One Week Out

Election seasons are often defined by three events. The debates, conventions, and V.P. picks. This cycle was no different. Pundits claimed these moments were Romney’s three opportunities to sell himself. And he did in the debate. But they’re all over now. So what’s left? What is there still to talk about except the hundreds of polls released everyday? Two events.

Sandy, the reason we can all play hooky, has the potential to shape the election. At this point there are so few undecided voters that it’s hard to say what will sway anyone’s mind, but clearly the hurricane presents both an opportunity and pitfall for the president. We all remember George Bush’s disastrous handling of Katrina. A strong, forceful, good response by the President may be enough to sway some voters.

Some say people might blame the president for Sandy, for the loss of power, the deteriorated living conditions, etc. I am inclined to disagree with that assessment. I would think people are rational enough to not associate the two. At the same time, if the President truly does botch a response, which seems pretty unlikely given how high profile this event is and how widespread its effects are, he could face a real problem when a slight shift either way could affect the outcome of the race.

In the end of the day, the hurricane probably won’t do much either way. There will be some issues, certainly, but the president can only order so many rescue workers into an area. It’s up to the agencies, and I think most people appreciate that.

What it does do, however, is distract the press for a few days from other issues. There’s a good chance Romney’s Libya attacks will continue to lose steam after several days of Hurricane coverage. It can also affect early voting in several key states, like Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Early voting has traditionally benefited the Obama campaign. The hurricane will be a setback.

Then there is the jobs report Friday. Again, it’s hard to say how much the numbers will change the race, as previous numbers haven’t done much either way. But a large shift in unemployment either way would definitely impact the race.

The campaign probably wasn’t wrong. Clearly many people were ready to abandon the president after seeing the new Romney, but there is one other key factor: as I wrote about a few weeks ago, the economy is actually getting better. More people feel confident about the country’s economic future, and they’re backed by substantial data. Just last week, we heard GDP growth was higher than expected.

Romneyland’s strategy may have worked in May, or June, or August, or even September, when economic data was weaker, but polls show a marked change in public opinion about the economy, and therefore, aren’t quite as negative about the president. Providing a coherent alternative to the president may no longer be enough, because the president’s economic record is not viewed as negatively anymore.

So even with a hurricane and the jobs report, the most likely outcome is that the race maintains the status quo, and the President wins. Why? Ohio. Wisconsin. Nevada.

That’s it. Obama wins those three states; he wins the election. And he’s up by and average of 2-4 points in all three of those states. Bill Clinton is the only candidate to have lost a state after being up more than 2 points, with less than two weeks to go. And it was Texas in 1992. Was Texas ever really gonna go blue?

So forget Gallup, forget the national polls. You can even forget Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire (all states Obama has leads in). Remember: Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada.