It's 95 degrees outside and the humidity is at least 125 percent, so football season has obviously arrived. Before the trivial matter of who stands the best chance to occupy the White House for the next four years slips completely into the shadows encircling my ever-constricting attention span, I thought I would size up how things look at this point for the final accounting on November 6, just in case I happen to miss it, owing to the post-mortem hubbub over the outcome of the Bama and LSU tussle just three days earlier.
As fundamentally artificial enterprises from the get-go, presidential campaigns are always fertile ground for paradoxes and contradictions, and this one is surely no exception. For starters, at this stage, it is not the ostensibly bleeding-heart liberal champion of the common folk, Barack Obama, but Mitt Romney, the uber-rich, supposedly out-of-touch elitist who enjoys a commanding lead among blue-collar whites. Meanwhile, instead of reaching out to Independents and centrist Democrats disenchanted with Obama by stressing what strikes me as a fairly decent record as a moderate Republican governor of a traditionally Democratic state, Romney is zealously denying that he ever even knew that guy in favor of reinventing himself as a hard-core, gun-loving, entitlement-hating arch-conservative in order to ingratiate himself with the rabid and tenacious Teabaggers and the well-heeled financiers of the way-yonder Far Right. His strategists' appraisal of his success in this re-branding effort with the election less than three months away may be reelected in his choice of a running mate whose ideal government is armed to the teeth and spoiling for a fight but otherwise too puny and impoverished to be of any real consequence domestically. (Recall here that lovable ol' megalomaniac Grover Norquist's plan to starve government until it is so small and weak that he can drown in it his bathtub.) Paul Ryan is clearly no Sarah Palin (Come to think of it, who is or ever has been other than perhaps Dan Quayle in drag?), but this choice does a least suggest a rather late-in-the-fray attempt to "secure the base," such as we witnessed from the McCain camp four years ago.
Meanwhile, Harry Reid's suggestion that the mysterious Mittster may not have paid any taxes in several recent years was either the political equivalent of a colossally ballsy poker bluff or a carefully calculated move based on definite indications that something in Romney's returns might turn the public's tummy. The Old Bloviator found the move distasteful personally, although his sympathy for the Repubs is dulled somewhat by the recollection of the swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004 and the "birther" and "closet-Muslim" whispering campaigns against Obama four years later. At any rate, now that Mitt has investigated himself and revealed that he never paid less than 13 percent in taxes for the years in question and Ms. R. has nixed the prospect of any further such disclosures, it remains to be seen how the Dems will play out their hand on this issue. Early indications seem to be that they will keep on insisting that Romney's refusal to go public with his actual tax forms suggests that he is hiding something rather than jumping on the fact that he actually feels vindicated by reporting that, over the years in question, he typically paid roughly one-third the nominal rate for his income group and one-half the effective rate that most of us pay.
How all of the above goes down with the voters is still anybody's guess at this point. Elections geek Nate Silver at 538.com noted that with the Ryan pick, Romney has moved up some in several recent polls and projections of the likely outcome. Even his own forecast model, which has been fairly "bearish" on Romney heretofore, saw his chances of winning rise briefly from 27 to 31 percent although it had dipped back to the previous level by September 1. The matter of how much of a traditional convention bounce Romney enjoyed is still largely a question of whose polls you read at this point. Rasmussen polls typically tilt a little toward the Republicans because they are conducted among "likely voters," while any poll showing Obama (or any Democrat for that matter) leading among "registered voters" has to be discounted just a tad because...well, registerin' is one thing and votin's another. In fact, Democrats who have come up short in recent years have often had to settle for whatever consolation there may be in knowing that they were the clear choice of those who never managed to register, much less vote.
For example, a recent Suffolk University/USA Today survey shows that among the unregistered, Obama tops Romney by a 3 to 1 margin and leads him more than 2 to 1 among those who are registered but don't expect to vote. Here, in a nutshell, is why Republican leaders in a number of key states have pushed measures that are all but certain to curtail voter participation. Not for nothing did a GOP legislator hail the passage of a strict voter-ID law "which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." Suffice it to say, it is not just supporters who might stay home on Election Day, but those who show up and aren't allowed to vote that have some Democrats' knickers in disarray, especially in states where the poll margins are razor thin.
With all this in mind, the latest Rasmussen survey, released on September 1, has Romney ahead nationally by three points, a five-point swing from the previous poll, but only a two-point boost compared to his sixty-day Rasmussen average that already showed him with a one-point lead. Lest we forget, the popular vote matters pas de tout officially so long as we still have the Electoral College, and though Romney has tightened things up a teensy bit overall in key states like Michigan and Wisconsin, both of which have gone Democratic in the last five elections, my favorite poll crunchers over at RealClearPolitics.com still show him with a ways to go in collecting the votes that really count. As of right now, the RCP'ers still see enough states solid, likely, or leaning to Obama at this give him at least 221 as opposed to Romney's 191. Ten remaining "toss-up" states account for 126 electoral votes, more than enough to give Romney the requisite 270, but the RCP'ers have him claiming only North Carolina's 15, leaving Obama with a final projected tally of 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206.
Although this is supposedly a data-based assessment, it is obviously a long way from the final word. If the current nip-tuckers in Wisconsin and Michigan remain that way, the fact that the swamp-ridden, mosquito-and gator-infested, condo- and asphalt-blighted, jeans short-wearing hellhole that is the commonwealth of Florida now wields 29 electoral votes cannot be overemphasized. The importance of the black and Hispanic vote to Obama down there may make this one of the few states where voter-restriction statutes actually affect the outcome, and if those don't get the job done, of course, there's always the possibility of the second coming of the infamous hanging chad. There is also the question of whether Obama gets a significant and sustainable bounce out of the forthcoming proceedings in Charlotte. (To that end, I'd recommend fitting Joe Biden's tongue for a shock collar and scrapping any plans to have Robert De Niro come in to speak to an empty suit wearing a Romney button.) Barring some such disaster, I'd say Obama's odds for November 6 still seem to be a few clicks north of 50-50 right now, although given the choice, I think I'd rather have my money on Alabama to beat the spread on November 3.