Before President Obama’s self-admitted off-night in Denver, when he allowed Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate to conjure himself into someone he is not, some writers were hinting at and others were outright using the ‘L’ word. So sloppy had been Romney’s campaign and so error-free was Obama’s leading up to that night in Colorado that a burgeoning Democratic lead in the polls was building the narrative of an inevitable Obama win, perhaps by a landslide. But that seems to have changed. Now what?
Romney supporters and some knowledgeable observers use the 1980 Carter-Reagan election – when the bottom fell out from under incumbent Jimmy Carter in the closing two weeks of the campaign – as the model to project a Republican win next week. Other pundits think the 2000 Bush-Gore model will predominate. In that scenario, George Bush lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote, a result that could retain Obama in office. Other observers influenced by a Romney surge are proposing a Romney landslide. Hmmm. For my part, I am thinking 1948, when incumbent President Harry Truman came from behind and walked away with a hard-earned victory over Tom Dewey. I think this for several reasons.
First, if the Obama campaign over the last two years has built up the kind of organization that reporters crisscrossing the swing states are writing about, then Obama’s campaign team might have built up the kind of campaign structure in those states that was predominant at the local and county level when Truman surprised and rocketed past Dewey, who had been ahead in all the national surveys. So if the polls have tightened, they might be trailing an organization that instead of using precinct captains uses highly sophisticated niche targeting to organize its support – with perhaps decisive results.
Second, I remember being at a dinner party in New York two years ago. When the conversation turned to politics, as all conversations in New York inevitably do, I was struck by the disappointment of individuals there who had voted for Obama but were thoroughly disenchanted. One especially animated friend told me point-blank that she would not vote for Obama again. She happens to be a very strong-minded woman, whom some would deride as a feminist. After what they have seen of Romney, all of those individuals are going to vote for Obama. They are coming home as Democrats in 1948 did.
Third, the new demography that I write about is driving the changes in the electoral map that has made new states viable for Democratic candidates – Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida. But the margin for victory depends on Democrats getting a good part of the non-HispanicLatino white vote. In the end, I think Romney’s remark that nearly half of the country barely matters strikes the same chord that resonated with voters so many years ago when Truman won. HispanicLatinos understand what Romney meant, which is why they will vote in proportions approaching 70 percent for Obama. And millions of women voters who do not fall automatically into the 47 percent quake at the thought of a President Romney making appointments to the Supreme Court.
To me, if the Obama campaign has created an effective organizational push and voters like the woman in New York do come home and if the new demography asserts itself, it is not unreasonable to think that Obama will win – and win a solid victory. I therefore put all the states that Obama won four years ago in his column again, except for North Carolina and Indiana, although I am sorely tempted to do so. I cannot but think that women in Indiana voting against a Republican Senate candidate who thinks rape is God’s will also vote for Obama in significant enough numbers to put him across the finish line. I also would like to consider Arizona as a possible surprise but will demur to conventional wisdom.
So a week out and not knowing the unanticipated electoral disruptions Sandy might provoke, including opportunities for intentional theft, I think Obama will win 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, making allowances for the split possibility in Maine and Nebraska that apportion their electoral votes by congressional districts. I think Obama’s margin in the popular vote will be almost three million.
When I was a cub reporter decades ago, the much older editor who ran the newsroom pools on election eve stopped organizing them after I won two in a row. Years later, I was on a panel on television that was asked to predict what percentage of the vote Ross Perot would get. I was the closest by far. I was right in the Gore-Bush election in 2000 except for the Supreme Court. Not a bad record, but I have been wrong before. So, what happens a week from tomorrow? Only the people know.
I can only guess.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.