Obama’s a Good Bet

The president has the election advantage -- for now.

By this time next week, there should be enough national and state-level polling data to present a pretty clear picture of where this election stands, post-Labor Day and after whatever bounces the candidates may have gotten from the conventions. But we have seen enough data in recent weeks to draw some preliminary conclusions about the contests for the White House, the Senate, and, to a lesser extent, the House.

The presidential race is still close and, in a tight election, either candidate can win. Any number of events, not the least of which are debates, campaign gaffes, and domestic or international developments, could put President Obama or Mitt Romney over the top. Although it is pretty clear that Obama has an edge over Romney in national and swing-state polling, the size of his advantage remains in doubt. Every event or development should be judged on whether it might change the path of this election.

My view is that if Obama is reelected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign; if Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign. This economy is an enormous millstone around Obama’s neck, yet he and his campaign have managed to secure the upper hand—albeit with a very tenuous grip. At the same time, despite an enormous advantage that the sluggish economy and the sentiment for change affords him, Romney and his campaign, to an astonishing degree, seem to have squandered too many opportunities and undermined his chances of winning.

It should be emphasized again and again that this campaign isn’t over and that the race is still awfully close. But without a change in the trajectory, it’s a good bet that Obama will come out on top. The questions are whether the opportunity will arise for that trajectory to change and whether the Romney campaign be able to effectively capitalize on it.

Looking at the math of the Senate a year and a half ago, Democrats were having to defend 23 seats and the GOP just 10. Democrats had seven open seats, compared with just two for Republicans; the arithmetic argued strongly that Republicans had a real shot at overturning the current 53-47 Democratic majority. At the time, it looked as if Republicans had at least a 60 percent, maybe even a 70 percent, chance of prevailing. Now, a 45 percent chance of a GOP majority is probably closer to the mark. It’s not that a pro-Republican tide has waned, but that developments in individual states have hurt Republicans more than Democrats, changing the status from “strong edge” for the GOP to “somewhat uphill.”

There are at least two important, yet seemingly opposing, dynamics at work in the Senate races. The first is an intensifying polarization that is making many contests more competitive and closer than they were even a month ago. Partisans, and even those just leaning toward one party or the other, have come home very quickly. This is true in Florida and Ohio, where Republican challengers have closed the gap against Democratic incumbents. This increased polarization is working against the GOP in Hawaii and New Mexico, where the party has fielded especially talented candidates. These challengers gave Republicans reason for hope in two Democratic-tilting states, but as President Obama has solidified his standing there, early GOP optimism no longer seems warranted.

The second dynamic is that neither party appears to have the wind at its back. As a result, candidates and the quality of their campaigns matter more than they have in the last three elections. This explains why Democratic candidates in Indiana and North Dakota are more than holding their own, making those two races in Republican-leaning states more competitive than they ought to be. Republicans are also benefiting from this. In Massachusetts, GOP Sen. Scott Brown is statistically tied with Democrat Elizabeth Warren, despite the state’s strong Democratic tilt. And, in Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon has a lead over Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, largely because she has run the better race to date. Perhaps whatever bias voters may have had against McMahon during her ill-fated 2010 Senate campaign because of her background as a professional-wrestling executive is no longer as much of a liability.

These strong and even sometimes contradictory dynamics have created much more uncertainty in the Senate picture in the past month. Now, 15 seats—10 held by Democrats and five by Republicans—can be called competitive. Ten or possibly 11 others can be considered legitimate toss-ups—six or seven held by Democrats and four held by Republicans.

The House still seems to be a hard-fought but fairly evenly matched fight, with little chance of a major shift in either direction. If there is a significant turnover, it will have been triggered by something that hasn’t happened yet.

This article appeared in the Saturday, September 15, 2012 edition of National Journal.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.