Hunter Johnson, Staff Writer
It’s official, folks: This is now anybody’s race.
During the month that elapsed between the Republican National Convention at the end of August and the beginning of October, the stars seemed to align for President Barack Obama in his bid for re-election. Both he and his opponent, Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney, delivered solid, though not game-changing, speeches at their respective conventions. Romney, however, failed to get any real boost in the polls when the Republican Convention wrapped up. Perhaps the convention wasn’t very exciting or informative for undecided voters. Or perhaps Clint Eastwood’s rambling address to an imaginary Obama was a bit out there. (I personally found it to be rather unusual.) Who’s to know?
For whatever reason, Romney did not enjoy the poll boost that Obama did. While the president continued to savor his high numbers, the Romney campaign had to deal with several fumbles. The most prominent of these was recorded on a hidden-camera tape at a private fundraiser. It recorded Romney saying that 47 percent of voters would not vote for him because they believed the government “had a responsibility to care for them” while they never tried to support themselves. He’s since backtracked from that comment, but Democrats continue to hammer him for it.
Through all the Romney gaffes, Obama held his own and avoided any seriously unflattering situations. The worst thing the Democratic camp had to handle during this time was the political fallout from the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Despite negative reports on how much the administration actually knew prior to the attack, and the possibility that the consulate’s request for extra security was denied, the fiasco failed to make a serious mark on the Obama ticket’s popularity going into the first debate on Oct. 3.
Given all of this, Obama had every reason to be confident, and Romney to be concerned, when they first took the stage together. When it was finished, the tables had turned. Over the course of the debate, Romney maintained the upper hand and dominated the conversation. The president, on the other hand, seemed exhausted, was slow in his responses and appeared to wish he was somewhere else. Both men relied heavily on statistics and information from numerous studies, but Romney’s delivery was stronger in the surprisingly civil debate. Although there was no real “knockout punch” by either candidate, viewers found that Romney won by a record 52-point margin over Obama, according to Gallup polls.
The debate gave Romney a decent bump in national polls, and what pundits had called a campaign on life-support was suddenly energized. When it came time for the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 11, people wondered whether or not Paul Ryan could sustain the momentum or if Joe Biden would stop the Republicans in their tracks. Viewers, it turned out, were in for the rumble that political junkies dream about – this was a smackdown. While neither candidate had a spectacular performance, the two could not have differed more in their delivery: Ryan maintained a calm composure while Biden was riled up like a boxer. Ryan failed to dominate the discussion, although his occasional smirks and jabs were amusing, but Biden’s continual interruptions and laughter did little to help his cause. The verdict by most pundits was that, despite Ryan’s better composure, this debate was a draw.
Perhaps Biden gave his boss a little pep talk about personal energy going into the second presidential debate on Oct. 16. Whether he did or not, the President had definitely taken the hint from his last tango with Romney. At this town hall-style debate, Obama came alive and feverishly went after the governor while defending his own record. Romney still held his ground, though, and strongly berated the president. There were even a couple of moments when the two candidates were all but in each other’s faces, leaving one to wonder when the moderator would send a referee in to break them up. This strikingly uncivil debate, like the vice-presidential debate before, had no resounding winner, revving up the hype for last night’s final debate.
Many would argue that these debates have had an effect on the GOP ticket equivalent to that of a turtle being handed a Ferrari. The Republicans are rightfully energized, given current poll numbers. Gallup polls now show the governor with a six-point lead over the president, the best Romney’s ever had, and the RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Romney just edging out Obama by a point. The tightening of these polls all but ensures a close race come November and, more importantly, a close vote in the Electoral College.
What many may fail to realize is that the Electoral College, not the popular vote itself, decides who will become president. When a state’s popular vote favors a certain presidential candidate, those states’ electoral votes are pledged to that candidate. (This is the case in 48 states; Nebraska and Maine employ a slight variant, called the Congressional District Method.)
In order to win the presidency, a candidate must secure 270 electoral votes when the College meets in December. Some states are all but certain to vote for a certain candidate, like California for Obama and Mississippi for Romney, due to their demographics and past voting histories. Taking these into account, Romney is likely to tally at least 206 votes, and Obama at least 201.
Where this election will really be decided is in the swing states – toss-ups that polls show are too close to call. At the moment, RealClearPolitics marks ten states as falling into this category. Of these, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada lean slightly towards the president. The rest – Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire – are well within the polling margin of error with a combined 89 electoral votes.
To narrow it down even further, the race is most competitive in Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida and Ohio. Romney holds slim margins in Colorado and Florida; Obama leads in the other three but is losing traction. These five states are the ones to keep your eye on come Nov. 6. It’s there that you’ll find the candidates spending millions of dollars in ads and countless hours shaking hands and kissing babies. Both candidates will do whatever it takes to gain these states’ electoral votes.
This is where the election now stands. Romney is gaining ground on the president in all of the swing states, but will he keep the momentum going? Or will Obama squash his opponent and fight his way to re-election? For the next couple of weeks it’s anybody’s guess. No one will know for sure until the votes are finally tallied. As close as the race has become, and with all clichés aside, every vote in this election will truly count.