We’ve hit the point in the election at which both sides have gone into full-blown spin mode, declaring that their candidates are roaring to victory on a wave of momentum. Obama’s real momentum came in September, when the Democratic convention and Romney’s string of gaffes helped him pull away. Romney’s turn began in early October with his stellar performance in the first debate and went a long way toward closing that gap. But there’s not much evidence to support the idea that either candidate is surging to victory—the race appears to have reached a point of stasis, with most polls of critical battleground states showing Obama narrowly ahead.
That’s a problem for Romney. His campaign can’t afford to let the impression harden that he’s losing, or his supporters will become dispirited, threatening what chance he has of pulling off a victory. Already a majority of Americans—including a majority of independent voters—think Obama is going to win. The main obstacle to Romney’s chances is Ohio. Polls have consistently shown Obama ahead there by a narrow but steady margin, including this morning’s Quinnipiac/CBS/New York Times poll, which showed the president leading 50-45 among likely voters. Without Ohio, Romney’s electoral math becomes much, much tougher.
That’s undoubtedly a big reason why his campaign has started talking up such states as Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which weren’t considered to be “in play” as recently as a couple of weeks ago. In the last few days, independent Republican groups such as American Crossroads, Americans for Job Security, and the American Future Fund (as well as non-American-named super PACs such as Restore our Future) have been running TV ads in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Romney’s own camp has chipped in a modest amount. All three states are close enough that the Obama campaign is defending them with ads of its own and a Bill Clinton event has been scheduled for Minnesota.
The idea that Romney has a viable electoral path that goes through Minnesota, Pennsylvania, or Michigan—and doesn’t include Ohio—looks pretty dubious. The candidate himself has announced no plans to visit any of these states, and that’s as good a gauge as any of what his brain trust really thinks of the state of the race. In a conference call with reporters this morning, Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, promised to shave his mustache if Romney won any of them. That’s obviously not an ironclad guarantee that Romney won’t prevail. But battle-state polls suggest that Axelrod probably won’t have to break out his razor any time soon.