Where Barack Obama want to be: Pennsylvania and Michigan polling outside the margin of error. Consistent if small leads in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Iowa. Running even in Florida and North Carolina. States that Bush won or almost won such as New Mexico, Minnesota, and Oregon no longer worth polling.
Where Mitt Romney wants to be: No need to campaign in North Carolina, Missouri, or Arizona. Up two or three points in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Iowa. Pure toss-ups in Wisconsin and Nevada. Every now and then a poll shows him up by one in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which terrifies Democrats.
Actuality: President Obama is running between three and fours points ahead of Mitt Romney in the battleground states. He has succeeded in locking down his own “lean” states, has an advantage in each of the “true battlegrounds” and is starting to invade Romney territory with leads in Florida, Virginia, and a tie in North Carolina.
Romney trails nationally in the Real Clear Politics average by just under four points. Polling in the past few days shows the trajectory of the race moving slightly in his direction. His deficit in the battleground states is almost identical to the national numbers with Ohio being the only battleground state where Obama has an advantage of more than four points.
The good news for Romney is that the four-point deficit is despite pollsters anticipating a strong Democratic electorate. If – A) Pollsters are wrong and the turnout is somewhere between 2008 and 2010 or B) Romney/Ryan rally the Republicans who pollsters are predicting (correctly in this scenario) will stay home on Election Day – the four point lead will evaporate rather quickly. Also, now that it appears formerly undecided Democrats have chosen their side, the rest of the “real undecideds” are more likely to follow the historical norm and break for the challenger.
Outside an October surprise, the best (only?) options for Romney to make a dent are both coming this week. If Romney puts forward a solid effort in the debate he will certainly increase his standing. The bar for challengers is typically pretty low. Romney needs only to appear as someone the voting public would be comfortable having as President.
Following the debate is the jobs number on Friday. More important than the number employed itself may be the number of individuals entering or leaving the workforce. I believe the public is more interested in the unemployment number as a percentage rather than the number of jobs added. The projected number of 115,000 new jobs probably sounds pretty good to a lot of folks when proffered without context.
The bottom line is the Romney campaign is down by a couple of points. A good debate and another weak job performance could vault him into the lead. However, a wasted debate performance and mediocre jobs number could cement Obama’s lead and make that four point lead look a lot bigger.