It’s been an epic strategic game of Risk. After four or more long years of offensive and defensive board game moves, the generals feel powerless. (Been there.) It is now up to the troops on the ground. Turnout matters. And with a little over a week to go until Election Day, victory is but a dice roll away for President Obama or Mitt Romney. What will it take for either campaign to win? Well, it may depend on the five Ws.
Weather: With Sandy, the “storm of the century,” barreling toward the East Coast, targeting some 60 million people, will hurricane damage and potential power outages have an impact on early voting in the mid-Atlantic, southern New England, and inland states? Or even on Election Day itself? Team Obama is pinning its hopes on early voters; Team Romney is banking on high turnouts Nov. 6. But Sandy, like any gathering storm in the Middle East or overseas, is nonpartisan.
Wallet: No matter what “economic experts” project for GDP growth, voters vote based on what they see with their own eyes and feel in their own wallets. Rhetoric is no replacement for reality. And this is a vulnerability for the president. A majority of Americans still describe the current economic situation as poor, and likely voters now trust Romney more than Obama to do a better job of managing it, 51 percent to 44 percent, according to a recent AP-GfK poll (PDF).
Women: More women than men vote. And Obama won the women’s vote by 13 percentage points in 2008. But today, the AP poll finds Romney has closed the gender gap; women are now split evenly between the incumbent and the challenger. Although the Obama campaign discounts any poll showing the president trailing among women, the vanishing gap may be why Team Obama is focusing on abortion in the battleground states and risking the airing of the “Your First Time” video, equating voting to losing one’s virginity. Other than the devastating “Daisy” ad for the incumbent LBJ that aired only once in 1964, this may be the first presidential ad with content inappropriate for family viewing.
Waxing (and Waning): Enthusiasm is up overall among Republicans and down among Democratic voters in 2012. Many of the national and battleground state poll models are based on turnout assumptions that more closely mirror 2008, with its historic turnouts among key demographic voting blocs for Obama, than the red-tide midterm elections of 2010 or the Republican victory in 2004. But Gallup projects a more Republican electorate this year. And though Obama still has significant support among Hispanic, African-American, and young voters, ground Romney is unlikely to gain, the Republican candidate leads among independents by double digits, according to several national polls. No presidential candidate has won while losing independents by double digits since exit polling began in 1972.
Wind: Momentum matters. And right now, it looks like it is going Romney’s way. The wind is at his back. Support for Obama seems to have hit a ceiling. Polls will always tighten, but undecided voters will go with the winner.
No matter which candidate scores more Ws in his column on Nov. 6, will a truce truly be called by the next day? Or will the battle move to the courts, in a repeat of the painful days of the election in 2000, with dimpled chads, hanging chads, and pregnant chads? Having barely lived through that along with the rest of the country, I pray that the popular vote and electoral vote totals align and that the win is decisive. If not, voters may just take their tokens home and not play anymore.