I tried to stay away from blogging about this election and for a long time -- up until the Republican National Convention in Tampa -- I succeeded. But as Sherman once said to Grant, "You could never stay home when armies are moving." And so there came a point in the cycle where I just couldn't help myself. I hope those of you who've subscribed and read these columns have found them interesting, if not always particularly connected with reality. (This is what I hope my friends think about me generally, if it comes to that.)
First, some housekeeping: I will once again be live-blogging the election returns as they come in this evening, though I don't think I'll be using the map gadget to do so since it stalls out my ability to update in anything like real-time. There will be many maps from which to choose, and all being orderly and well this evening, they will all look approximately the same from one moment to the next. That out of the way, let's consider together where things stand one last time, with our focus on a state that hasn't been getting a lot of street cred in the battle for tipping-point status, at least so far.
No matter how one feels about the competing narratives about the state of the race, it isn't being argued by any reasonably non-partisan pundit out there that the President doesn't at least have the polling momentum on his side in these last few days of the campaign. And that, it turns out, has presented a comparatively new and daunting obstacle to the prospects of Mr. Romney.
We've been hearing some pretty scary stories about early-voting chaos both in Ohio and Florida -- enough so that an Al-Gore-John-Kerry-chastened progressive might be inclined to worry mightily about the prospect of yet another close race being stolen by Team DeathStar. It's a valid concern, highlighted by the relative tightness of my final predictions about how this evening will unfold, compared with four years ago. But here's the thing: in order for Florida and Ohio to do Mr. Romney any good, put together mind you, he must first secure his prospects in a number of other states in which he trails in the polls, notably Virginia.
One would have to have been on Mars to have missed the news that Barack Obama has been gaining pretty-much everywhere for at least a week. The mainstream press, as lazy and credulous as ever, has suggested that the gains started with their own coverage of Hurricane Chris Christie last Tuesday, but it seems petty now to quibble over whether anybody in one of the largest and most important industries in the country can actually read a poll and see that Obama's resurgence has been much more stately and long-term than that. The truth, however one times or attributes it, is no longer in dispute (except in Republican La-La-La-I-Am-Not-Listening-To-You Land). Barack Obama is closing strong, just as he did four years ago. He has led in three of the four most-recent polls in Colorado. He has led in eight of nine in Iowa, with the ninth poll coming from a firm with a strong pro-Republican house effect. He has led in twelve of the fourteen most recent polls in New Hampshire, and the other two have been tied.
In Virginia, meanwhile, Barack Obama has led in fourteen consecutive polls. Since the twentieth of October only Fox News, Rassmussen, and a tiny-sample-sized poll from Roanoke College, have shown Mr. Romney with even a single-day lead there. This, I believe, is the true firewall, precisely because it throws the rest of Mr. Romney's win-with-Ohio strategy into such careening disarray.
To explore what Virginia going blue does to Mr. Romney's prospects, let's presume for the moment that we have a mini-nightmare scenario this evening, in which the vaunted Republican GOTD (Get Out The Disenfranchisement) game succeeds in *both* Ohio and Florida, and award those electoral votes provisionally to Mr. Romney. But then let's award Virginia to Mr. Obama instead. If you allow for a moment that the other battlegrounds are still in equal doubt -- which they aren't (!) -- then the President begins such an analysis with two-hundred and sixty electoral votes, just ten shy of the necessary 270 to win, thus:
This is why I am as confident as I've sounded that Barack Obama will win reelection, despite all the election-day monkeybusiness and all the counterfactual nonsense about skewed polls and all the bleating about how Mitt Romney is the one with enthusiasm on his side: It's not enough for the Republicans to prevail on any or all of these three questions in Ohio. They, unlike the President, must win these arguments in basically every up-for-grabs state left on the board. A loss for Mr. Romney in Virginia is only less devastating than a loss in Ohio if he can make it up with five electoral votes from somewhere else, which he can't realistically expect to do. If he loses Virginia, he can't honestly expect that, for example, the people of New Hampshire will somehow turn out to be more Republican.
Starting with a floor of 260 isn't the same thing as starting with a floor of 270 (just ask Al Gore), but this time around the inside-straight that the Republicans would have to draw to prevail in such a headwind is far more daunting, precisely because the other remaining undecided states are from such diverse corners of the country. If, for example, the President's late surge in Colorado translates to a win there (which I am not predicting this time around), this alone would bring him to 269. If he holds in New Hampshire (where he hasn't trailed since immediately after Denver), he's in with 273. Never mind Iowa and Nevada, both of which I would have to be wrong about having already pulled from the pool of changeable outcomes in a previous column. If Barack Obama wins Virginia and Nevada and Iowa, by themselves, Mr. Romney may win Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, *and* Ohio, and a fat lot of good it will do him at 266, while the President thanks his campaign staff amid a shower of confetti and balloons at 272.
This is why I believe that the true tipping-point of this election has shifted to the east. Tonight, as the news anchors rattle on and on about Ohio, pay close attention instead to what's happening in Virginia, and it will tell you everything you need to know. The state closes strong for Democrats as the most progressive precincts are also the last to report, but if Virginia is painted blue at any time in this evening's coverage, then you may comfortably retire to bed without a single wink of sleep being lost over the Republican nonsense being perpetuated in the other big electoral prizes. Mr. Romney simply cannot win without the Old Dominion in his column, and he's trailed in the polls there for well over two weeks.
...Which is really just another way of saying that Mr. Romney will not win.
("The Key Grip")