Just over one month ago, part three of my 'Wargaming' the 2012 Election series was published as I looked at the state of the Presidential race just after the Republican and Democrat National Conventions. The first of the series was published in December 2011 - well before the Republican Party had selected a Presidential candidate to oppose President Barack Obama.
Between October 3rd and October 22nd, the Presidential candidates met in three debates while the Vice Presidential candidates met in a single debate. Prior to the debates, the race was seen as very close, with President Barack Obama holding onto a slim lead in most polls. But within the collection of polls taken of the Presidential race - the President was also rarely breaking 47% - 48% of support.
As pundits looked at the nature of the race, like I did last December, we identified a collection of battleground states - states where the polls between the candidates were so close, a clear winner of those electoral votes could not be determined. These were the critical states that the core of the election would be fought over.
Here's the battleground states that I originally identified - Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire. All were states won by Barack Obama in 2008. Several of these, specifically Michigan and Pennsylvania, were not identified as battleground or swing states by others as early as I did.
But looking at the polls from those states, including key internals, as well as looking at the economic, social, and political issues within those states - I believed that with the record and actions of the Obama Administration, they could / would become battleground states with a strong Republican ticket to run against the policies, agenda, and record of Barack Obama particularly in the wake of the historic 2010 midterm elections which broke the super majority Democrat control of Congress.
Election Day is now just two weeks away.
The Republican ticket is set - Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Once both slates received and lost their convention bounces - the next key point of the race would be these past three weeks and the four debates. How the debates shook out would have a huge effect on the race.
To quickly recap the debates, President Barack Obama decisively lost the first Presidential debate - and Mitt Romney's performance effectively washed away the months of negative advertising by the Obama campaign. Mitt Romney looked and acted Presidential - and made a very compelling case for his election based on his plan and vision for the country.
In the Vice Presidential debate, VP Joe Biden, desperate to make up for the President's miserable performance, dug an even deeper hole for their campaign as he lost to Paul Ryan.
Barack Obama bounced back strong in the second and third Presidential debate - demonstrating an energy level far above that of the first debate. But he was hamstrung by his record - which is not one that can really be run on - and the failure to offer an agenda for a second term different from what he did in his first term. Mitt Romney continued with his strong debate performances - matching the President, appearing Presidential, and in particular appealing to the undecided's / independents as opposed to the President's strategy of appealing to his base.
As a result of these debates, Mitt Romney has not gotten just a bounce from his strong first debate, but has received a preference surge that Barack Obama has not been able to halt - just slow down somewhat. Independents are moving towards Mitt Romney - in numbers equal to or greater than the number of independents who propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.
GOP enthusiasm, up for the 2010 midterms, is hardly faltering as we approach the 2012 election. In 2008 where the Democrat turnout was 8 points higher than the GOP turnout, we are looking at anywhere from a even party breakdown turnout in 2012 to no worse than a D+3 or 4 party differential.
So with this background - where are we today in the 2012 race?
This is the map as it was just prior to the start of the debate 'season'. The battleground states are Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire. The only firm change - New Mexico moved from toss-up to Barack Obama largely on the basis of the state's Hispanic community and their very strong preference for President Obama.
At this point, Barack Obama holds a 10 point lead in the electoral vote, with 146 electoral votes up for grabs. Both campaigns have a number of paths to victory.
But as the debates took place, and Mitt Romney started to get the benefit of the surge he received from his strong debate performances, there are more battleground states that are making their selection.
North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia are now all showing movement towards Mitt Romney in the majority of the polls. In Maine, which appropriates its electoral votes based on Congressional District, there is one District that could send it's single electoral vote to Mitt Romney.
Barack Obama thusfar has been unable to stop the movement of these states to Mitt Romney - and given the state of the race, and that if the incumbent has not secured the undecided vote by now, it is very unlikely that he will gain it - I am predicting that these states will be won by Mitt Romney.
This is a big part of the battleground states - and swing Mitt Romney into a 49 electoral vote lead over President Obama, 249 to 200.
From this point, Barack Obama has only 9 possible combinations of the remaining swing states that can propel him over 270, and Pennsylvania becomes a MUST WIN state. Lose this traditionally Democrat supporting state, as I've covered before, and Barack Obama will be a one term President.
Mitt Romney, 21 electoral votes shy of 270, has 22 possible winning combinations. There are also 4 possible combinations of the remaining states that would result in an Electoral College tie.
Over the last week - 10 days, there are growing signs that one more of the remaining battleground states will move from the toss-up category into the column of one of the candidates. That state is Colorado, where Mitt Romney is now hitting 50% on several polls...
With Colorado moving to support Mitt Romney, he gains 9 electoral votes, bringing his total to 258 and only 12 shy of the magic number. With this, Barack Obama is down to only 3 possible winning combinations and Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania enter the MUST WIN category. Mitt Romney has 9 possible winning combinations that can deliver the electoral votes he needs to win.
As I look at more of the state specific polls - as well as try to get an impression on the enthusiasm and momentum in the remaining battleground states, I am seeing signs that two more states are going to move out of the toss-up category in the very near future. All of these races are close - so even slight movements can make a huge difference.
In New Hampshire, I'm seeing signs that they are moving slightly, but solidly towards Mitt Romney in the wake of his very strong debate performances.
