The latest polls in the conventional swing states show a close race, with neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama clearly ahead. Yet they also show a surprising number of formerly solid blue states now within Romney's reach.
The rust belt is creakily swinging, according to new polls in Wisconsin, Michigan and even Pennsylvania, where a Franklin and Marshall poll released on Halloween has Obama up by just 4 points, within the margin of error, and under 50 percent.
But what surprised me the most are the new polls from Minnesota and Oregon (my home state).
Take Oregon first, which has not voted for a Republican candidate for president since Ronald Reagan's landslide in 1984.
Two separate polls of likely voters released in late October show Obama at the 47 percent mark -- with Romney at either 41 percent or 42 percent. Obama is under 50 percent and Romney is within or almost within the margin of error. And undecided voters break 2-1 for Romney when pushed.
Tim Nashif, CEO of Gateway Communications, which owns the Hoffman Research polling company, told me via email that he doesn't expect Romney to pull out an actual win in Oregon. Yet, "it is so close. If Oregon is indicative of the rest of the nation, there could be some surprises in other states on Nov. 6."
Minnesota has not voted for a Republican since Richard Nixon trounced George McGovern in 1972. Yet a new Star-Tribune poll of 800 likely voters has the race in a statistical dead heat, with President Obama leading 47 percent to 44 percent, within the margin of error (and under 50 percent). In Minnesota, Romney may be benefiting in that state from President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage at a time when voters are highly aware of the issue because they are voting on gay marriage Nov. 6.
Eager Republicans are beginning to smell from these polls a possible historic landslide for Romney.
But here's the weird thing: If Republicans have a shot at Oregon and Minnesota, then the traditional swing states like Nevada and Colorado and Iowa should all be in Romney's bag.
Maybe a landslide is in the offing, but here's another possibility: a re-drawing of the conventional electoral map, as polls also reveal striking strength for Obama in states that the GOP recently considered must-wins: Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada remain tied, or with slight Obama leads.
Of all these, polls in Nevada are the most ominous.
Nevada should be a lock for Romney. It has an unemployment rate of almost 12 percent, and when discouraged workers are added in, its unemployment rate is over 21 percent. Median household income collapsed from $59,833 in 2008 to $48,927 in 2011. But the latest Gravis Marketing poll of 955 likely voters taken Oct. 24 shows Obama at 50 percent, Romney at 49 percent with a 3.2 percent margin of error.
What does this tell us? Whether or not Romney wins, Republicans must address their structural weakness with Latino voters.
If it's this close in Nevada, where Latinos make up more than a quarter of the vote, and the economy is this bad, conservatives need new strategies. Bringing out mariachi bands and chatting in Spanish every four years is not going to do the trick over the long haul, as the electorate becomes more Latino.
How? Here's a hint: Rather than putting corporate voices in charge, the key will be to bring religious conservative leaders forward -- to speak for the working class in this country, which has been unfairly tarred as racist for their reasonable human concerns about unlawful immigration -- but also to offer new help to children of immigrants stuck between the law and a hard place. The growing evangelical Latino presence, the Mormon church's strongly pro-immigrant stance, and the Southern Baptists' pro-immigration policies all suggest this is not a pie-in-the-sky suggestion.
For myself, as a first step this November, I'm going to do what my own Roman Catholic church has asked me to do at the ballot box in Maryland: vote against gay marriage and for the Maryland Dream Act, which gives children of illegal immigrants who graduate from Maryland high schools and pay Maryland taxes the right to in-state tuition at Maryland colleges, regardless of immigration status.