the economy: Hence the new Obama campaign ad starring Clinton telling voters that Obama is right about the economy and that Republicans are wrong about it again, just as they were when Clinton was president.
Meanwhile, early voting is underway, and as Molly Ball reports, more Dems than Republicans have voted in Iowa, North Carolina and Nevada. In Ohio, more votes have been cast from areas that Obama won last time than from Republican ones. Also important: The Obama team believes the early voting foreshadows a diverse electorate. Campaign calculations show that two thirds of those who have voted early are women, young voters or minorities, and that voter registration has gone up the most among Latinos and African Americans.
My colleague Jennifer Rubin reports that Republican internal polling puts Ohio at anywhere from two points up for Obama to two points up for Romney. I can’t vouch for that, but (perhaps not surprisingly) it is different from what Dem internal polls are finding. One Democrat familiar with polling conducted last weekend puts Obama up three points in the state; another poll I’m told about, which was taken at the same time, puts him up five. That’s before Monday’s debate.
As I keep saying, this is a very close race, and Romney may very well be the next president. But right or wrong, all of the above reflects how the Obama team and leading Democrats view things.