Nevada, particularly around Las Vegas / Clark County, the Democrat (Obama / Reid) machine, combined with the efforts of the pro-Democrat unions that are strong in that County, and the Hispanic community, appears to be that it will vote once again for Barack Obama.
If we update the map to show these latest moves, and this is what we have.
Mitt Romney is now only 8 electoral votes from victory - and there are 5 states left in the toss-up category. Barack Obama is 64 electoral votes from victory with 70 electoral votes in those remaining toss-up states. He has only 1 path to win, and if he loses any of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania - he's lost.
This is how I think the race is today - with two weeks to go.
Pennsylvania, as I've predicted in my earlier looks at the race, is one of the early indicators for Election Day. It has not voted for a GOP Presidential candidate since 1988. Since then, the Democrat strongholds of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the suburbs of Philadelphia have generated enough votes to offset the PA 'Flyover country' which is primarily between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Another advantage for the Democrats - there are about 1 million more registered Democrats in PA than registered Republicans.
But this is not a normal election. The Obama policies against coal and fossil fuels are hammering the state and its jobs. Polls are showing coal country around Pittsburgh are not supporting the President at the levels he needs. The continuing stagnant economy is also it look as though the Philadelphia suburbs are looking for a change in leadership in an effort to get a real recovery jump started. Democrat enthusiasm in PA is down - just as it is around the country.
With the effects of the debate- I think these cracks in the dam are going to expand- to the point where PA will be won by Mitt Romney. [In neighboring NJ, while Obama will under perform his 2008 levels, there just are not enough enthusiastic Republicans and Independents seeking a change to offset the Democrat strongholds. I think it will remain blue - but if it does not - then we are looking at a very very bad night for Barack Obama. Connecticut, thought at one point to getting close to being in play, will stay blue - but if it doesn't - then it's a very very very bad night for Barack Obama.]
Wisconsin is probably suffering election fatigue - with this being the fourth major election in the last two years between the 2010 statewide election and the recall elections around the reform efforts of Governor Scott Walker and the GOP legislature. Because of these recalls - and the successful elections - the GOP has a strong and capable ground game. They have a record - and Mitt Romney is embracing similar approaches to solve the challenges of the country. Finally, Wisconsin is Paul Ryan's home state.
Most of the polls from Wisconsin are being skewed by samples that are closer to a 2008 party breakdown and enthusiasm level than today. As in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 (Walker recall), things are also getting dirty - with the unions / Democrats leading the way.
I do not envision Wisconsin voting again to elect Barack Obama. The Paul Ryan selection combined with the strong GOP state effort to get out the vote will push Wisconsin into the Romney camp.
Michigan is Mitt Romney's 'home state' - but it is also a major union stronghold - constituency that is in the bag for Barack Obama. It is also 'home' to the US Auto Industry - which the Obama Administration bailed out with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars - ensuring many union jobs and union contracts would remain intact. But Michigan is another state that moved to the GOP in 2010 - and one where the current GOP Governor is working to continue the turnaround he started.
Many of the polls from Michigan are showing 6-9 point leads for Barack Obama - but most of these are also based on 2008 or higher Democrat turnout models. Michigan might follow these polls and vote for Barack Obama - but I think that the undercurrent to vote against Barack Obama and his policies of the last 4 years is stronger than is being measured.
Iowa is another state where the Romney momentum is growing post-debate - and the President, despite many campaign visits cannot close the state out. The undecideds will go to Romney because he answered their questions around the economy and the laid out a strong vision for the future. I do not see them going to Barack Obama at the 11th hour - choosing to stay on the current path.
This brings us to the last battleground state - and Barack Obama's primary 'firewall'. Ohio.
I don't think Ohio will decide the election - it will not be as close as it was in 2004. Ohio tried Wisconsin-like reforms - but in an election to maintain those reforms or reverse them, after a huge investment by unions, the people voted to reference the reforms. But since that point, the GOP Governor is seeing his poll numbers improve. Democrat registrations are down substantially in the state - and the President's policies are really hurting Ohio's jobs and businesses.
The debates are turning the tide -and over the next two weeks, Mitt Romney will make small but steady gains as undecideds move to him and wavering Obama supporters move to Romney as they realize the negative ads by Obama weren't accurate.
So here's my last prediction to what the map will look like early Wednesday morning, November 7th....
Mitt Romney will earn 52.3% of the popular vote - and 332 Electoral votes as all of the remaining toss-up states move to him. This is the effect of the preference surge that he is getting since the first debate - and as the dominoes (VA, NC, FL, CO, NH) start to fall - the other states will get the small push they need to tip into the Romney camp.
Barack Obama will get 46.4% of the popular vote -reflecting the dissatisfaction towards his agenda and policies not to mention his record. For all Americans, the number one issue is the economy - and by any measure, Barack Obama has failed in his leadership and ability to get the economy moving in the right direction.
This election will ultimately look like 1980 - because Barack Obama has done nothing to differentiate himself from Jimmy Carter - while Mitt Romney during the debates, while not Reaganesque, was close enough.
For me the real questions left to be answered over the next two weeks are ....
As the President continues to be unable to reverse the Romney preference surge, will the Press turn on him or will they continue to shill for him up to the bitter end? Will they put their loyalty to ideology ahead of their immediate need to remain credible in the eyes of their customers?