On Tuesday morning’s broadcast of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, the show’s tone took a dire turn for President Barack Obama, who will debate Mitt Romney tonight in Hempstead, N.Y.
Just a few weeks ago, “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough reacted to he perceived to be missteps in Romney’s bid with a “sweet Jesus,” as he planted his face in his hands. But following Romney’s win in the first presidential debate earlier this month in Denver, Colo., the polls have tightened.
And upon further analysis by Scarborough’s two guests — “Game Change” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann — Romney has a good shot at defeating Obama.
“Look, there were two fundamentals that keeping the president as the heavy favorite as far as I was concerned to win re-election for a long time,” Halperin said. “One was the Electoral College and the fact that he started with a larger Electoral College base. Gov. Romney really needed to win almost all of the toss-ups. And the second thing that he had a big advantage on was defining Mitt Romney as an unacceptable choice, that you couldn’t vote for Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney was going to have a ceiling. That first debate had such a big impact on making Romney seem like an acceptable choice and it also now has changed the balance in the Electoral College. If Gov. Romney is able to win three southern states of the nine toss-ups — Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, he’s not favored in Ohio. But he’s now got a position to win Ohio.”
The math, Halperin added, takes the advantage out of Obama’s hands and puts Romney within striking distance of the magic 270 electoral votes.
“Look at all of that red, that gets him to 266, if he can take Ohio, and I talked to two Democrats yesterday who now think it’s possible that the president’s position in Ohio will erode to such an extent that he could lose it, 266 means all Gov. Romney would need to do was win one of the five toss-ups in yellow. And that’s a huge change. That map gives Gov. Romney the Electoral College advantage that the president has long enjoyed.”
Halperin revealed in a post on his Time magazine blog that a “top” Democratic strategist admitted to him that he fears Ohio could shake out in Romney’s favor, something not plausible just weeks ago.
“But I was struck yesterday at how some Democrats now believe what had been a clear advantage in Ohio for a long time is now something that is eroded,” Halperin said. “Gov. Romney, if he’s an acceptable choice not just nationally, but in Ohio, I think he’s a strong Ohio candidate in a state that two years ago elected a Republican governor, a Republican senator in contested races.”
Heilemann explained that the tightening of this contest puts more of an emphasis on the debates, and blamed the first debate for the president’s vulnerability.
“You’re seeing — Joe mentioned how big a debate this is, this is yet another reason why beyond all of the symbolic, you know, Obama stumbles last time and now needs to come back, to change the narrative, you know, we’re getting down to where this race is where we actually all thought it was going to be for the last, up until the conventions,” Heilemann said. “Anybody at this table would’ve said, ‘Wow, this is going to be a razor close election. The ground game’s going to matter. Turnout’s going to matter. The map’s going to be tight.’ And then for, you know, six weeks we thought, ‘Wow, things are really fundamentally changed. We’re back to that original conception matters.”
“And this is not a little thing that’s going to happen on this debate stage, as Willie talked about how historically debate audiences rise,” Heilemann continued. “I think in this case, the debate audience is more likely to rise even more because of the extent to which people around the country, whether they like President Obama, don’t like President Obama, or are undecided about what they think, they want to know can he rise to this challenge. And really, the onus of the challenge is very clearly tonight on the president because of the failure before and because of the erosion that we’re talking about now across the battleground states.”