Much of the Media Is Calling the Presidential Race for Barack Obama
Howard Kurtz on the polling and the predictions—and what will happen if they’re wrong on Election Day.
The pundits have spoken: it’s Obama.
We still have to go through the ritual of holding the election on Tuesday, but the media’s forecasters have placed their bet, and the overwhelming consensus is that the president will win a second term.
As the candidates again raced to the swing states where the election will be decided, and as parts of New York and New Jersey remained crippled by Hurricane Sandy, the unmistakable message emanating from the press was that Mitt Romney had fallen short.
A variety of prognosticators in The Washington Post’s Outlook section picked the president to prevail, from The Fix columnist Chris Cillizza to Mad Money maven Jim Cramer (who ludicrously said Obama would capture 400 electoral votes. Stick to stocks, Cramer). The only exceptions were Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez and—for what it’s worth—Andrew Beyer, the paper’s horse-racing columnist.
But Obama is being depicted as a couple of lengths ahead in that race even in the straight-news coverage. The Post’s front-page story Sunday said that “President Obama holds a narrow advantage over Mitt Romney in the crucial contest for the electoral votes needed to win the White House.”
The key to this confidence, of course, is a cascade of swing-state polls. National tracking polls continue to show something close to a dead heat: Obama and Romney tied at 48-48 in the Post/ABC survey. But the final Pew survey gave Obama an edge, 50 to 47 percent. New York Times polling blogger Nate Silver gives the president an 83 percent chance of winning.
Still, it’s those polls in Ohio above all, and in Virginia, Florida, Colorado, and Iowa, that are giving journalists the confidence to declare, or at least suggest, that Obama will win. That certainly seems the most likely scenario. The danger is that lower-than-expected Democratic turnout, or a last-minute swing, could move a couple of those states into Romney’s column and scramble the projections. The polls are complicated further by the fact that more than a third of the electorate will have voted before Tuesday.
Obama trotted out his most effective surrogate on Sunday, joining forces with Bill Clinton at a rally in Concord, N.H., that drew 14,000. The former president mocked Romney’s appeal as “Hey, I’m a business guy. I look like a president. I act like a president and people will be so elated when I am president.”
Romney, in Iowa, continued his recent refrain that he would be a bipartisan leader:
“Instead of building bridges, he’s made the divide between our parties wider,” Romney said of Obama. “Let me tell you why it is he’s fallen so far short of what he’s promised: it’s because he cared more about a liberal agenda than he did about repairing the economy.” Romney also noted that in Massachusetts, “with a Democrat legislature, I helped turn my state from deficit to surplus.” (Memo to Mitt: its members prefer that it be called the Democratic Party.)
The campaigns are determined to project a sense of optimism. David Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist, told Fox News Sunday that “we’re even or ahead” in all the swing states “and now they’re looking for somewhere, desperately looking for somewhere to try to dislodge some electoral votes to win this election, and I can tell you, that’s not going to happen.”
Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director, pushed back on the same program, saying his guy would win 300 electoral votes. “Independents are gonna decide this race in all of these states. Governor Romney consistently leads among independents,” Beeson said, while Obama is stuck below 50 percent, and for an incumbent, “that’s a bad place to be.”
But Beeson’s information may be slightly outdated, as the president’s handling of the hurricane seems to have bolstered his standing among independents. In the latest PPP survey, Obama has come from behind to take a 49-44 advantage among such voters. Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor and Republican chairman, told me the storm had absolutely stopped Romney’s momentum.
Do these eleventh-hour claims have an impact on the outcome? It’s probably marginal at best, but the we’re-gonna-win talk is designed to boost morale among staffers and volunteers while motivating supporters to get to the polls.
That may be more difficult in places like New Jersey, where many polling places were swamped by the storm, although Obama is expected to carry the state easily. In other states the obstacles are legal in nature. On Sunday, a judge extended early voting hours in Orange County, Fla., where people waited in line for hours, after the state’s Democratic Party filed suit to give voters more time at the polls.
If Obama somehow manages to lose, it will be a stunning defeat for the nation’s first African-American president. But it will also be a crushing blow for the punditocracy that headed into Election Day filled with confidence that Obama had it in the bag. And Fox News won’t let the mainstream media hear the end of it.