With less than a week to go until the presidential election, observers everywhere are making predictions about who will win. Those predictions should be taken with a grain of salt. However, here are five indicators that political insiders think Mitt Romney is headed for victory.
1) The process stories are now leaning heavily in Mitt Romney’s favor. A cursory scan of the articles headlining Tuesday morning’s RealClearPolitics home page reveals a list of process stories pointing to danger signs for the Obama campaign. The pro-Obama op-eds (mostly from reliably liberal columnists with the notable exception of The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who wrote what could almost be described as a political obituary for Obama) have drifted from process-related themes confident in an Obama victory to consisting exclusively of attacks on Mitt Romney’s moral and ideological qualifications — a trend I believe reveals that liberal columnists foresee a Romney victory, even if they find it undesirable. While reporters and columnists don’t determine votes, they follow the political process closely and have an impulse to be proven right in retrospect, so it is reasonable to assume the indicators they’re following tell them that the winning argument will now be one envisioning a Romney victory.
2) Obama is devoting last-minute resources to states he never realistically expected to defend. The campaign has made an ad buy in and dispatched Bill Clinton to Minnesota (although this may be aimed at Wisconsin voters in the Twin Cities media market), and has made an ad buy in Pennsylvania, where it has dispatched Vice President Joe Biden. The Obama camp has dismissed the Romney campaign’s small ad buys in these states, but it has validated them with a disproportionate response. The campaign’s financial resources and the nominees’ and major surrogates’ travel time are extremely precious at this late date, so the fact that Team Obama feels the need to allocate these valuable commodities to states not widely regarded as competitive says they are worried. It is still very conceivable, and probably likely, that Obama will still win both states, but capital spent there is capital not spent in universally recognized battlegrounds like Ohio. Some have argued this is simply because the ad markets in true battlegrounds are already saturated, but if that were the case and the Obama campaign had ad money to burn, it would be buying ads in long-shot states like Georgia, not in states it has always expected to win.
This also begins to unravel the long-standing pundit class narrative that Obama has a substantial cushion in the Electoral College: Obama’s comfort zone is contracting while Romney’s map is expanding.
3) Prognosticators favoring Obama are beginning to qualify their assertions. While Nate Silver of The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog has gone further out on a limb in Obama’s favor (as of Wednesday he had increased Obama’s chance of winning to 77.4%), his defenders are becoming more cautious. While some conservative writers have raised questions about Silver’s assessment for some time, his defenders have now moved to claiming that even if Romney wins, Silver’s methodology is still sound, and that his conclusions represent an assessment of the data as it stands today, not a prediction. Fair enough, but it’s a very different tune than Silver’s champions were singing just a week ago.
4) The mythology surrounding Obama’s ground game is cracking. This is thanks in part to new data showing Mitt Romney leading among those who have voted early — a key component of the Obama campaign’s get-out-the-vote operation. Meanwhile, questions about Hurricane Sandy’s effects on early voting in key states like Virginia have given the elite media a justification for wondering aloud if Obama can replicate his 2008 turnout among key demographics — something much of the media (and its polls) seem to have taken as a given until recently.