The presidential contest is a race to 270 electoral votes. The national vote is irrelevant. The solid blue and red states are irrelevant. If we look at RealClearPolitics (RCP), Mitt Romney comfortably has 191 electoral votes on his side. He needs 79 more electoral votes to win outright, 78 to send it to the House. The RCP toss-up states are Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Florida (29), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15) and Virginia (13). Are there polls showing Romney ahead or within the margin of error in all these? Yes. Are Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan longer shots but still within reach? Yes. This is why this race remains highly competitive.

A few days ago I posited that five factors could significantly impact the race: further economic deterioration; a lousy debate performance or two from President Obama; widespread doubts about the president’s honesty on Libya; another foreign policy incident; and rising gas prices. Do some of these look quite possible? Even more so than when I first listed them.

In fact the Libya scandal is building as more and more facts come to light about what the Obama administration knew and what it was telling the American people. The Obama team’s defense, namely that it was too dense to know that the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi was coordinated by al-Qaeda (weren’t the black al-Qaeda flag and the shouts “We are Osama” a clue?), is not an attractive argument to make.

Meanwhile, word comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that we’ve “lost track” of Syria’s chemical weapons:

The U.S. has lost track of some of Syria’s chemical weapons, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday, and does not know if any potentially lethal chemicals have fallen into the hands of Syrian rebels or Iranian forces inside the country.

“There has been intelligence that there have been some moves that have taken place. Where exactly that’s taken place, we don’t know.” Panetta said, in a Pentagon press briefing.

Panetta said that the “main sites” in Syria storing chemical weapons with which the Pentagon is most concerned remain secured by the Syrian military. But there is “some intelligence” that “limited” movements of weapons from other sites have occurred, he said, “for the Syrians to better secure what they — the chemicals.”

Panetta’s statement follows reporting that Syrian rebels claim to have taken control of a military base that contains chemical weapons.

“But with regards to the movement of some of this and whether or not they’ve been able to locate some of it,” he said of U.S. intelligence, “we just don’t know.”

“Leading from behind” is proving to be a disaster for the country, our allies and the president.

And maybe most important, the economy is grinding to a dead halt. Obama alternately says that things are getting better or that no one could have done better. Neither is credible at this point. As Jim Pethokoukis points out: “If you take into account combined high unemployment, low labor force participation, and slow GDP growth, 2012 might well be the worst non-recession, non-depression year in the history of the United States. The only other challenger is 2011. Or maybe next year.” When you are presiding over an economy that looks less horrible than it would otherwise be if not for all the people who’ve given up looking for work, that’s a problem. (“The only reason the unemployment rate has declined to near 8% from 10% (and isn’t over 11%) is that the labor force has collapsed and millions of unemployed are no longer being counted by the government.”)

For all these reasons you can readily see why the liberal narrative that the race is over is aspirational and not factual. Arguing that the “polls are real” or pointing to the latest gaffe is satisfying for the anxious liberal pundits, I suppose, but neither is an argument to vote for Obama. Neither phenomenon is any guarantee that Obama’s “lead” is any more lasting than his ”recovery” (which lasted less than the length of an NBA season).

Romney certainly could win this race; the open question is whether he will do what it takes to break through to the voters in the very close contests in the critical states.