By now it is clear that, in terms of public perceptions (maybe on points, too), all three debates have been winners for Romney-Ryan. But have they been big enough winners to push the GOP ticket over the top?
In Washington, the question is being framed this way: Is Romney up 49-47 points, as pollster Scott Rasmussen's three day tracking poll shows, or is he up 52-45 points, per Gallup's seven-day tracker.
Walter Mondale's '84 campaign manager Bob Beckel said yesterday on Fox that if Gallup is right, the race is over. In other words, if Gallup is right, the swing state by swing state polling that is the current obsession can be dismissed as beside the point. It is inconceivable that a seven point national popular vote margin would produce anything other than an Electoral College win.
That's why, here in D.C., the political and journalistic worlds are waiting anxiously for today's Gallup numbers.Gallup's first daily report with a big spread (on Tuesday) could have been a fluke. The second day's (which is where we are as I write) looked more plausible, particularly as Romney's number moved up a point, suggesting that he had polled extraordinarily strongly two nights in a row. So if Gallup's numbers hold up today, you can expect the weekend buzz to be that the Obama reelection prospects could be collapsing, a prospect I speculated on in an earlier post.
Is it really possible that the debates had such a one-sided impact? Yes, thanks to a major strategic miscalculation of Team Obama, one that a senior Democrat highlighted at the beginning of the week. Monday night on BBC radio, I was paired with Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign manager Mickey Kantor. Asked what the president had to do in the next evening's debate, Kantor did not lead with pummeling Romney, the flavor of the day in Democratic circles and exactly what Mr. Obama made Job One the next night. Instead, Kantor started out saying Obama needed to articulate an agenda for the next four years, advice which, if he heard, the president ignored.
Instead of promoting an agenda, the president's campaign has been built around what they call "disqualifying" Mitt Romney. We've all seen the ads and heard the charges. But here's the mistake. If you 1) offer no plan for the future, 2) put something like $100 million in advertising behind portraying your opponent as a monster and 3) that story doesn't stand up when you and he meet with 60-70 million people watching, you have discredited yourself and have nothing to fall back on.
That's where the race may be today. When the tracking polls are updated sometime this morning, we will have a better feel for what the state of play actually is.