New Reality

So Is Romney Ahead?

Is Romney really now ahead? At the very least, what wasn't a close race now is.

I'm sure you've all seen the Pew poll that has Romney up four among likely voters. Real? Pew is highly respected, and the methodology is usually sound. Pew ain't Rasmussen, in other words. I take this poll seriously.

I made fun of wingers who spent the last month whining about samples, so I have enough self awareness to know that doing whining of my own now that the result is one I'm not crazy about would be bad form. I do feel that I owe you all some objectivity on matters like this. So a few points:

1. It's clear that the debate had a huge impact on this race. In Pew, respondents gave it to Romney 66-20. Independents did so by 72-14.

2. Romney generated a lot of enthusiasm on his side. In September, Obama had a 12-point advantage (68-56) on "support candidate strongly." Now it's 68-67 Obama.

3. Romney managed to persuade middle-class people that he isn't what they've been hearing. This is crucial. Three-quarters of respondents still say Romney's policies would help the rich, but in addition to that, half now say he'd also help the middle class. That puts him even in a category where Obama had a nine-point edge last month.

4. Women (white women, since blacks still back Obama by large margins) and seniors moved the most. Romney gained six favorability points among both women and seniors. He actually gained 10 among young people, but he's still getting slaughtered there.

5. He also gained 11, and Obama lost eight, among "some college." Broadly, that category usually means middle-income people, in sales and so on. Another indicator that Romney managed to sell himself as moderate and Obama failed to rebut.

So there you have it. Now. A 12-point swing in a month? I don't know. That's pretty radical. I see that yesterday's Gallup rolling tracking poll still had Obama up five. The Rand daily survey had Obama up about 3.5. Other pollsters say that they saw big Romney numbers Thursday and Friday, but things leveled off by the weekend. But apparently Gallup has a different poll coming out today showing a tied race, I'm told.

Bottom line, it's a close race now. It wasn't really but now it is. Obama still has a pretty strong electoral college advantage, and conservatives, if you deny this, you're not being objective. But it's close today. And looking at number 4 above, Obama did himself specific harm by not talking forcefully in the debate about issues of special concern to those two groups.

But here's what Obama people should worry about. People shouldn't get their knickers in a twist about one poll. Just read Nate Silver, let him average them.

But what Obama people should worry about is that it's clear that the Romney campaign, after looking like idiots in August and September, have a plan for the race's final month that is pretty intelligent and, so far, effective. That foreign policy speech yesterday was part of it. I think it was kind of a dud, but he didn't sound like Dr. Strangelove.

The move is to go aggressively toward the middle and try to persuade people that everything the Obama campaign has been saying about Romney since the spring is wrong--that he's a moderate, sensible guy, and you can trust him. Chicago knew how to run against the right-wing panderer. But now Romney is something different, or trying to pretend to be. Can Chicago adapt?

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That's the question and the situation. Maybe Obama and all his people needed this wake-up call. I talked to a friend Saturday who said his wife wasn't going to do anything, but after that debate, she decided she'd better go out to Virginia and knock on some doors for Obama after all. But the bulk of the energy right now is obviously on the other side. The Obama team needs to figure out how to beat this October Romney.