The media have declared the presidential race over. That’s not surprising. What’s striking is how many Republicans agree. They think the Romney campaign is done. It’s true that recent momentum has favored the president, especially in battleground states. A five-point deficit in Ohio looks ominous for any Republican. But President Obama hasn’t won yet. In fact he could very well lose. Here’s why:
1) Obama’s numbers aren’t that great. There are a lot of ways to measure public opinion in a presidential race. Among the most useful are the tracking polls produced by Gallup and Rasmussen, since they ask the same questions every day and therefore produce a consistent measure over time. And over time, most Americans don’t support Obama. Between April 11 and September 20 of this year, Obama reached 50 percent support in the Gallup survey on a total of just six days. Given that incumbents rarely do better than their final week of polling, that’s bad news for the White House. If Obama remains under 50 percent a month from now, he’ll likely lose.
2) Turnout is tougher for Obama than for Mitt Romney. Republicans historically do best among slices of the population with the highest rates of voter participation. The Democratic coalition, which includes voters below the poverty line and people under 25, contains some of the lowest rates. Four years of Obama have done little to change that dynamic. (How many people who voted for McCain in 2008 are planning to vote for Obama this year? Is there anyone?) This means that Democrats may have trouble turning out their base, which doesn’t dislike Romney half as much as Republicans loathe Obama. Fundamentally, the energy is on the Republican side, even if Republicans don’t love their own nominee.
Romney, meanwhile, seems to be running a more competent than expected ground game. The Romney campaign says its staffers knocked on more doors in target states by the second week of September than Republicans at all levels did during the entire 2008 cycle.
3) The Hispanic vote might not turn out to be monolithic. Hardly anyone says so out loud, but Obama’s core advantage is demographic change. It’s a different country than it was 10 years ago and almost all of the changes favor Democrats, especially the increase in Hispanic voters, most of whom will go for Obama. This is a huge problem for the Republican Party moving forward, probably its central problem.
Romney has no chance of winning the majority of Hispanics, but he does need to keep the 31 percent who voted for John McCain four years ago. At this point that looks like a stretch, considering the intensity (and effectiveness) of Obama’s demagoguery on immigration. But you never know. Romney spent $1 million on Spanish-language ads just last week in Florida, Colorado and Nevada. He’s done interviews on Univision and Telemundo, spoken at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the ALMA Awards. He’s got surrogates all over Spanish radio. He’s trying, and voters like it when you try, even if they disagree with some of your positions.